If you are trying to have a baby, it’s natural to wonder if any supplements are proven to help support natural fertility. Some have been widely studied, while others have limited evidence on how much they may impact reproductive health. We’ve gathered the latest scientific evidence on 12 of the most widely used fertility supportive supplements.
Infertility can be caused by many different things. Women should be evaluated for infertility if they do not get pregnant within 12 months of unprotected intercourse if they are under age 35, or within 6 months for women who are 35 and older.
Some factors that can affect or reduce female fertility include:
Supplements cannot replace a healthy diet and lifestyle, but they may be able to enhance your nutritional intake in beneficial ways. You can even get many fertility-friendly nutrients by eating more of certain foods. Before starting a new supplement, always check with your doctor first.
B-complex refers to the family of B vitamins that works closely together for cellular health, DNA integrity, metabolism, and more. All of the B vitamins are needed for human health, but some in particular are essential for reproductive health. Vitamin B12 gets a lot of discussion, alongside folate (discussed in more detail below!), but the truth is that your body needs the suite of B vitamins for optimal wellness, reproductive health, and fetal development during pregnancy.
Choline is sometimes referred to as vitamin B4, but generally it is neither a vitamin nor mineral. It is a necessary dietary amine. However, it is frequently included with B-complex since it functions similarly and works closely with the B vitamins in the body.
B vitamins are important for a healthy nervous system, circulatory wellness, energy, and more. Because B vitamins are water-soluble, they need to be consumed on a daily basis. Alcohol can deplete the body of B vitamins. Because many of these nutrients are naturally found in animal-based foods, especially vitamin B12, vegans and vegetarians may require supplements to ensure adequate intake. B12 in particular is important for female fertility, helping ensure the overall balanced micronutrient intake needed for healthy ovulation.
Research links diet to overall fertility, and getting enough B vitamins from foods is essential. You don’t have to stress over consuming only perfect foods. Rather, focus on eating as much variety and nutrients as possible from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy products, meat, poultry, and seafood, or quality plant based proteins if you follow a plant-based diet (vegetarian or vegan). This will help provide a rich source of B-complex nutrients.
Inositol is a molecule that participates in cell signaling in the body, including in the insulin pathway. It can be made in the body, but is also found in foods like nuts, seeds, beans, citrus fruits, and some whole grains. There are different forms of inositol. Myo-inositol is the most abundant type found in the body. D-chiro-inositol is another form that is present in smaller amounts.
Inositol is a popular supplement taken to support fertility. It is also one of the more well-studied compounds, with several different studies assessing it for its impact on ovulation, hormone health, egg quality, and more. Recent research has found that a supplement that includes myo-inositol and d-chiro-inositol together supports healthy ovaries, follicle development, egg quality, and overall fertility.
While inositol is found in some foods, the clinical trials that noted benefits for fertility focused on inositol supplements. It would be impossible to get that concentrated amount of inositol from foods alone.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in foods like seeds, nuts, avocado, and healthy oils. It has strong antioxidant activity in the body. Deficiencies in antioxidant nutrients like vitamin E have been linked to fertility challenges in both men and women. In women, vitamin E is needed for healthy fertilization and implantation. It also plays a role in the earliest stages of embryonic development. For men, it supports healthy semen, DNA, and sperm motility.
Taking too much vitamin E in supplement form can have negative effects, so be sure to check with your doctor before taking vitamin E. It is typically added to multivitamin supplements and is sometimes in prenatal vitamins.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant nutrient that is necessary for many aspects of wellness. It supports a healthy immune system and is also needed for optimal fertility in both women and men. Eggs and sperm both rely on plenty of antioxidant protection. Research has found that vitamin C supplementation can support healthy sperm count, motility, and morphology (shape).
Since vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient, it must be consumed on a daily basis. The RDA for adult men is 90 mg and for adult women is 75 mg. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamin C in varying amounts. Foods that contain the highest concentration of vitamin C include bell peppers, citrus fruits, broccoli, and leafy greens. Vitamin C is also available as a standalone dietary supplement and is typically found in multivitamins and prenatal supplements.
Omega-3 fatty acids are naturally found in coldwater fatty fish like salmon, herring, and mackerel. They are also available in fish oil supplements, sourced from fish, or as a vegan option derived from microalgae. Omega-3s are an essential healthy fat for the body. Since humans cannot make them internally, they have to be consumed from dietary sources or supplements. Without enough omega-3 fats, the fatty acid balance in the body can be disrupted, potentially resulting in more reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS can negatively affect cells and DNA.
Omega-3 fats like fish oil support healthy fertility in women and men by helping us keep a balanced cardiovascular system and healthy nervous system along with healthy eyes and cognitive health. Omega-3s also play a role in fetal development, especially when it comes to the brain. Some limited research has found that women who take omega-3s are more likely to get pregnant, although randomized controlled trials are needed. In men, fish oil supplements and eating more omega-3 foods has been shown to support healthy semen and sperm, but larger, randomized and controlled trials need to confirm these early findings.
You can increase omega-3s in your diet by eating coldwater fish, chia seeds, walnuts, flax seeds, and leafy greens. You can also take fish oil supplements.
Zinc is a mineral that is necessary for healthy cellular metabolism, immune system function, DNA synthesis, and hundreds of different enzyme reactions in the body. In men, zinc is needed for healthy testosterone, semen, and sperm DNA. But women need it, too, as it contributes to egg health, fertilization, implantation, and fetal development all throughout pregnancy. Zinc is considered one of the most vital nutrients for healthy growth and development at all ages.
Zinc is naturally found in many foods like meat, seafood, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and eggs. It is also available as a standalone supplement and may be added to multivitamin and prenatal formulas.
Selenium is a trace mineral that is needed for DNA synthesis, thyroid hormone production, and antioxidant-like activity throughout the body. In women, selenium’s impact is needed to support thyroid health, which closely interacts with reproductive hormones and overall fertility. In men, selenium supports healthy sperm motility and morphology. It’s also needed for healthy fetal development throughout pregnancy.
Selenium is found in many foods: Brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines, cottage cheese, brown rice, beef, eggs, and some whole grains (like whole wheat and oats). Always check with your doctor before starting any new supplement.
Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10 for short, is an antioxidant-like molecule that supports healthy circulation, immune system function, and cellular communications. It is beneficial for both female and male fertility. While the body can make coQ10, after age 30, this naturally starts to decline. For women, coenzyme Q10 supports healthy egg quality, which is especially important in women trying to conceive in their late 30s or early 40s. In men, coQ10 supports healthy sperm parameters.
Coenzyme Q10 is found in beef, seafood, poultry, peanuts, sesame seeds, pistachios, and broccoli. It can also be taken in supplement form. It is not an essential vitamin or mineral, but a medical provider may suggest it to support reproductive health in those who are trying to get pregnant.
Vitex Agnus-Castus, which is also known as chasteberry or chaste tree, is an herbal supplement that has mainly been used for various aspects of female health support. Some limited research has shown that when it is paired with maca root, it may support reproductive health, including ovulation and time to pregnancy.
Vitex isn’t found in foods unless specifically labeled. Supplement formulations vary, so be sure to check with your medical provider before starting Vitex. Although vitex is generally regarded as a safe herb, it should not be taken during pregnancy or if you could be pregnant as there is still insufficient research.
Acetyl L-carnitine is an amino acid derivative that supports cellular energy processes. Carnitine helps the mitochondria utilize fatty acids. Acetyl-L-carnitine is known for its neuroprotective properties. There is limited research on Acetyl L-carnitine and fertility, but there is some promising evidence for both females and males.
Carnitine is found naturally in the male reproductive system—however, it’s not known whether supplemental carnitine directly affects this. Research on carnitine has found that it can support healthy sperm motility and morphology, but doesn’t affect sperm concentration. While research is limited, it did not appear to impact pregnancy rates. More studies are needed. In women, research suggests that carnitine may support a healthy uterine lining and overall fertility as part of a comprehensive approach.
Carnitine is naturally found in many foods, including meat, seafood, and poultry. Because the kidneys can effectively reuse carnitine and the body can synthesize some on its own, carnitine deficiency is uncommon, even in people who eat plant-based diets. Carnitine supplements, including in the acetylated form, are available, but check with your doctor before starting them.
Vitamin D has been studied for many reasons. This fat-soluble nutrient is known to be important for the immune system and overall health. But research has also found that vitamin D levels are widely associated with female fertility, sperm health, and pregnancy outcomes. A study of 305 women found that in those who had normal vitamin D levels, pregnancy rates were significantly higher—more than 65% compared to around 20% in the women whose vitamin D levels were too low. Other small studies haven’t matched the same results. In men, vitamin D supplementation led to pregnancy rates that were twice as high in the treatment group compared to placebo. Larger clinical trials are needed to learn more about the specifics of vitamin D and reproductive health, but since it’s an essential nutrient for many other reasons, it’s a good idea to focus on adequate intake and balance.
You can get vitamin D from sun exposure (UVB rays specifically, which is why your body can’t absorb vitamin D through glass), but many things affect how much is produced: the time of year, location, time of day, melanin content in skin, age, genetics, and body weight. There aren’t many food sources for vitamin D. Smaller amounts are found in cold water fatty fish like salmon, cod liver oil, mushrooms, and fortified orange juice and dairy products.
Dietary supplements are a common source of vitamin D for many people. The RDA for all adults of reproductive age is 15 mcg or 600 IU. The tolerable upper intake level is 100 mcg or 4,000 IU. Ask your doctor about how much vitamin D you should take. They can test your blood levels to determine your status, which may help determine the best intake for you.
Folic acid, also known as folate or vitamin B9, works together with the B-complex group of nutrients. However, it plays such an important role in healthy fertility and reproduction that it is listed here on its own. Folate is vital for healthy cell signaling, DNA synthesis, and amino acid metabolism. In women, folic acid is needed for healthy pregnancy outcomes–specifically, for healthy neural tube development. Folic acid food fortification began because it was known to be so crucial in the early days and weeks of pregnancy—before most people know they have conceived—that it was of public health importance to avoid overt deficiency in as much of the population as possible. Women of reproductive age are advised to supplement with folic acid or to take a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin that contains 400 mcg of folic acid, in addition to folate that comes from food.
Research has noted the importance of a diet that is rich in folate and its impact on fertility. A study of 232 women with a median age of 35 found that those who had higher dietary folate intakes also experienced higher rates of implantation, pregnancy, and healthy birth outcomes. The women who ate the highest amount of folate, more than 800 mcg per day from food sources, had birth rates that were 20% higher than those who consumed less than 400 mcg of folate from foods each day. Folic acid supplementation was also linked with higher fertilization rates in response to therapeutic approaches. While this was an overall small study, plenty of research confirms the importance of folate in female reproductive health.
Folate is important for men, too. While the research is less clear on specific outcomes, folate is an important part of all healthy, balanced diets. Studies that looked at the association between folate and sperm health have found that it’s generally supportive of male fertility.
Folate is found in many foods, like beef liver, spinach, fortified cereals, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, avocado, and spinach. It can be taken as a standalone dietary supplement, and is typically found in multivitamins and prenatal vitamins. Folate may also be found in its bioactive (methylated) form, known as L-5-MTHF.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid, or ALA, is a compound that plays a role in energy metabolism in the body. It has antioxidant-like activity that supports mitochondrial integrity, although its effect is short-lived so it must be supplemented on a daily basis for support. Studies have found positive results for men in as little as 4 weeks, while studies in female participants were typically longer (3-6 months).
Research on ALA’s impact on fertility is relatively new, so there is much more to be learned. So far, what is known is promising. In men, ALA supports healthy semen, sperm concentration, and motility. In women, it is associated with healthy egg maturation, fertilization, and embryonic development.
The body can make Alpha-Lipoic Acid, although this process is most efficient in younger adults and naturally declines with age. Some can also be consumed from dietary sources, including red meat, organ meat (offal), and brewer’s yeast. Dietary supplements are the primary way that ALA is consumed to support fertility.
L-arginine is an amino acid that can be converted into nitric oxide in the body, which is needed for healthy circulation, oxidative defenses, and overall health. Nitric oxide is important for antioxidant balance within the body, which is needed for reproductive health in women and men. Blood flow is an important factor for sexual and reproductive health in men and women. The conversion of arginine to nitric oxide has been shown to be vital for every stage of female reproductive wellness, as well as the physiological and hormonal aspects of fertility. Sperm is prone to oxidative damage, which is why the body has numerous antioxidant mechanisms built in to keep sperm protected. The nitric oxide system is one of them, playing an instrumental role in both sperm health and fertilization outcomes.
L-arginine is naturally found in foods such as red meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy products, and some whole grains like brown rice and oats. It is also available as a dietary supplement, either on its own or in amino acid combination formulas.
Maca root is an herbal supplement that comes from the cruciferous vegetable family. It is widely regarded for being an aphrodisiac and fertility supplement, although the fertility health claims about maca are not fully backed up by clinical trials. Research that has been done in humans has shown largely inconclusive results, with most studies hindered by small sample sizes or problematic designs. Animal studies have demonstrated benefits for libido and sperm health. In humans, older research noted benefits for sperm health and male hormone balance. But newer double-blind, placebo-controlled research in men found no significant differences between the treatment group or placebo for either overall male fertility or sperm concentrations. Other research didn’t find changes to semen volume, sperm motility, or morphology, but did note that maca supported semen concentration.
Other studies have noted maca’s potential to support sexual wellness, healthy mood, and hormone support. Maca isn’t naturally found in foods, but can be taken as an herbal supplement, typically either in powdered or capsule form.
DHEA is a precursor hormone that is naturally made in the adrenal glands of both females and males. It can be used to make other hormones, like estrogen and testosterone. DHEA synthesis in the body naturally declines with age. Supplements can support natural hormone synthesis, although many individual factors determine to what extent. For example, hormone support in men was found to be enhanced in those who were middle-aged (47-51 year old participants), doing high interval training and supplementing with 50mg of DHEA but the results were not the same for the younger 21 year old participants. Research seems to indicate that the body utilizes DHEA from supplements in various ways, and that it’s not possible to force DHEA to have one specific effect.
A study of 33 women going through IVF found that DHEA supported healthy ovaries and eggs, with other researchers calling for larger, randomized, placebo-controlled trials due to the potential for DHEA to perform better at supporting healthy androgen balance in females compared to direct testosterone administration. Other research notes that DHEA may improve the ovarian environment, which goes beyond eggs or hormones and may contribute significantly to the overall healthy environment for successful conception. In women with advancing age who were trying to conceive, DHEA was noted specifically for supporting healthy 3-day embryo quality and pregnancy rates.
While DHEA is available as a supplement, ask a healthcare professional before starting one since it can impact hormones and may interact with other medications or supplements.
N-Acetyl Cysteine, most commonly known as NAC, is a precursor to the amino acid L-cysteine. It is known for having antioxidant-like properties. The body can use cysteine to make glutathione, the “master antioxidant” synthesized by the liver from sulfuric amino acids.
In a 3-month study of 50 men, NAC was found to support healthy sperm count and motility as well as hormone balance. In vitro and animal research on follicular fluid from 22 women found that NAC and L-carnitine were able to support healthy cell division in bovine eggs. The follicular and uterine environment has been theorized to be as important as the egg itself, and research supports the beneficial influence of NAC, L-carnitine and other antioxidant-like compounds on uterine health. Clinical studies that look for these outcomes in humans need to be conducted to know more.
NAC can be made in the body from other amino acids, like methionine and serine. Dietary sources of cysteine include poultry, dairy products, eggs, legumes, and sunflower seeds. For more concentrated support, dietary supplements are often used.
Hormones respond to many different stimuli and can fluctuate. Not all hormone imbalances are permanent, and not all of them are directly related to fertility challenges.
Yes, it’s possible to get pregnant even when your hormones are not perfectly balanced. Hormones are regulated by endocrine organs like the adrenal glands, ovaries, and the brain. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain also impact hormones that regulate the thyroid, appetite, and even oxytocin—the love hormone that also plays a role in both male and female reproductive function as well as birth and lactation.
The primary hormones needed for conception are estrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH), although testosterone, thyroid hormones, prolactin, and insulin all play roles, too.
Medical providers will check for hormone imbalances if it is taking a long time to get pregnant. Not all hormones that are out of range will directly impact the ability to conceive. Likewise, people may struggle to get pregnant even when hormones are balanced.
The thyroid is known for regulating the body’s metabolism, but it extends far beyond just controlling body weight or energy. Thyroid hormones play a foundational role in mitochondrial energy synthesis and nerve communication throughout the body. Both males and females need balanced thyroid hormones for reproductive health:
Medical providers may assess thyroid hormones as part of routine medical care or to determine contributing factors for conception challenges. While some may only test thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), free T3 and free T4 levels are important for understanding how much thyroid hormone is available.
Micronutrients are vital for human health. Vitamins and minerals form the basis for the systemic wellness of every body system, including reproductive health. A balanced diet is the best way to nourish the body, and in most cases, this will meet a majority of micronutrient needs. Dietary supplements can help to fill in the gaps.
If your medical provider suspects inadequate intake or deficiency of one or more nutrients, they may order laboratory tests. However, most doctors recommend prenatal vitamins to women (and sometimes men) to ensure that micronutrient needs are met before pregnancy, which is physiologically demanding and often has higher nutritional needs.
Egg quality is an important factor in healthy pregnancy outcomes. Tobacco use, aging, environmental toxin exposure, and nutritional status can all play significant roles in egg quality.
Not all research is conclusive on what nutrients affect egg quality. Animal research has demonstrated the importance of omega-3 fatty acids on oocytes, while analysis of follicular fluid found associations between vitamin A and vitamin E status and overall embryo quality. Ovarian reserve, or a general marker of remaining fertile years, is highly influenced by overall nutritional status, although another study found that micronutrient support from supplements had no effect on egg quality or pregnancy rates.
Ultimately, there is not a single answer, because each person’s unique set of health factors, DNA, genetics—and the same factors in their partner—will play a role in conception and pregnancy. A healthy diet is needed for all humans, and while science has yet to nail down definite answers on nutrients and egg quality, a well-rounded, nutritionally balanced diet is necessary for nourishing a healthy pregnancy and fetal development.
Pregnancy is the result of a complex interplay between diet, environment, and genetics in both the sperm and the egg, as well as the uterine environment. Vitamins are needed to support overall health, ranging from hormone balance to gastrointestinal wellness to good cellular communication. Pregnancy depends on these things and more.
When you prioritize a diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as healthy proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, you’re supporting your body to function at its best on an optimal foundational level.
Fertility refers to many aspects of your health, some of which you cannot control. But the things you can do to support healthy fertility are important:
Nutrition is important in all seasons of life. Research shows that diets that prioritize nutrient density, with lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and high-quality proteins, may support better pregnancy and fetal development outcomes.
Research has found that some foods are linked to better fertility and pregnancy outcomes, such as:
Studies have associated the following foods with reduced fertility, so it is important to balance them with foods that are associated with healthy fertility and pregnancy. Foods to minimize while trying to conceive include:
It is important to note that the main goal should be to focus on whole foods like fresh produce (fruits and veggies), lean protein sources, fiber, and water intake even if some of the foods listed above are present in the diet.
When it comes to fertility, as well as many aspects of health, it’s best to minimize stress by finding healthy ways to manage it. You’re not likely to avoid stress altogether, but having a healthy plan is necessary since chronic unaddressed stress can take a toll on hormone balance.
Meditation, regular physical activity, and a healthy diet are all great ways to support healthy stress responses in the body. Healthy sleep is also important for overall health and fertility. Melatonin, a hormone that is produced within the body, has receptors in eggs and ovarian follicle cells. Research has found that melatonin can exert an antioxidant-like effect to protect eggs from oxidation, although this effect is not necessarily found by supplementing melatonin. A healthy sleep routine supports the overall circadian rhythm in the body, which leads to natural melatonin production.
There are many supplements available to support reproductive health and maintain healthy fertility. It’s important to check with your medical provider for guidance, and also to thoroughly read labels.
Vegan fertility supplements can be important, especially when it comes to certain nutritional requirements that may typically only be met by consuming animal products (like vitamin B12). When choosing a prenatal or other fertility supplements, read the labels carefully to ensure that they are vegan and meet other specific requirements, such as non-GMO, gluten-free, and third-party tested.
Men have an equal need for nutrients to support healthy fertility. Diets that are rich in vitamins and minerals play a major role in male fertility. While many assume that prenatal vitamins are only important in women, men should consider taking a multivitamin to support daily micronutrient needs.
When a couple is having trouble conceiving, both partners should be evaluated. Depending on the research, the numbers vary, but infertility causes among couples may be due to:
Current data estimates that 85% of women will conceive within 12 months, while some other research has found that infertility among married or cohabitating women was estimated to be 8.1% in the last decade.
Reproductive health is dependent on many things: overall health, nutritional status, management of health conditions, hormone balance, age, and genetics. It can feel overwhelming knowing that so many things may affect how quickly you may be able to have a baby. By focusing on what you can control, like good nutrition, regular physical activity, healthy sleep, and stress management, you are able to influence more than you think.
If it’s taking longer than expected, see your OBGYN or medical provider, especially if you are older than age 35.
While fertility challenges are common, impacting between 15-20% of all couples, it can feel isolating if you’re going through it. Good nutrition, including supplements when indicated, can be important for supporting healthy fertility in you and your partner but can also feel empowering. If you feel like it’s taking too long to get pregnant, or you’re concerned about other factors, work with your medical provider to pursue answers, but don’t underestimate the importance of nourishment to your overall well-being, including fertility.