Supplements are usually seen as a good news story for fertility, and they’re widely advised for pregnancy and preconception to improve the health of parents and their babies, but they are necessary? Two 2016 reviews reached very different conclusions:
- A BMJ study concluded that prenatal and pregnancy supplements are generally unnecessary and over-sold to a vulnerable sector. The exceptions were folic acid and vitamin D, with the findings made on the basis that everyone has a healthy diet. i
- A Placenta review concluded it’s good to supplement with a range of micronutrients (especially selenium) to reduce the chances of complications in pregnancy and contribute to a healthy start in life. ii
These apparently conflicting conclusions raise essential issues:
- Pretty much everyone agrees a healthy diet and lifestyle are crucial for good health or that, in an ideal world, supplements aren’t needed for healthy pregnancies.
- It’s also clear that many diets aren’t “healthy”.
- Most of our food is mass grown with modern fertilisers in soils low in essential nutrients, which reduces their availability in foods in the way they once were. While many people may do their best to have a healthy diet, the loss of soil nutrients causes a “nutrient gap“.
- Not everyone gets pregnant easily, and studies investigating pregnancy outcomes aren’t directly transferable to couples who’re struggling to get pregnant.
- The broader (more difficult to measure) issue of if supplements affect people’s health and fertility wasn’t part of the BMJ research.
- An extra issue is differences in the quality and “form” of multivitamins and minerals affect outcomes. For instance, folic acid as methylfolate is better for neural tube development and cognitive function than “straight” folic acid. iii
Why take supplements?
There are two reasons to take supplements:
- For specific issues such as neural tube development
- For general health
When supplements are taken for general health rather than for specific reasons, they need to contain a range of antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress. Most oxidation in cells is an unavoidable side effect of cell function, but oxidation damage is higher when antioxidant levels are low, as they help limit oxidative stress and improve fertility levels. The antioxidant effect on male fertility is so marked that antioxidant levels in semen samples predict fertilisation rates more accurately than numbers of healthy sperm. iv v
Antioxidants come in a range of forms, including minerals, vitamins and enzymes, and are generally part of healthy, varied diets. A range of antioxidants is more important than high levels of a few well-known ones, as combinations of antioxidants prevent different types of “free radicals” from developing. Varied and healthy diets are also the best way to encourage a healthy gut microbiome that makes and extracts antioxidants from the diet.
For couples with varied and healthy diets who get pregnant quickly, there’s little reason to add anything above folic acid and Vitamin D. But when this isn’t happening (and that’s true for many of us), it makes sense to add reasonable amounts of quality vitamins and minerals to provide a broad range of antioxidants that minimise oxidative stress.
It’s a dangerous idea to think “the more of a good thing, the better it is for you”, especially with supplements, as the following, in particular, are potentially harmful to health in high doses: vi
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
General supplement advice
- Don’t take too many supplements and focus on their quality.
- We recommend appropriate quantities of organic “Food state”TM or “wholefood” nutrients because:
- “Food state” supplements are classified as raw food, and the minerals and vitamins in them are extracted from plants at low temperatures. They’re gentle, effective and suitable for vegans and those with dairy allergies.
- “Wholefood” nutrients are minerals harvested from a type of broccoli in a “food state,” which makes them gentle and easily absorbed.
The safety and effectiveness of taking nutrients this way are supported by research, and collections of isolated nutrients often don’t provide the same kind of benefits, and one approach to supplements is to:
- Focus on the appropriate diet for the PFP, and eat as varied a diet as possible.
- Take probiotics to improve digestion and strengthen the microbiome.
- Add an Omega-3 oil of some description.
- Take a quality “wholefood” multi-vitamin.
- When digestive function is a problem, get it tested to find and address any hidden issues scientifically.
Nutritional tests avoid the possibility of “overdosing” and give important support for a crucial aspect of fertility health. The shop has additional supplements that enhance immune function and support reproductive energy, but not everyone needs them.