There is now a great deal of scientific knowledge about the use of nutritional supplements and their beneficial effects on both male and female fertility. As you will see, these supplements can be very effective in re-balancing your hormones, as well as improving you and your partner's overall health, which are so vital for successful conception.
Supplements are necessary because even the best diet in the world will not contain all the nutrients you need to give you the best chance of conceiving.
Folic Acid It is now known that folic acid can prevent spina bifida in your baby, and it is essential that you get plenty both before and during pregnancy. And that's not all: folic acid is undoubtedly important, but it is just part of the very important B-complex family of vitamins that are necessary to produce the genetic materials DNA and RNA. Together with vitamin B12, folic acid works to ensure that your baby's genetic codes are intact. Remember: it's not enough to take folic acid alone when you are trying to become pregnant. All of the B vitamins are essential during the pre-conceptual period. Research has shown that giving B6 to women who have trouble conceiving increases fertility and vitamin B12 has been found to improve low sperm counts.
Zinc Zinc is the most widely studied nutrient in terms of fertility for both men and women. It is an essential component of genetic material and a zinc deficiency can cause chromosome changes in either you or our partner, leading to reduced fertility and an increased risk of miscarriage. Zinc is necessary for your body to 'attract and hold' (utilise efficiently) the reproductive hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. And it's equally important for your partner: zinc is found in high concentrations in the sperm. Zinc is needed to make the outer layer and tail of the sperm and is, therefore, essential for the health of your partner's sperm and, subsequently, your baby. Interestingly, several studies have also shown that reducing zinc in a man's diet will also reduce his sperm count.
Selenium Selenium is an antioxidant that helps to protect your body from highly reactive chemical fragments called free radicals. For this reason, selenium can prevent chromosome breakage, which is known to be a cause of birth defects and miscarriages. Good levels of selenium are also essential to maximise sperm formation. Blood selenium levels have been found to be lower in men with low sperm counts.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) These essential fats have a profound effect on every system of the body, including the reproductive system and they are crucial for healthy hormone functioning. For men essential fatty acid supplementation is crucial because the semen is rich in prostaglandins which are produced from these fats. Men with poor sperm quality, abnormal sperm, poor motility or low count, have inadequate levels of these beneficial prostaglandins.
Vitamin E Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant and has been shown to increase fertility when given to both men and women. Men going for IVF treatment with their partners have been given vitamin E, and fertilisation rates have, as a result, increased from 19 to 29 percent. It has been suggested that the antioxidant activity of vitamin E might make the sperm more fertile.
Vitamin C Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, and studies show that vitamin C enhances sperm quality, protecting sperm and the DNA within it from damage. Some research has indicated that certain types of DNA damage in the sperm can make it difficult to conceive in the first place, or it can cause an increased risk of miscarriage if conception does take place. If DNA is damaged, there may be a chromosomal problem in the baby, should the pregnancy proceed. Whether or not DNA damage does have these effects has not been conclusively proven, but it's worth taking vitamin C and the other antioxidants as a precautionary measure. Vitamin C also appears to keep the sperm from clumping together, making them more motile.
One study has shown that women taking the drug clomiphene to stimulate ovulation will have a better chance of ovulating if vitamin C is taken alongside the drug. Clomiphene does not always work in every woman, but the chances are often increased when vitamin C is supplemented.
L-Arginine This is an amino acid found in many foods and the head of the sperm contains an exceptional amount of this nutrient, which is essential for sperm production. Supplementing with L-arginine can help to increase both the sperm count and quality.
Note: People who have herpes attacks (either cold sores or genital herpes) should not supplement with arginine because it stimulates the virus.
L-Carnitine This amino acid is essential for normal functioning of sperm cells. According to research, it appears that the higher the levels of L-Carnitine in the sperm cells, the better the sperm count and motility.
Vitamin A This vitamin needs to be mentioned because there is a lot of confusion about its use before and after pregnancy. Many health practitioners now advise that no vitamin A is taken during pregnancy. This advice is incorrect, and it can be dangerous to assume that any vitamin or other nutrient should be avoided during the gestational period. Vitamin A has important antioxidant properties, and the consequences of Vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy can be devastating. For one thing, vitamin A is essential for healthy eyes. Animals studies show that vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy has produced new-born animals with no eyes, eye defects, undescended testes and diaphragmatic hernias.
It is only when the vitamin A is in the form of retinol (in other words, the animal form of vitamin A) that there is a problem. It has been found that retinol can cause birth defects if taken in excess of 10,000iu a day. Beta-carotene, which is one of the vegetable forms of vitamin A, does not carry any risks.
Herbs (see caution below) Herbal treatment is aimed at restoring hormone imbalances, and encouraging ovulation if it is not occurring. It will also give you the best possible chance of maintaining a pregnancy, should you conceive.
Agnus Castus (Vitex or Chaste tree berry) This is the herb of choice for helping to restore hormone imbalance and increasing fertility. In one study 48 women diagnosed with infertility took agnus castus daily for three months, 7 of them became pregnant during that time and 25 of them regained normal progesterone levels.
Agnus castus is particularly helpful for those women who have a luteal phase defect (shortened second half to the cycle) or those with high prolactin levels, because it stimulates the proper functioning of the pituitary gland which controls the hormones. Agnus castus works to restore hormonal balance and can be used where there are hormone deficits as well as excesses it:
Regulates periods Restarts periods which have stopped Helps with heavy bleeding Increases the ratio of progesterone to oestrogen by balancing excess oestrogen.
Note: Don't take any herbs while you are using drug treatments or going through assisted conception (such as IVF), unless prescribed by a qualified practitioner.
Caution You should not take any of the above herbs if you are taking, The Pill, Fertillity drugs, HRT or any other hormonal treatment or other medication unless they are recommended by a registered, experienced practitioner.
I suggest that you follow this four-month plan and do not try to conceive within that time. Why? Because when you follow the plan, your fertility will begin to increase.
Everything needs to be working at optimum level before you conceive, both to prevent a miscarriage, and to give you the best possible chance of having a healthy baby."
*Marilyn Glenville PhD at The Natural Health Web-Site For Women