Patients often ask us about fertility supplements: do they work? Are they safe? Should they take them? Going through the supplement aisle can feel overwhelming, with hundreds of choices and extraordinary claims of instant success. While some supplements may support an existing healthy lifestyle, others can interfere with medications, or even contain dangerous ingredients. We’ve written this article to address some common misunderstandings about fertility supplements. We also offer tips for how to choose supplements more safely.
Fertility Supplements Are Not Regulated
Any discussion about supplements should start with understanding what kind of regulations these types of products receive. Many patients assume, understandably, that a supplement must have been proven to be safe and effective before it can be sold. However, for the most part, there is very little governmental or official oversight over the ingredients or efficacy of dietary supplements. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established rules and regulations for prescription medications, this process typically does not apply to supplements. Many supplements do not even contain the ingredients advertised on the label. On top of that, product labels such as “natural,” or even “organic,” are simply marketing terms, without a standard definition or criteria. This lack of regulated standards means it’s up to the consumer to make informed, safe choices when it comes to supplements.
Do Fertility Supplements Work?
Some supplements and vitamins have shown positive health effects through evidence-based studies. For instance, many, many studies have shown that prenatal vitamins containing folic acid can prevent certain neural tube defects. On the other hand, many supplement claims are not backed by studies, and some supplements can even contain harmful ingredients. As a rule, remember that even evidence-based supplements are not a miracle cure. PNWF’s Dr. Lora Shahine reminds patients, “supplements cannot substitute for healthy lifestyle choices: nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management.”
When it comes to fertility-specific supplements, a few (such as DHEA, CoQ10, and Vitamin D) have shown promising results in studies for patients with low ovarian reserve. These supplements may be appropriate for some patients and not for others. It’s important to speak with your doctor and fertility specialist before starting any supplements. This brings us to our next topic: how to find safer supplements.
How to Find Safer Supplements
If you’re interested in adding supplements to your fertility regimen, these three steps can help you navigate the often overwhelming number of products and claims available.
Review any and all supplements with your doctor
Patients are sometimes surprised to learn that supplements can interfere with prescription medications. Some products, such as St. John’s Wort or certain fish oils, can decrease the effectiveness of common medications or worsen certain medical conditions. For this reason, patients should discuss all current and new medications, supplements, and vitamins with their doctor.
Be Skeptical of Very Strong Claims
As we discussed earlier, the FDA doesn’t have much oversight over supplement marketing. Some fertility supplements come with incredible claims of success, such as guaranteeing pregnancy or increasing sperm count. In general, if the claim seems too good to be true, be wary.
Check for Independent Lab Verification
Fortunately, several independent laboratories exist to verify that supplements actually contain the ingredients listed on their label, with no contaminates or harmful ingredients. This testing is optional – companies have to request and pay for testing themselves, and not all companies do. This means that looking for trusted lab verification can be a quick and effective way to narrow down your supplement choices to ones that have gone the extra step to ensure they have no harmful ingredients. Dr. Shahine recommends looking for the logo from these four independent testing companies:
One note: these labs only test a product’s ingredients, not its efficacy. They also don’t examine the ingredients’ possible interactions with medications or medical conditions. As always, make sure you talk with your doctor before starting any new fertility supplements.
Additional Resources on Smart, Safe Fertility Supplement Choices
Some supplements can help support a healthy lifestyle. However, the supplement aisle contains many unregulated and untested products, and it’s important to know what to look for and what to avoid. Your fertility specialist can help come up with personalized recommendations for your pregnancy goals. For more information, watch Dr. Shahine’s detailed video on fertility supplement safety here.