Prenatal vitamins are a nutritional supplement typically taken by someone who is hoping or planning to get pregnant. They are a combination of nutrients in amounts required to meet the body’s increased demand to promote a healthy pregnancy. The science around prenatals changes based on updated research and findings about what best supports pregnant people and developing babies. The most up-to-date research is used to include the most effective forms of ingredients, such as methylfolate and choline, which are essential for neural tube, brain, and spinal development of the baby.
Prenatal vitamins for women and birthing parents are typically formulated to support the nutritional needs of a person trying to become pregnant. The biggest concern with a man or non-birthing parent taking these prenatals is the potential for toxicity due to the iron content. The typical iron daily requirement of a man is 8 mg, and 27 mg for a person preparing for pregnancy. Prenatals are specifically formulated for the dietary needs of those who are either preparing for, or during, pregnancy. Nutrient needs for those not in this group differ in doses.
The nutrient needs of women and all birthing parents who are attempting to, or have, become pregnant increase. Additional amounts of choline, iron, iodine, calcium, zinc, folate, and vitamin D are required.
Oxidative stress can contribute to impairment in spermatogenesis, leading to fertility issues in men. The effectiveness of various antioxidants, such as carnitine, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, carotenoids, glutathione, N-acetylcysteine, zinc, folic acid, and coenzyme Q10, is variable with respect to improving semen parameters and pregnancy rates. This article contends that the use of vitamins could be beneficial to spermatogenesis as antioxidants could combat oxidative stress, and the vitamins could give a man more antioxidants than they would normally get in their diet. A recent Cochrane review found that men taking antioxidants had a significant increase in both live births and pregnancy rates.
Lower levels of vitamin D can be associated with fertility issues. This study demonstrated that vitamin D supplementation improves sperm motility in those who have low vitamin D level and fertility issues. Vitamin D receptors (VDR) and the enzymes that metabolize vitamin D are simultaneously expressed in Sertoli cells, germ cells, Leydig cells, spermatozoa, and in the epithelial cells lining the reproductive tract of men. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin D is 600 IU for all people.
Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 found in many foods. Folic acid is a manufactured version that is found in processed, fortified foods, and in supplements. The data on folic acid’s impact on male fertility is conflicting. Some studies report improved sperm quality with increased supplementation of folate, while others report no change at all. In this study, low folate levels were shown to possibly have a correlation with sperm DNA damage. This study, in which folic acid restored the fertility of infertile rabbits, concluded that the therapeutic potential for folic acid and infertility in humans should be further explored. The RDA of this water-soluble supplement is 400 mcg.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that may boost semen quality and have beneficial and protective effects, especially on sperm motility. This study demonstrated that men who were supplemented with vitamin E and selenium for 3 months had significantly managed levels of oxidative stress while promoting sperm motility. The RDA of vitamin E is 15 mg (22 IU).
CoQ10 is an antioxidant nutrient that is found naturally in the body and in most healthy diets. It can have a beneficial effect on seminal quality by improving the antioxidant capacity of seminal fluid. This study demonstrated that supplementation of CoQ10 for three months improved semen quality and seminal capacity in men experiencing fertility issues. Another study reported that semen parameters in subjects who took 400mg of CoQ10 were greatly improved compared to those who took 200mg. CoQ10 is also critical in protecting sperm DNA from reactive oxygen species (ROS) damage.
Omega-3s are essential fats that the body must get from food like fish, seeds, nuts (especially walnuts), vegetable oils, and leafy greens. In a randomized, controlled trial of young healthy men consuming a typical Western-style diet who received walnut supplementation for 12 weeks, positive changes in sperm vitality, motility, and morphology was found when compared to control subjects. It also concluded that an increase in omega-3 fatty acids, either through food or supplementation, does have a positive impact on spermatogenesis. Other recent studies further suggest that the benefit may extend beyond semen quality. In a prospective cohort of couples trying to become pregnant, the fish intake of humans with a penis was related to shorter time to pregnancy and lower risk of fertility issues. Adequate intake (AI) for men is 1600 mg/day.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can be found in citrus fruit, strawberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cruciferous vegetables. The water-soluble supplement can also be found in capsule form such as Care/of’s vitamin C supplement. Being an antioxidant, it can help control oxidative stress. This study showed that vitamin C supplementation in men might improve sperm count, motility, and morphology, and could improve the quality semen towards conception for those with fertility issues.
Selenium is a trace mineral that can be found in supplement form and in animal protein such as organ meat and seafood, Brazil nuts, poultry, red meat, and eggs. It can prevent oxidative damage to sperm DNA and is an essential micronutrient for normal testicular development, spermatogenesis, sperm motility, and function. Lack of selenium can lead to sperm issues. The RDA for selenium is 55 mcg.
There’s a range in supplement needs across people, from gaps in their diets to if they’re trying to get pregnant. Take all of these things into consideration when trying to find the right routine for yourself, and as always, talk to your doctor if you’re looking to start taking new supplements.