When trying to conceive, doctors may suggest a variety of things to help optimize one’s health and taking vitamins and supplements is typically on the list. The importance of good nutrition is well established during pregnancy, influencing embryonic and fetal development, and thus, pregnancy outcomes. There is growing evidence that certain supplements and micronutrients may help in many ways for those trying to conceive, including boosting the overall quality of a woman’s eggs and a male’s sperm, as well as the overall health of a woman’s pregnancy.
Below, is a list of a few important vitamins and supplements to consider taking when you’re trying to conceive. It’s important to note that you should be receiving many of your daily vitamins and minerals from food sources. But if you have trouble getting all of the recommended daily amounts through food, supplements are a great addition to your diet.
Also, women should start taking multivitamins or prenatal vitamins before getting pregnant. In a large scale randomized controlled study, women taking prenatal vitamins at least 1 month before conception were noted to have higher number of confirmed pregnancies and shorter time to conception compared to women only taking trace elements like vitamin C and Zinc. In a large population based observational study, women taking multivitamins or prenatal vitamins had lower incidence of ovulatory infertility. The effect was most prominent with folic acid above 400 ucg at least 3 times a week.
If your prenatal vitamin doesn’t include some of these standalone vitamins and supplements, you might want to consider adding a few to your daily intake after consulting a primary care doctor or your fertility doctor to see if these vitamins and supplements are right for you.
- Folic acid (B9): Most people associate folic acid as a prenatal vitamin, but it can also be a really great supplement for those who are trying to conceive. Folic acid is associated with greater chances of getting pregnant naturally and improves success for those undergoing fertility treatments. Medical professionals also recommend that men take folic acid when trying to conceive, as it can improve the quality of their sperm.
Suggested amount: 400-1,000 micrograms for women, 400 micrograms for men. Best form of folic acid is thought to be the methylated folate (quatrefolic).
- Vitamin B6 and B12: Both are essential nutrients needed for our cells to grow, develop and survive and are important in both men and women. B6 supplementation has been associated with improvement in hormonal balance in women leading to improved PMS symptoms and better ovulatory cycles, which in turn, improved the odds of becoming pregnant. A study in the medical journal Reproductive Toxicology found that those who took supplemental folate and vitamins B6 and B12 lowered their homocysteine levels, which improved the odds of successful conception in women with recurrent pregnancy loss. A separate study conducted in 2017 called “Vitamin B12 and Semen Quality” also found that increased B12 intake in men resulted in improved semen quality.
Suggested amount: For B12, 1,000 micrograms once per week for men and women. For B6, 1.4 milligrams for men and 1.2 milligrams for women daily.
- Myoinositol (B8) and D-chiro-inositol: This is naturally occurring in almost every tissue that is involved in insulin and gonadotropin signaling, affecting follicle maturation. In women with PCOS, myoinositol is associated with improvement in insulin resistance and ovulation. During pregnancy, it may also help prevent gestational diabetes.
Suggested amount: 2000 mg two times a day of combination of myoinositol and D-chiroinositol.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and can promote healthy reproductive systems in both men and women. For women, vitamin C can reduce the negative impact of free radicals, in turn reducing cellular damage, which may then counter aspects of ovarian aging. Research shows vitamin C supplementation is associated with shorter time to pregnancy. As for vitamin C’s impact on male fertility, The Nutrition and Food Security Research Center found that taking vitamin C with vitamin E improved the number, motility, and sometimes DNA quality of sperm.
Suggested amount: 90 milligrams minimum daily for men and 75 milligrams minimum daily for women. Liposomal form at 500 mg to 1000 mg or higher doses up to 2000 mg a day is thought to be safe for most adults.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is important for the development of healthy hormones and is thought to play an important role in many chronic diseases from diabetes, autoimmunity, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Those trying to get pregnant can test for vitamin D level to see if they are deficient and start taking supplemental vitamin D if necessary. Sufficient vitamin D level has been associated with improved pregnancy rates. Additionally, this vitamin is thought to improve semen quality in men.
Suggested amount: 2,000 to 4,000 international units (IU) daily for men and women.
- Vitamin E: Most people will recognize vitamin E from their skincare – tons of products include this one to help “reduce wrinkles,” because vitamin E works to prevent cell membrane damage. That’s also exactly what makes it a great vitamin to boost fertility. A study named “Vitamin E as an Antioxidant in Female Reproductive Health” suggests that vitamin E improves women’s overall reproductive health and improves egg quality. For men, it helps to boost sperm quality, and when taken with vitamin C has been shown to reduce DNA fragmentation. It’s especially important for older (35+ years old) patients trying to get pregnant to take vitamin E.
Suggested amount: Mixed tocopherol form is ideal and 200-400 IU daily for men and women.
- Coenzyme Q10: Coenzyme Q10 (also called Coq10) is another natural antioxidant that counters oxidative stress that increases with age. There is evidence that Co q10 supplementation improved chances of pregnancy – especially in women with diminished ovarian reserve or in women over 40. Similarly, in men, several studies reported improvement in both sperm concentration and motility with Co Q10 supplementation.
Suggested amount: Suggested amount will vary depending on your specific needs but typically between 100-600 milligrams per day is often recommended for men and women.
- Omega-3s: Omega-3s can be helpful for men and women, by countering inflammation throughout the body thereby promoting overall health as well as boosting men’s sperm motility and helping achieve pregnancy in women over the age of 35. Omega-3s may help the overall egg quality in women trying to conceive. You can find Omega-3s in seafoods, or you can try fish oil pills. If you are getting your Omega-3s via a supplement, you will want to look for DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), as that is the most bioavailable (easier for your body to absorb and use).
Suggested amount: 500-1,000 milligrams daily for men and women.
- Iron: Taking an iron supplement may help women prevent iron deficiency anemia. Ovulatory infertility can be associated with an iron deficiency, and a long-term study by the Department of Nutrition and Epidemiology of more than 18,000 women showed that supplementing with iron appeared to decrease the risk of ovulatory infertility. Whether you may benefit from supplementation may also be guided by measuring ferritin levels to determine the degree of iron deficiency.
Suggested amount: 27 milligrams daily for men and women.
- Selenium: Selenium is a trace element essential to generate glutathione that protects cellular membranes. Many view selenium as a “super” vitamin for fertility, because of its antioxidant powers. It’s recommended that pregnant women take about 60 mcg daily when trying to conceive as lower levels in the early stage of pregnancy may lead to complications such as miscarriages and smaller birth weight of the baby. It’s also a great one for men as well. Selenium and its associated proteins together ensure viability of sperm and abnormal levels may affect motility and quality.
Suggested amount: 55 micrograms daily for men and women.
- Zinc: Zinc is another essential mineral that appears to play an important role in both sperm quality and egg development. Studies have suggested that a zinc deficiency could lead to low sperm production and quality reversed by supplementation. As for zinc and female fertility, a 2019 study from Robinson Research Institute, Adelaide Medical School, Waite Research Institute, and School of Medical Science found that lower levels of zinc in the blood were associated with longer time trying to conceive, so zinc may help a women’s fertilization and egg development but there is less research on benefits of zinc supplementation in women.
Suggested amount: 30 milligrams daily for men and women.
- N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC): This is an amino acid with anti-oxidant effect by stimulating glutathione production. Research shows that NAC reduces oxidative stress, possibly reducing chromosomal damage leading to improved egg and embryo quality. NAC may also reduce insulin resistance, which has been shown to improve ovulation rates in women with PCOS. In men, NAC supplementation is associated with improvement in sperm count and quality.
Suggested amount: In women, pre-conception 900 mg two times a day and after conception 600 mg a day thru first trimester. In men, 600 mg a day
- L-arginine: L-arginine is an amino acid that is involved in promotion of blood flow by helping the body produce Nitric Oxide, leading to vasodilation. L-arginine supplementation in men may help with erectile dysfunction and increase sperm production and motility. In women, for those with issues with thin uterine lining, the increase in blood flow may help thicken the endometrial lining. Some studies also reported improved outcomes in those who previously had failed IVF cycles.
Suggested amount: 1000mg two times a day for men and women.
Contraindications: history of oral or genital herpes as it may trigger an outbreak.
- Acetyl L-carnitine: Acetyl L-carnitine (ALC) is a form of an amino acid that is involved in mitochondrial oxidation of long chain fatty acids. It has been primarily shown to improve sperm motility. Limited study suggests improvement in symptoms associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome, which in turn may improve fertility.
Suggested amount: 500-2500 milligrams daily for both men and women. Best taken first thing in the morning.
Contraindication: hypothyroidism and history of seizures.
Taking these vitamins and supplements can be beneficial for your overall health as well as before conception. It’s important to talk to your doctor about what supplements might be right for you, and how they can increase the chance of conception and a successful pregnancy. Not all supplements should be continued once pregnant, and you should consult your physician. Maintaining a healthy balance of these vitamins can be beneficial in your fertility journey, but in your overall health as well.
Article reviewed by: Dr. Salli Tazuke
Dr. Salli Tazuke is the Co-founder and Co-Medical Director of CCRM San Francisco and is a board certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.
After receiving her medical degree from University of California San Diego, she completed her residency at Yale University School of Medicine and her fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Stanford University School of Medicine. During her fellowship, she received the notable recognition of Outstanding Laparoendoscopic Resident Surgeon by the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons.
She has been a reviewer for Fertility and Sterility and American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Tazuke has also been named a Castle Connolly Top Doctor since 2018. Dr. Tazuke speaks multiple languages, including Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese.