Let's assume you want to keep your reproductive system, from the fallopian tubes to the uterus to egg production, in tip-top shape, whether it's in case you want to have a baby in the future, or just to help things hum along. It turns out that there are certain substances essential to reproductive health in women, and that insufficiencies may lead to problems with fertility, proper functioning of reproductive organs, or other serious difficulties. Not what you need in your life, am I right?
It's important, though, to realize that all of these vitamins and minerals can be found in foods or sunlight, so it's not necessary to run to the GP or health food store to demand supplements unless you've got a history of deficiencies in that particular area. Maintain a balanced diet with all these things in it (yes, boring, I know) and you'll keep your organs, hormone levels, and general processes in fine fettle, which'll help with a steady menstrual cycle as well as healthy readiness of any future baby-making.
Here are six vitamins, minerals, and acids that are necessary to your reproductive health, and should be a conscious part of your intake. Get thee to a grocery shop/spot of sunshine immediately.
How It Helps: The relationship between iron and fertility is still being uncovered, but research strongly suggests that low iron levels are related to infertility; one study of 18,500 women found that those taking iron supplements were 40 percent less likely to suffer from ovarian-related fertility problems. On a basic level, we know that iron is necessary for the correct functioning of organs.As the book What To Expect points out, it's a crucial factor in the oxygenating properties of red blood cells, and if they're not working properly, your organs (including your reproductive system) won't get enough oxygen to do their jobs well. Maintaining decent iron levels is a good idea for your overall health in any case, but doctors recommend that an iron level consultation is particularly important for women trying to conceive or in the midst of a pregnancy.
Where You Can Get It: If you're a meat eater, you can get iron from red meat, fish, and poultry. But you can also easily get enough iron from plant sources like lentils, tofu, spinach, and other vegetables.
2. Folic Acid
How It Helps: Folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, has been known to help reproductive systems and pregnancy for a while; a history of its use in human reproduction over at The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition points out that we've been discovering its attributes, from stopping megaloblastic anemia in pregnancy to reducing fetal abnormalities, since the '60s.
So what does it do for your reproductive parts? An easier question would be what does it not do. One article sums it up as, "Folate metabolism affects ovarian function, implantation, embryogenesis and the entire process of pregnancy." Folic acid supplements are seriously important for ovarian health; women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are often prescribed folic acid to help their functioning. And women with a particular genetic condition that prevents them from producing folate naturally (5MTHF) are told to take it to prevent infertility.
Where You Can Get It: Lentils! Folate occurs naturally in many foods, including that staple of many a brilliant curry; plus it turns up in broccoli, spinach, kale, and okra, and citrus fruits. Bodies tend to absorb it better as supplements, so talk to your doctor about whether you should be having folic acid pills if you're thinking about conceiving in the reasonably near future.
3. Vitamin B12
How It Helps: As with most of these nutrients and vitamins, you most notice vitamin B12's impact on reproductive health when it's not there. Women International traces several impacts that a B12 deficiency can have on the reproductive system, from cell abnormalities in the cervix and uterus to anovulation (no egg being released in a monthly cycle) and abnormal estrogen levels, which are vitally necessary for successful full-term pregnancies.
Where You Can Get It: Good dietary sources of vitamin B12 include dairy products, plus eggs, fish, shellfish, and poultry. If you're vegan or want to avoid eating dairy, you can easily get B12 from foods like nutritional yeast, fortified cereal and non-dairy milk, or by taking a supplement.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
How It Works: Omega-3s need to be supplied outside the body to maintain good health (they're one of the "healthy" fats), and it turns out they have a strong role in reproductive health. They seem to play a role in regulating menstrual cycles and on hormone levels in the body, creating a better environment for conception. The American Pregnancy Organization points out its many uses in a pregnancy, including a better-developed nervous system in the baby, lower chance of preeclampsia in the mother, a heavier child, and less risk of premature birth.
Where You Can Get It: You'll likely know this: oily fish. By which I mean sardines, anchovies, herring, salmon, tuna, and mackerel. You can also get your Omega 3s from eating walnuts, flax, chia, and hemp seeds, and even hummus.
5. Vitamin D
How It Helps: Yep, turns out you do need the D. A review of the role of vitamin D in women's reproduction on 2011 found that vitamin D deficiency is "associated with impaired fertility, endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome. Evidence from observational studies shows higher rates of preeclampsia, preterm birth, bacterial vaginosis and gestational diabetes in women with low vitamin D levels." That's a pretty persuasive argument about the role of vitamin D in healthy reproductive systems. It seems that vitamin D is crucial to the health of ovarian cells, and to balance the levels of sex-related hormones in the body. Conception rates actually tend to peak in summer, when we can synthesize vitamin D in the sun.
Where You Can Get It: Vitamin D is produced in the body in response to sunlight, but you don't need that much to produce it properly. The recommendation is not to let yourself tan or burn, and to get your exposure close to midday when the sun is at its strongest.
6. Calcium & Magneisum
How it Helps: A 2006 trial of calcium supplements by the World Health Organization found that if you administer calcium to a deficient woman who's pregnant, there was less risk of preeclampsia, hypertension, and premature delivery. Plus, a 2012 study found for the first time that calcium ions are absolutely necessary for pregnancy to proceed properly, because it causes a process that means the fertilized egg "activates" or starts to divide. It's important to note, though, that calcium needs to be paired with magnesium, which is the mechanism by which calcium levels are moderated in your cells.
Where You Can Get It: While you may have been told dairy is your only source for calcium, you can also easily get enough from dark, leafy greens and nuts. Magnesium is found in good sources of fiber, like nuts, spinach, legumes, and whole grains.
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