If you’re trying to conceive, supplements such as iron and zinc can help. So can a well-balanced diet with certain types of food.
Trying to conceive? You’ll want to give your body the best possible chance by ensuring that you’re eating well.
What vitamins and minerals aren’t on your radar but probably should be? Even more importantly, will you get everything you need from your standard prenatal supplement?
Here are five vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that have been shown to aid in fertility.
They’re also among the few that women may not be getting enough of — or know to take at all, nutritionists say.
A study from Pennsylvania State University presented last month at the American Physiological Society annual meeting concluded that zinc deficiency can have a negative effect on egg development.
This study was conducted on mice and not humans, but James Hester, the study’s lead author and a graduate assistant in physiology at Penn State, said that recent research in his lab and others is showing that zinc is a “key regulator” of oocyte (egg cell) development.
It plays a role in oocyte division, fertilization, DNA regulation, and embryo development.
“Our latest project shows that the zinc requirement starts even earlier than we thought,” Hester told Healthline. “Women trying to get pregnant should absolutely think about zinc in their and their partner’s diet, but they should be thinking about their whole diet and other health factors as well. Zinc is only one important piece of the puzzle.”
If you’re eating a healthy diet and taking a supplement, you’re unlikely to be zinc deficient, so you probably don’t need to be tested.
“Micronutrient levels are certainly something to discuss with an OB-GYN though, especially if women have other risk factors like food insecurity, GI (gastrointestinal) disorders, or an unusual diet or lifestyle,” Hester said.
The recommended daily allowance for zinc is 8 milligrams per day for adult women and 12 milligrams per day during pregnancy and lactation.
Hester notes that women trying to conceive can take the higher amount, but they should be cautious because too much zinc can interfere with copper absorption and metabolism.
“Choline is essential to promote health at all life stages but is particularly critical for brain health both early in life as the brain is forming and later in life to prevent cognitive decline,” said Elizabeth Shaw, a registered dietitian from California and co-author of “Fertility Foods Cookbook: 100+ Recipes to Nourish Your Body.”
While choline is in a lot of foods — egg yolks, lima beans, and liver — it’s in small amounts.
Shaw said a diet rich in meats, whole eggs, and green vegetables can help people receive adequate choline. The recommended daily intake for choline is 550 milligrams per day.
“Not all prenatal vitamins contain choline,” Shaw told Healthline.
She added that the American Medical Association recently announced that it supports evidence-based amounts of choline in all prenatal vitamins.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is vital for infant brain and eye development. Mothers provide the sole source of it for their babies.
A 2016 study in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology concluded that omega-3 supplement consumption was associated with a 58 percent decrease in the likelihood of early preterm birth (babies born before 34 weeks) and a 17 percent decrease in preterm delivery (babies born before 37 weeks).
The New England Journal of Medicine reported during the same year that maternal omega-3 intake in the third trimester reduced the risk of asthma and infections of the lower respiratory tract in offspring by approximately one third.
For pregnant and lactating women, optimal intake is 700 milligrams per day of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA, with at least 300 milligrams as DHA, Shaw said.
Probiotics and prebiotics are essential in both food and supplement form to promote a healthy gut.
Currently there’s no recommended amount, but Shaw recommends slowly increasing your intake.
“It’s no surprise gut health is venturing into the world of fertility, too,” Shaw said.
This mineral is vital to form oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
Plus, it impacts your energy levels, not to mention fertility, said Tammy Lakatos Shames and Lyssie Lakatos, dietitians from New York City.
Women should have their iron levels checked via blood test. From there, they can determine if they need to boost intake.
Adult women should get 18 milligrams per day, 27 milligrams per day while pregnant, and 9 milligrams a day while lactating, the National Institutes of Health states.
Check with your doctor before adding an additional supplement on top of a prenatal or multivitamin, the dietitians said.
“Women seem more aware that they need it during pregnancy to prevent anemia but don’t often realize that they need it prior to conception,” they said. “Low levels of iron before conception may lead to a lack of ovulation. Getting more iron as you’re trying to become pregnant may help to avoid ovulatory issues when trying to conceive and help to prevent anemia once you are pregnant.”
Overall, a well-rounded diet is essential if you’re trying to conceive.
Those five nutrients are just part of a healthy eating plan. Prenatal vitamins are not always enough.
“Many moms-to-be take a prenatal vitamin but completely overlook the importance of a well-balanced diet,” said Stephanie McKercher, a registered dietitian from Colorado. “A prenatal vitamin may cover your micronutrient needs, but macronutrients (fats, protein, and carbohydrates) are just as important.”
Healthy eating and taking a prenatal with iron, folic acid, zinc, and vitamin D is enough for most women. However, McKercher said to talk with your doctor if you follow a restrictive diet or have a health condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, as you may need additional nutritional support.
Shaw agrees — don’t just rely on any prenatal vitamin.
“While prenatal vitamins are a great safety net, they don’t contain everything you need, like choline and omega-3s,” she said.
The only exception is if you’re purchasing a select brand that contains omega-3s (of which 300 milligrams is coming from DHA) and choline, in addition to naturally consuming these nutrients in the daily diet, she said.
Lizzy Swick, a registered dietitian nutritionist from New Jersey, said diet and lifestyle choices are some of the best natural means to boost reproductive health.
“Adequately nourishing your body with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, plus adding a prenatal multivitamin, is a good way to start,” Swick told Healthline.