Oct 24, 2022Preconception

Top 5 Nutrients to Boost Fertility: Preconception

by Lisa Dreher
Top 5 Nutrients to Boost Fertility: Preconception

In this blog series, we are going to highlight key nutrients featured in WeNatal that are needed for each stage of pregnancy. We want to start with arguably the most important stage of all: the preconception period. This stage is defined as the three months prior to conceiving. However, almost half of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, making a strong case for women and men to take a prenatal supplement throughout their childbearing years. In fact, out of all the stages of pregnancy to consider taking a prenatal, preconception is the time that is most important for the male partner. Let’s explore why below.

  1. 1. Folate
  2. Folate takes the lead role in supporting fertility during the months leading up to conception. It has the important job of creating new DNA and proteins, making it essential for proper ovulation and optimal egg quality while lowering risk of neural tube defects. 

 

You may be wondering – what’s the difference between folate and folic acid? It’s a big one, and really important to understand. 

Folic acid is a synthetic version of folate and requires additional steps to convert to a form the body can use. This introduces a challenge because 60% of people have a genetic variation to the MTHFR gene, which means their bodies have a harder time converting it and getting the benefits.

Folate, or L-methylfolate, is the active form, which means it can be easily absorbed and utilized by your body, skipping all those extra steps to convert. 

 

Unfortunately, many prenatal vitamins use only folic acid – a more cost efficient and shelf stable option. To ensure your body gets the benefits of increased folate intake at this important stage of preconception, folate in the form of L-methylfolate is the best path.

 

These benefits extend to men as well. Higher amounts of folate help reduce the risk of sperm DNA damage.

2. Antioxidants

 

For Him.

It’s understood that men’s fertility plays a role in up to half of couples struggling to get pregnant. A main reason for this is damaged sperm from excess exposure to Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) which causes oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can be caused by many things, including psychological stress, tobacco use, excess alcohol or caffeine, pollutants in our air, water, and food, exposure to radiation (including cell phones), being sedentary, obese, and eating a highly processed diet. 

Even those living the healthiest lifestyle will be exposed to pollutants in our environment and may be lacking in vitamins, minerals, and/or phytonutrients due to nutrient-depleted soil. Supplementing with certain antioxidants can cancel out the negative effects of ROS and even reverse damage already done. 

Since it takes between 2-3 months for a sperm to fully mature, taking these antioxidants during the preconception phase is vital for optimizing sperm count, motility, and morphology before reaching the egg.

 

Antioxidants shown to support healthy sperm include CoQ10, vitamins A, C, E, zinc, selenium, NAC, and L-carnitine.

 

 

For Her.

Recurrent pregnancy loss, spontaneous abortion, preeclampsia, and fetal death have all been linked to high levels of oxidative stress. This is made worse as a woman ages due to decline in egg quality. However, there are ways to slow this decline and even enhance quality, increase ovulation, and support production of luteinizing hormone and LH/follicle stimulating hormone.

 

The answer is antioxidants! Primary antioxidants for Her preconception include inositol, vitamins A, C, E, zinc, selenium, manganese, and L-carnitine. 

  1. Selenium
  2. Selenium is a trace mineral that functions as a potent antioxidant. It’s also involved in thyroid hormone regulation, metabolism, DNA synthesis, and can significantly impact fertility. Selenium supports healthy follicle growth within the ovaries which ensures proper release of the egg. And due to its antioxidant effects, selenium can protect against oxidative stress to the egg as well as sperm. 

Selenium deficiency can cause infertility in men by leading to the deterioration of sperm motility and semen quality. This makes selenium especially important during the preconception phase.

  1. Inositol
  2. Inositol is similar to a B vitamin, but is actually a type of carbohydrate that plays a role in signaling of hormones, neurotransmitters, and fertility. Inositol can improve fertility by improving the body’s ability to use insulin. High levels of insulin have been linked to infertility in both men and women. Insulin resistance can interfere with proper follicle growth leading to poor egg quality and ovulation. 

Insulin resistance develops long before someone has pre-diabetes or diabetes, but the reality is that many people go undiagnosed. Major causes of insulin resistance include being overweight or obese, having polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), genetic abnormalities, and use of certain medications. However, many people who eat large amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods with inadequate exercise often have insulin resistance without also having any of the major causes listed above.

 

Regular supplementation with inositol before conception, along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, can make a big difference in the chances of a healthy, successful pregnancy.

  1. Vitamin D
  2. Vitamin D deficiency is widespread, impacting more than 40% of adults, especially within minority groups. It is well known that vitamin D can prevent rickets and bone loss, but research is showing its far-reaching impact on biological systems such as immune function, cancer prevention, inflammation reduction, as well as supporting fertility. 

Research is starting to show that sufficient preconception vitamin D is associated with increased rates of successful pregnancy and live birth, though the reasons are not yet fully understood. The target level of vitamin D to achieve these improved markers of fertility seems to be higher than what is currently recommended by the Institute of Medicine, which is why we have included higher than standard doses in WeNatal for him and her. In fact, WeNatal is one of the only prenatal supplements that offers the most current recommended dose of 4,000IU.  

Regardless of baby plans, it is safe and wise to supply your body with the fundamental prenatal nutrients needed for you and your partner before you try and conceive. This is also very important for building your nutrient reserves for once mom gets pregnant.

 

If you unexpectedly get pregnant and haven’t been taking a prenatal, it doesn’t mean that you are doomed to an unhealthy pregnancy. Trust your body that it will supply what is needed and then start supplementing as soon as you can.

Taking a prenatal at any stage throughout pregnancy is better than not taking one at all, and in the next blog of this series, we'll explore nutrients that best support the first two semesters of pregnancy.

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Lisa Dreher

Lisa Dreher

Lisa is a registered dietitian/nutritionist with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Integrative Health. She has been practicing for over a decade and works full time at Dr. Mark Hyman's UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts.

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