Infertility can be challenging to treat. Modern medical techniques are sometimes effective, but they can be costly, and success rates can vary.
Some people who are dealing with infertility look for alternatives to medical intervention to help them become pregnant. They may try using supplements that claim to boost fertility in males, females, or both.
While there are numerous claims about the benefits of such supplements, it is essential to remember that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not require most supplements to prove their effectiveness in clinical studies. Any studies that do exist tend to be small.
In this article, learn more about fertility supplements, including the possible risks. We also discuss other treatment options.
Types of fertility supplements
Common types of fertility supplement include:
Acetyl L-carnitine (ALC) is an antioxidant. In a 2018 review, researchers sought to determine the effect of ALC on issues that affect female fertility, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and amenorrhea, or pain during sex. The review found that ALC showed some promise in helping treat female fertility issues.
Another recent review looked at the effect that antioxidants, including ALC, had on sperm health. The authors highlighted the impact that the antioxidants had on sperm motility.
According to 2018 research, vitamin E may increase sperm motility due to its antioxidant effects, and it may help improve fertility in men.
However, there is very little research into the potential benefits of vitamin E supplementation for females experiencing fertility issues.
According to researchers, folic acid may be effective in helping women become and stay pregnant. However, the authors noted the need for more research to determine how effective folic acid and other nutrients are as treatments for female fertility.
For men, a 2017 review of earlier research found that a combination of folic acid and zinc helped improve the quality of sperm.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) helps generate energy in human cells. Recent studies on this enzyme’s ability to treat infertility have been very positive.
A 2018 study found that CoQ10 could improve the response of the ovaries to stimulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). The pregnancy rate was higher in women who used CoQ10 than in the control group, but the difference was not statistically significant.
The researchers concluded that, while CoQ10 shows promise, more research is necessary to determine its effectiveness.
Vitamin C may aid male fertility. A 2016 study found that men with obesity who consumed vitamin C had improved sperm concentration and mobility.
Do they work?
While some research indicates that taking fertility supplements may offer some benefits, other research suggests that they have little to no effect.
Some research even indicates that males who overuse antioxidant therapy may harm their fertility. There is a need for more research on whether or not fertility supplements work.
Some people may find that combining supplements with lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, limiting alcohol intake, and quitting smoking, increases their chances of conceiving.
However, supplements alone might not be enough to guarantee success in getting pregnant.
Some fertility supplements may interact with other medications that a person is taking. For example, folic acid may interact with some drugs for seizures or parasitic infections, while taking vitamin E alongside certain blood thinners, weight-loss drugs, and bile acid sequestrants may cause adverse effects.
High doses of supplements can also cause side effects, which may include:
- nausea and vomiting
- blurry vision
- increased risk of heart disease (if taking folic acid)
- increased risk of cancer (if taking folic acid)
- necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a life-threatening congenital abnormality
What to ask a doctor
Before taking supplements to aid fertility, a person should speak to their doctor about the risks and potential benefits. The doctor will need to know about the individual’s medical history and any preexisting conditions.
Some of the most important questions to ask a doctor include whether or not a supplement will interact with other medications and if it poses a risk of overdose.
Some supplements have demonstrated the potential to improve fertility outcomes. People should always consult their doctor before taking a new supplement as it may have adverse effects.
Other lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, quitting smoking, and abstaining from alcohol, are likely to be beneficial for people who are trying to conceive.
Scientists need to carry out more research before they can conclusively determine whether supplements can treat infertility.
Medically reviewed by Dena Westphalen, Pharm.D.
Written by Jenna Fletcher