Problems posed today are very different to those decades ago. While we have all this technology, the ability for couples to actually get pregnant, due to environmental, health or age issues, is becoming ever more complicated. As couples today are often opting to start in the baby making business much later than some decades ago, these issues have become very current challenges and at an individual level I recommend to my patients to help fertility by treating themselves to some very important nutrients. You should be getting adequate amounts of these nutrients to ensure equilibrium and flourishing fertility.
Vitamin D regulates the female cycle and in men it is essential for the development of the nucleus of the sperm cell
Vitamin D is present in certain processes involved in the development of sperm and ovary cells. It also affects levels of hormones in the body. Since we can create our own Vitamin D with sun exposure, how much should we be getting? After a long winter don’t go and bask for hours in the sun. Initially exposure should be short, a few minutes for light skin colour, so as to build up protective pigmentation. Thereafter the ideal exposure is 20% of the body’s surface, for 30 minutes per day. Most people only expose 5% of the body (hands and feet) in cold months, which clearly is not enough, so the warmer months are an ideal time to naturally increase the dose1.
When we look at Vitamin D on a nutritional level we should be eating eggs and dairy (when tolerated), fatty fish and cod liver oil. Supplements otherwise are a good way to top up on sunshine, although it doesn’t feel as good.
Vitamin E works as an antioxidant by protecting the cell membrane from oxidative damage
Foods high in Vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, papaya and dark leafy greens.
Vitamin E can help improve sperm mobility and quality and may reduce sperm DNA fragmentation. Women too can benefit from Vitamin E. It is said that it can increase cervical mucous as well as prevent egg defects. In general it helps to keep eggs healthy, which decreases the risk for birth defects and miscarriage2..
Vitamin C improves hormone levels and sperm health
Great sources of Vitamin C are red peppers, broccoli, cranberry, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, citrus fruits, cherries, strawberries and spinach.
According to a study published in Fertility and Sterility “A moderate amount of supplemental Vitamin C improves hormone levels and increases fertility. It has been shown to be most effective for luteal phase defects.” The luteal phase is the phase that begins at mid-cycle. It stimulates the mature egg to burst from the follicle, known as your ovulation3.
Vitamin B6 as it treats luteal phase defect
The big B6! A very important vitamin in fertility. It is found in tuna, banana, turkey, liver, salmon, cod, spinach, bell peppers, turnip, garlic, cauliflower, celery, cabbage, asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, avocado, potatoes, wild caught fish, grass-fed meats and eggs.
While it regulates your hormones, and improves egg and sperm health, it can also help to lengthen the luteal phase of your cycle. As B6 is water soluble you need to make sure you are getting enough on a daily basis and if not you will need to take supplements. If you are trying to get it from food make sure it is as close to a “whole” state as possible. Over cooking foods that contain Vitamin B6, will reduce the vitamin content by up to 90%. As a supplement don’t take B Vitamins alone, as B vitamins are better absorbed together5.
Folic Acid to prevent congenital diseases
Another very important B vitamin is folic acid. It is found in liver, lentils, pinto beans, asparagus, spinach, black beans, kidney beans and collard greens, cereals, leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, lettuce), okra, asparagus, fruits (bananas, melons, lemons), legumes, yeast, mushrooms, orange juice, and tomato juice.
This vitamin is particularly important in early pregnancy as it has been proven to reduce the risk of babies developing potentially serious spinal cord problems such as spina bifida.
Folate is the natural form found in food products, while folic acid is the oxidized synthetic form of the vitamin. Like all nutrients it is best not to overindulge as studies have shown that there are specific health risks in doing this. Folic acid nevertheless has very important benefits and if you take supplements, look for the better quality product which contains folate and not folic acid7.
Vitamin B12 balances hormones and improves quality of sperm
Good sources of B12 include clams, oysters, salmon, trout, mussels, liver, fish eggs, crab, lobster, beef, lamb and eggs, yogurt and milk. As you can see B12 is found in a lot of animal products but can also be found in cereals.
Your fertility will inevitably improve with daily doses of B12 as it balances your hormones. Your husband or partner will also gain from daily doses so as to improve sperm count. Once you become pregnant it is important to keep up on your intake as it helps to prevent miscarriage, particularly if you have been taking it before becoming pregnant6.
Iron for egg health
Iron is found in lentils, spinach, tofu, sesame seeds, kidney beans, pumpkin seeds, venison, garbanzo beans and beef.
Low iron levels in women is very common and it has also been shown to play a part in infertility. Iron helps the body to produce healthy eggs and a lack of it may cause anovulation (lack of ovulation) but be aware as if your iron levels are good then it does not make sense to over supplement yourself. Too much iron is counterproductive! If your reserves are good then just keep up on your iron rich foods.
The most easily absorbed iron is heme iron, which is derived from animal products while non-heme is from plant sources. Heme rich foods help the absorption of non-heme so it is good in fact to eat them together. Couple these with foods high in Vitamin C, which helps absorb iron. This will give you the ultimate possibility for absorption. Some foods to note for Vitamin C are orange, tomatoes, red peppers, broccoli, strawberries and kiwi. Not only is iron important for you, but it is also essential for your baby. Low iron levels in babies can lead to developmental problems. So keep a watchful eye on your levels8.
Lipoic Acid as it protects the reproductive organs
Foods high in lipoic acid are potatoes, spinach and red meat.
Lipoic acid has been used to help sperm quality and motility. Furthermore, it protects female reproductive organ tissue from free radicals. Without lipoic acid, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Glutathione (antioxidant, which protects cells from free radical damage) cannot be recycled4.
Selenium as an antioxidant, protects the egg
Food sources include liver, snapper, cod, halibut, tuna, salmon, sardines, shrimp, turkey and brazil nuts. Brazil nuts is one of the best sources of Selenium you can get. Don’t eat too many as this can lead to brittle hair and nails, but as an addition to a well-balanced diet they are excellent.
Selenium is a less known trace element but as we know, while trace elements are required in minute amounts, they are nevertheless very important. With its antioxidant properties it helps to protect the cells from free radical damage. It can help prevent birth defects and miscarriage and is important for egg production. A deficiency in Selenium has been linked to male infertility so to maximize sperm formation it is also therefore important for both men and women9.
Zinc to maintain hormonal balance and prevent miscarriage
Oysters, beef, lamb, venison, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, turkey, green peas, shrimp. When cooking products rich in Zinc be careful not to overcook as this will damage the Zinc.
Zinc effects women’s fertility in a number of ways. It is necessary for the production of mature eggs that will be ripe for fertilization. It helps to maintain fluid in the follicle, and regulates hormonal levels of oestrogen and progesterone. It is also linked to reducing the size of fibroids. In men Zinc has been shown to increase sperm numbers as well as the quality. Furthermore, it is important in the production of mature sperm and a lack of it may lead to chromosomal changes.
As with many minerals there tends to be a lack of Zinc in the soil we grow our products in today. Once we cook these foods the Zinc content is further reduced, add to this stress, pollutants, alcohol and cigarettes and there is almost nothing left. Supplementation is obviously a good way to help build your Zinc, just make sure you are also taking copper, as these two minerals work synergistically together10.
One cannot say that having a deficiency in one of these vitamins or minerals is the sole cause of infertility, however having the right stock of them will definitely benefit you in creating strong healthy eggs and sperm. If you are not getting the right amount and variety of foods a good quality, broad spectrum supplement can definitely benefit you. This will give you a good base as you take this journey on building your family.