Natural Supplements and Their Reproductive Benefits for Women Trying to ConceiveAlexander Kofinas
The journey to conception can sometimes be a challenging one. With increasing evidence supporting the efficacy of natural supplements in enhancing fertility, reproductive health, and fetal and newborn health, many women are incorporating them into their pre-conception and pregnancy routines. This comprehensive guide will dive deeper into natural supplements and their potential reproductive benefits for women and their unborn.
- CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10): Health Benefits: CoQ10 plays a pivotal role in energy production within cells. It also acts as a potent antioxidant, protecting cells from oxidative stress, and has been associated with cardiovascular health and neuroprotective properties. In reproductive health, CoQ10 improves the health of oocytes by stimulating mitochondria production as well as health. Women with poor ovarian reserve can benefit by supplementing with CoQ10 before conception. There are no valid studies on the effects of CoQ10 in pregnancy; therefore, it should not be used after conception.
- Resveratrol: Health Benefits: Primarily found in grapes, resveratrol is known for its anti-aging properties. It also boasts anti-inflammatory effects cardiovascular benefits, and may even enhance brain health. In women trying to conceive, resveratrol improves the quality of oocytes in the ovaries and increases the chances of conception. Resveratrol supplementation during pregnancy and lactation has been associated with a reduced risk of maternal obesity, gestational diabetes, and preeclampsia. In addition, scientific evidence has shown that maternal resveratrol supplementation diminishes cardio-metabolic disorders in offspring using its effects on fetal adaptative developmental programming.
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC): Health Benefits: NAC has antioxidant properties and is a precursor to glutathione, one of the body’s master antioxidants. It also counteracts paracetamol (acetaminophen) overdoses due to its liver-protective functions. NAC is known to have antiviral effects and reduces the risk of respiratory viral infections. In addition, it has a mucolytic effect that helps patients suffering from respiratory conditions recover faster and reduce symptoms. By increasing glutathione activity it helps with the detoxification process and reduces the risk of fetal toxicity from heavy metals. Emerging evidence suggests it might be beneficial for depressive disorders.
- Astaxanthin: Health Benefits: This potent antioxidant, found in algae and seafood, promotes skin health, supports eye health, and reduces inflammation. It may improve endurance and reduce exercise-induced muscle damage. Exercise has very important maternal and fetal benefits by increasing the production of the “brain fertilizer” brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). It reduces oxidative stress in oocytes and sperm and improves fertility.
- Lipoic Acid: Health Benefits: Lipoic Acid has antioxidant properties, aids in blood sugar regulation, reduces the risk of gestational diabetes, and has detoxification effects by binding to heavy metals and facilitating their excretion in the urine. Lipoic acid stimulates the regeneration of vitamins C and E, two potent antioxidants. Lipoic acid has neuroprotective effects and reduces brain damage after a stroke. In fetuses, this property can protect the fetal brain after accidental intrauterine episodes of cord compression, causing fetal asphyxia.
- Myoinositol: Health Benefits: Often used for metabolic and mood disorders, myoinositol has been shown to assist in insulin regulation and has benefits in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It reduces the risk of gestational diabetes, and for patients who develop diabetes in pregnancy, it reduces the risk of needing insulin. In women trying to conceive, Myoinositol improves ovarian reserve and egg quality and aids conception.
- B-Complex Vitamins: Health Benefits: B vitamins support metabolism, brain function, and energy production by facilitating the conversion of foodstuff to usable cell energy. B vitamins are essential in red blood cell formation for the mother and the unborn and to maintain estrogen and progesterone balance. B vitamins are an important factor in the methylation process of homocysteine to methionine, an important step in producing all neurotransmitters. B12 is essential for the myelination process and the health of all neuronal tissues, including the brain. Neuropathic pain from neurodegenerative conditions can be treated successfully without the use of antidepressants and psychotropic drugs, thus protecting the mental development of the fetus.
- Vitamin C: Health Benefits: Beyond immune support by its effect on white cell production, vitamin C promotes collagen synthesis, amniotic membrane integrity, and vascular collagen health. Enhances the body’s ability to absorb non-heme iron from plant sources, reduces free radicals (ROS), and protects cellular health from the harmful effects of oxidative stress.
- Vitamin D3: Health Benefits: Essential for calcium absorption, vitamin D3 supports bone health, regulates immune function and reduces the risk of autoimmunity. Vitamin D3 deficiency in pregnancy increases the newborn’s risk of developing autism. It may have mood-regulating effects, reducing the risk of depression. Ninety percent of people in the northern hemisphere are deficient in vitamin D3. Many chronic diseases affecting our modern societies are rooted in vitamin D3 deficiency.
- Curcumin: Health Benefits: The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, is recognized for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It may also have brain-protective functions. It has been studied in fertility and improved ovarian health, oocyte quality, and production. Boosts BDNF production in the brain, reducing the risk of memory loss, brain function decline and dementia. Similarly, it helps with fetal brain development.
- Green Tea: Health Benefits: Rich in antioxidants, green tea can aid in weight management, support cardiovascular health, and may reduce cancer risk.
- Choline: Health Benefits: Choline is vital for neurotransmitter synthesis, liver function, and lipid metabolism. Choline deficiency during pregnancy increases the risk of childhood and adult cancers and causes developmental delays, behavioral problems, and neurological and psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. Dietary intake of choline by the pregnant mother and later by the infant improves brain development and function permanently. In rodents, perinatal choline supplementation enhances memory and learning functions, changes that endure across the lifespan. DOI: 10.1111/eip.13426, DOI: 10.1155/2017/8748706, DOI: 10.1096/fj.201700692RR Conversely, choline deficiency during these sensitive periods results in persisting memory and cognitive deficits. Choline is an essential building block of the cell membrane of all cells, and it is essential for healthy cellular function. Choline deficiency in adults is associated with memory deficiency, neurodegenerative disorders and dementia.
- Taurine: Health Benefits: Taurine is often included in energy drinks for its role in nerve growth and its potential to improve exercise performance. Mothers deficient in Taurine are at increased risk of having babies suffering from intrauterine growth retardation. In reproduction, taurine is important for follicular growth and improves follicular maturation and egg quality. Taurine plays a regulatory role in female reproductive hormone secretion via hypothalamic effects. In the cardiovascular system, Taurine reduces blood pressure by modulating the effects of intracellular calcium; magnesium taurate can exert additional synergistic effects on vascular tone and blood pressure by the combined effect of Magnesium and Taurine.
- Fish Oil (Omega-3s): Health Benefits: Omega-3 fatty acids support heart health, reduce inflammation, and promote brain health. The benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied extensively in all aspects of health and disease. The average American consumes huge amounts of omega-6s and minimal omega-3s. The average Omega-6/Omega-3 should be as close to one as possible and instead, it is close to 15. This very inflammatory ratio has serious cardiovascular, neurodegenerative, and oxidative consequences. In fetuses, omega-3 fatty acids are super important for healthy brain development and reduced inflammation. Along with vitamin-D3 supplementation, high quality fish oil significantly reduces the risk for neonatal and childhood developmental disorders.
- Zinc: Health Benefits: Zinc is essential for immune function, DNA synthesis, protein production, and wound healing. In pregnancy, it reduces the risk of all viral and bacterial infections that could have detrimental effects on the mother and baby.
- Glucosamine: Health Benefits: Commonly taken for joint health, glucosamine may help alleviate symptoms of osteoarthritis. This is a potent Nf-kB inhibitor with potent anti-inflammatory effects. It suppresses inflammatory cytokines to normal levels, unlike medications which may suppress cytokines to abnormally low levels, which can harm the implantation and placentation process. Glucosamine suppresses elevated inflammatory cytokines in patients with unexplained infertility, recurrent IVF failure, or recurrent miscarriages. The use of glucosamine along with other anti-inflammatory supplements allows us to use less amounts of prednisone as well as to discontinue it sooner. This reduces the degree and duration of the side effects. In some patients, supplements alone are enough to suppress inflammatory cytokines, and thus we avoid prednisone altogether. Prednisone has been linked to osteoporosis, hypertension, and diabetes.
- Sulforaphane: Health Benefits: Found in cruciferous vegetables, sulforaphane has been linked to cancer prevention, heart health, and brain benefits. Supports phase II liver detoxification, helping the body neutralize and eliminate toxins. Demonstrates potential protective effects against neurodegenerative diseases. It enhances the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, aiding in cellular protection. Research suggests it may inhibit cancer growth and enhance the potency of certain cancer drugs. Consumption of cruciferous vegetables decreases the newborn’s risk of developing cancer as an adult. Likewise, consumption of sulforaphane might provide the same benefit to the newborn.
- DHEA: Health Benefits: A hormone precursor, DHEA supplementation can counteract age-associated declines, potentially benefiting skin health, bone density, and mood. As a precursor, DHEA can be converted into other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. Some believe DHEA can slow aging, though research is mixed. It may improve bone density, especially in post-menopausal women. Some studies suggest potential benefits for depression and mood. DHEA is decreased in patients with diminished ovarian reserve (reduced number of oocytes and of poor quality) and supplementation with DHEA has been found to improve oocyte number and quality in half of the patients. If it is used properly and with prior knowledge of the baseline levels of each patient, the success rate is higher than 50%, which most studies indicate.
- Melatonin: Health Benefits: Primarily known for sleep regulation, melatonin also has antioxidant properties and can support eye health. Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted during the night to help us go to sleep and rest. Melatonin is primarily used as a sleeping aid. At Kofinas Perinatal, although we use melatonin as a sleeping aid in patients who have trouble sleeping, we use it primarily for its powerful anti-inflammatory effects and for the ovarian rejuvenation effects. We also use it during the entire pregnancy to reduce intrauterine inflammation. High-risk patients are at increased risk of developing intrauterine inflammation. Such inflammation has been associated with an increased risk of autism in neonates. Reducing inflammation in utero reduces the risk of autism in our neonates. Patients with autistic children are referred to us in subsequent pregnancies to treat them properly and reduce the risk of autism in such neonates.
- Ashwagandha: Health Benefits: Chronic stress can negatively impact fertility. As an adaptogen, ashwagandha might help in reducing stress and anxiety, which can, in turn, positively influence reproductive health. Some studies have indicated that ashwagandha may improve sperm quality and count in men, potentially enhancing male fertility. While direct evidence on female fertility is less robust, the herb’s stress-reducing effects might indirectly aid women experiencing fertility issues related to stress or hormonal imbalances. Some preliminary research suggests that ashwagandha can influence hormonal balance, which can be crucial for reproductive health. However, more studies are needed in this area. There is not enough safety research in human pregnancy, but in animal studies, even excessive amounts infused intraperitoneally did not cause any toxicity in fetuses. Ashwagandha in folk medicine is listed as a galactagogue, enhancing lactation, and if used during pregnancy and lactation, it should be used in the recommended dosages only.
- Nattokinase: Health Benefits: Nattokinase is a product of soy fermentation and has blood thinning effects by reducing the risk of blood clotting. It has fibrinolytic effects, prevents clot formation and helps the body’s natural ability to dissolve clots by breaking down fibrin. Patients suffering from thrombophilia, specifically those carrying the mutated PAI-1 gene, have a decreased capacity to dissolve clots, and Nattokinase helps them do so. Nattokinase, unlike aspirin, crosses the placenta in sufficient quantities to protect fetuses from blood clotting disorders. Fetal clotting of the umbilical vessels is responsible for many fetal deaths; fetuses that survive an umbilical cord blood-clotting event, are more likely to suffer from cerebral palsy and other neurodevelopmental conditions after birth.
- Lutein: Health Benefits: Primarily known for eye health, lutein protects against blue light and oxidative damage. Lutein has antioxidant properties that could provide cellular protection against oxidative stress. This can be beneficial during pregnancy when oxidative stress is elevated.Since lutein is essential for eye health, it may play a role in the eye development of the fetus. Some lutein does cross the placenta, which may benefit the developing baby. Emerging research suggests lutein might play a role in brain health. Given the rapid brain development occurring in fetuses, adequate lutein might be beneficial. Lutein is present in breast milk. Mothers who consume higher amounts of lutein can pass more on to their babies during breastfeeding, potentially supporting the infant’s eye health. Currently, there’s no evidence suggesting that normal dietary intake of lutein is harmful during pregnancy. However, like with any supplement, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider before taking lutein supplements during pregnancy.
- Magnesium: Health Benefits: Crucial for muscle and nerve function, magnesium also plays roles in bone health, DNA synthesis, and energy production. Magnesium is a smooth muscle relaxant and might have a beneficial effect in keeping the uterus relaxed and improving uterine and placental blood flow.
- GABA: Health Benefits: As a neurotransmitter, GABA can help reduce anxiety, improve mood, and support sleep. GABA in combination with L-Theanine and phosphatidylcholine, supports mental calmness and brings the brain out of the fight-or-flight mode that creates severe anxiety and chronic stress with mood disorders. Toxicity studies in animals showed that at high doses of 1000 mg/Kg/day did not have any toxic effects. In humans, 18,000 mg daily for 4 days and 120 mg daily for up to 12 weeks have no toxicity effects. There are no data in pregnancy, but GABA’s safety profile is certainly better than SSRI, if we can replace their use during pregnancy. doi.org/10.3390/nu13082742 Fetal and early neonatal exposure to SSRI anti-depressants is associated with neurodevelopmental and behavioral problems in childhood and adulthood. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuint.2021.105041
- Creatine: Health Benefits: Creatine is a nutrient obtained from animal-based foods. Creatine declines with age and it can affect muscle mass in older adults. Bodybuilders have used it primarily because it promotes muscle growth during exercise and reduces sarcopenia in older adults. Creatine’s safety has been scrutinized extensively in all ages and also during pregnancy and was found to be safe for the fetus. Recently, animal studies in pregnant sheep revealed that pretreatment of the pregnant ewe prevented brain damage in fetal lambs subjected to hypoxia by umbilical artery compression compared to the lambs not treated with Creatine. Considering that during a normal human pregnancy, cord accidents happen and sometimes cause fetal demise, but most of the time cause temporary hypoxia but not death. Depending on the duration and intensity of the cord vessel compression, the fetus could suffer enough hypoxia to cause brain injury. Such events are the most common cause of cerebral palsy, and most of the neonates who develop cerebral palsy were born via an uneventful labor and delivery process. (Dickinson et al., BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014, 14:150) Vegans are more likely to be deficient in creatine since we know that the muscles of vegan men contain 30% less creatine. It is very likely that vegan women also have the same problem, and it then becomes important to have such women supplement aggressively before the pregnancy and take some supplemental creatine during the late second and third trimester when fetal hypoxic accidents could happen.
- L-theanine: Health Benefits: Found in tea, L-theanine promotes relaxation without drowsiness and can improve focus when combined with caffeine. See the section on GABA above.
- Probiotics: Health Benefits: This beneficial bacteria support gut health, influencing overall health from digestion to immune function. Many chronic and acute diseases result from poor gut health due to the destruction of normal gut microbiome from the industrial foods of modern society and environmental pollution. Organic dairy products that contain probiotics are important but not enough to maintain the gut microbes. There are many direct connections between gut and placenta, gut and heart, gut and brain, and the rest of the body. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is important for overall healthy living.
- Berberine InSea2: It is a natural supplement with patented technology that significantly affects insulin function and corrects preexisting insulin resistance. Insulin resistance causes recurrent implantation failure, infertility, recurrent miscarriages, and diabetes. We test all our patients for insulin resistance, and if present, we treat them with Berberine InSea2. Most patients respond to this safe treatment; only a few require additional medical treatment with Metformin.
- Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD): NAD is one of the most important molecules in the chain of reactions that produce the energy needed for life inside the mitochondria. Age is associated with a decline in NAD and the ability to produce vital energy. This ultimately leads to death in the later years of life. NAD supplementation increases energy production, physical endurance, and the quality of eggs, slows down the aging process and activates SIRT1, which repairs DNA damage. NAD is only used prior to pregnancy for ovarian rejuvenation and maternal preparation for pregnancy but it is not used during pregnancy because of lack of related safety research. However, NAD improves the breastfeeding mother’s milk supply and neonatal growth in the postpartum period and it is part of our breastfeeding protocol.
- SAM-e & TMG: SAM-e (S-adenosyl-L-methionine) and TMG (trimethyl glycine), also known as betaine, are naturally occurring substances that act as methyl donors during vital biochemical processes in the body. Methylation is essential to normal cell health and function. It can decline with age or chronic alcohol consumption and can be limited in some individuals due to their genetic makeup. SAM-e donates methyl groups needed to synthesize neurotransmitters, proteins, nucleic acids, and phospholipids. It supports glutathione production, liver health, joint comfort, and a healthy mood. TMG is an especially important methyl donor involved in the metabolism of homocysteine and the formation of SAM-e. TMG ultimately supports cardiovascular and neurological health and normal cell-life regulation. XYMOGEN’s SAM-e & TMG formulation contains a minimum of 70% of the SS isomer of SAM-e, the active form the body can use most readily. This concentration makes SAM-e & TMG cost-effective as most SAM-e formulations on the market contain less than 44% active SS isomer. Increased intake of Methionine in pregnant women reduced the risk of cardiac defects and neural tube defects. DOI:10.1093/ajcn/nqy340
The world of supplements offers many health benefits, from improved mood and cognitive function to enhanced physical performance and metabolic health. However, it’s crucial to remember that while supplements can be beneficial, they should not replace a balanced diet, and it’s always essential to consult with a healthcare professional before adding new supplements to your routine.
Consider that fraud is abundant in the supplement industry, and you should never look for the cheapest supplements. They are too crucial for your and your baby’s health to try to save a few dollars at the expense of your health. At Kofinas Perinatal, we have been using supplements in highly focused customized protocols, targeting the health issues we identify. Our goal is to help infertility patients conceive and subsequently maintain a healthy pregnancy, culminating in the birth of a healthy newborn. Sophisticated protocols are unique to each patient and the same person during a different pregnancy; our protocols might differ significantly from pregnancy to pregnancy.
So, it is essential to remember that you should only consume nutritional supplements of the highest quality and only in combination with sophisticated customized protocols created by a knowledgeable reproductive doctor.