In general, it's always a good idea to try to get as much vitamins and nutrients from the food you're eating. The reality is, that's easier said than done. In some cases, dietary supplements can really help and your doctor may even recommend it. But before you start stocking up on vitamins you think you may need, it's important to be aware of the potential risks. If you're not careful, some supplements can affect your fertility in the long-run without you knowing.
"We see patients now more than ever who are self-medicating [with] supplements," Marta Montenegro, fertility lifestyles specialist at IVFMD, tells Bustle. "More than 70 percent of Americans are using supplements that may inadvertently affect their fertility."
Since consumers see supplements being sold over-the-counter, in health stores, or being recommended in the news, the assumption is they're totally harmless. But as Montenegro says, "We need to understand that supplements are not gummies." They have the same effect as taking medicine. If you continuously supply your body with supplements, they can impact your metabolism, hormones, and your entire endocrine system, which regulates fertility.
As Dr. Daniel A. Skora, reproductive endocrinologist, with Fertility Specialists of Texas, tells Bustle, supplements are generally useful for people who have restricted diets. But with that said, you still need to be very careful of what you're taking. "A majority of the vitamins sold online or even in health food stores are unregulated," Dr. Skora says. "In other words, there is no governmental organization that oversees dosing or effectiveness of these supplements."
There are so many different types of supplements out there and some come with their own set of risks. But here are some supplements experts say can impact your fertility.
Vitamin A is important for your eye health, your immune system, reproductive system, and the proper functioning of major organs. But if taken in large quantities, Dr. Levine says this "seemingly benign supplement can have catastrophic effects if taken before something as simple as outpatient elective surgery." When it comes to fertility specifically, Vitamin A, especially derivatives, should be avoided when trying to get pregnant. According to the National Institutes of Health, consuming too much Vitamin A (over the recommended 770 mcg RAE) in the early stages of pregnancy has been found to cause congenital birth defects like malformations in the eyes, skull, lungs, and heart.
Any Dietary Supplements Used For Weight Loss
In general, any product that claims to help with weight loss is something to be skeptical of. According to the National Institutes of Health, makers of weight-loss supplements "rarely carry out studies" to find out whether their products actually work or are safe. "Most of the dietary supplements that are focussed on weight loss are enriched with stimulants, such as yohimbe," Dr. Levine. "This can cause high blood pressure, seizures, or even heart attacks, and other potential side effects which could be disastrous on a potential pregnancy." Think of weight loss supplements as you would any kind of stimulant. For instance, if you need a ton of caffeine to get you through the day, that habit can affect your fertility. In fact, a study published in the journal Lancet found "women who consumed more than the equivalent of one cup of coffee per day were half as likely to become pregnant, per cycle, as women who drank less."
If a woman is pregnant or trying, Dr. Michael Guarnaccia, Reproductive Endocrinologist at Extend Fertility, tells Bustle, megavitamins should be avoided. "They contain very high levels of certain nutrients that could be harmful to pregnancy," he says. For women trying to conceive, a lack of key essential nutrients can make it more challenging. So it's best to stick to eating healthy. Although megavitamins aren't recommended, Dr. Michael Guarnaccia says the addition of a multi or prenatal vitamin can provide necessary nutritional support while minimizing the risk of complications.
The root of a dong quai plant is commonly used to reduce menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, as well as menstrual cycle conditions like migraines. It's said to have similar effects of estrogen, which is why it's known as the "female ginseng." There isn't too much research done on its effectiveness and side effects, but Dr. Skora puts this in the list of supplements to avoid as it can cause uterine contractions and increase the risk of miscarriage.
Testosterone Boosting Supplements
Some people may take testosterone to help enhance their libido. But as Dr. Tiffany Jones, M.D. of Dallas IVF, tells Bustle, this can not only have an effect on male fertility, but can also cause significant harm to a female fetus. When it comes to male fertility, Dr. Paul Turek, board certified urologist, tells Bustle that any medication containing testosterone or any of its components (androstenedione, DHEA), should be avoided. "Sperm production is driven by hormones that are separate from testosterone," Dr. Turek says. "Testosterone-containing supplements act hormonally to reduce hormonal input to make sperm, and can either lower sperm counts or decrease them to zero (i.e. sperm production stops)."
This may be a controversial one, since red clover is known for being the "fertility herb." On the plus side, it is rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. It's also known for helping to regulate hormone levels and increase cervical mucus. But red clover is an "estrogen mimicker," Dr. Skora says. Since it contains estrogen-like compounds, it can possibly increase the risk of women developing cancer in the endometrium. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says harmful changes to the uterine lining hasn't been found in short-term usage.
According to experts like Dr. Guarnaccia, there is not enough data to suggest any type of supplements out there will really help protect your fertility (i.e. slow the decline in egg supply). So if you are taking any supplements, be sure to talk to your doctor to make sure they're safe.