A nutritionist weighs in...

There’s a lot of superstition when it comes to the world of TTC, or “trying to conceive.” I know, because I’ve been in that world for seven years—first as a someone who was TTC, and then as a professional helping other women build their fertility through nutritional factors.

As a nutritionist, it surprises a lot of people when I say that diet isn’t the end-all factor when it comes to fertility. There are other factors that rank more importantly than the specific foods you’re taking in daily. So, if you’re stressed that you didn’t get a positive test within a month because you ate that extra slice of pizza, fear not!

Fertility is both more broad and more specific than the exact foods you’re eating. Broad, because it has more to do with overall inflammation levels, gut health, reproductive health, and thyroid health than it does with the macronutrient ratios of your last many meals. Specific, because certain nutrients can make or break fertility, but it’s not always as simple as eating plenty of foods that are rich in those nutrients.

While many supplements need taken with a grain of salt, there are several that are backed by solid research for their role in boosting fertility in men or women. I would, however, caution you to be care about whom you take supplement advice from. I’ve seen clients who purchased hundreds or thousands of dollars of supplements from practitioners who told them it would help them conceive, only for me to point out that the forms of nutrients in these supplements were inactive, or the cheapest and hardest to absorb. I personally don't sell supplements to my clients so that they can trust my recommendations, since I'm not selling them for profit. Certainly many practitioners have integrity when it comes to this, but do your research on supplement brands and ingredients, and seek a second opinion before you invest hundreds or thousands of dollars into supplements (for fertility or anything!).

That being said, here are the 10 best supplements for boosting various aspects of fertility, backed by research. If you’re trying to conceive, keep in mind that supporting both male and female fertility is essential since it is estimated that each can contribute 40 percent to fertility problems, with 20 percent remaining from unknown factors.

Don’t start supplements for fertility without checking with your doctor first, since some supplements might interact with existing fertility treatment protocols or medication.

Ashwagandha

An adaptogenic herb that helps the body to better cope with stress, it can be taken by both men and women, but shows the most promise for fertility boosting effects in men.

  • Benefits: Boosts male fertility by increasing semen quality and sperm motility.
  • Dose(s): 5 grams per day for 3 months

DHEA

DHEA is a hormone that naturally occurs in the body that can be converted into testosterone or estrogen, depending on which is needed.

  • Benefits: Boosts female fertility, especially for decreased ovarian reserve, by increasing number of eggs that mature each cycle, with the potential for fertilization.
  • Dose(s): 25 mg taken 3x daily for 17 weeks

Inositol

Inositol is a pseudovitamin that has similarities to the B vitamin family which has fertility as well as mental health benefits, such as decreasing anxiety and panic.

  • Benefits: In women, improves egg quality and ovulation, and is therapeutic for PCOS.
  • Dose(s): 2 grams taken 2x daily for 3 months

Zinc

A mineral that is required for numerous body processes, including immunity, zinc is beneficial for both male and female fertility.

  • Benefits: Increases testosterone and sperm counts in infertile men; in women, zinc can help to promote healthy eggs in both quality and ability to fertilize.
  • Dose(s): 5 to 45 milligrams daily, depending on current levels (ask your doctor to test) for 3 months

Selenium

Selenium is a trace mineral that is vital for human health, especially when it comes to the thyroid. It functions as an antioxidant in the body, making it essential for fertility in men and women, too.

  • Benefits: In men, selenium boosts sperm motility; in women, it can decrease the risk for miscarriage.
  • Dose(s): 200–300 mcg daily for 3 months

Coenzyme Q10

A molecule that the body produces, coenzyme Q10 has a critical role in cellular energy production.

  • Benefits: Improves sperm count and motility in infertile men. In women, coenzyme Q10 can help to preserve fertility in aging and can lessen age-related decrease of egg count and quality.
  • Dose(s): 90–200 mg daily, depending on practitioner recommendation for 3 months

Lycopene

The carotene that gives tomatoes their bright red color, lycopene is an antioxidant which can help to boost male fertility.

  • Benefits: Improves sperm count, motility, and morphology in men.
  • Dose(s): 2,000 mcg taken 2x a day for 3 months

L-carnitine

L-carnitine is a nutrient that helps get energy to cells, specifically, the mitochondria, which are the engines of each cell.

  • Benefits: Improves sperm quality in infertile men.
  • Dose(s): 2 grams daily for 2 months

Folate

Vitamin B9, most commonly known as folate, is the naturally occurring version of folic acid. Folic acid is the man-made, synthetic version that is hard for many people to absorb, especially if they have certain genetic mutations or high inflammation levels.

  • Benefits: In men, treatment with natural folate (folinic acid) resulted in dramatically improved sperm count and motility and increased pregnancy rates; in women, healthy levels of folate result in decreased risk of miscarriage and neural tube defects.
  • Dose(s): L-methylfolate 7.5-15mg daily for as long as trying to conceive and also during pregnancy and postpartum

N-Acetylcysteine

NAC, as it is commonly known, is an amino acid that provides antioxidant benefits in the body.

  • Benefits: In men, NAC can help to improve sperm count and quality; in women, NAC can help to treat PCOS and induce or normalize ovulation.

Supplements can increase the availability of nutrients in the body, especially if you’re trying to conceive or having trouble getting pregnant. However, you should always check with your doctor before starting any. Some doctors will be skeptical of supplements, but these research-backed options are a great place to start the conversation.