If you do a search for pregnancy or fertility supplements, you’ll come across a plethora of products that claim to boost your chances for pregnancy.
For those having trouble conceiving, these options look like a heaven-sent answer: no invasive procedures, no prescription drugs or hormones, just naturally boosted fertility.
Before buying out the company’s stock, though, take some time to research what you’re putting in your body. Fertility supplements may or may not actually do what they claim.
The Truth about the Supplement Industry
Regardless of what you find online about the goodness of supplements (mostly from bloggers or the supplement industry), taking supplements can be a risky business.
According to a 2015 Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, 68 percent of adults take some sort of dietary pill. Over 80 percent of these have confidence that the supplements are safe, effective, and of good quality.
No doubt, many think that the supplements are inspected and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, making people feel safe and secure when taking them. But how many people actually make sure of that safety?
You might be surprised to know that the FDA has little to do with supplements on the market. For budget reasons, only a small number of supplements actually get spot-checked by the organization.
The FDA themselves state that they regulate the industry by a different set of standards than commercial foods. Supplement brands must take care themselves to follow all guidelines for listing ingredients and branding.
However, the FDA website clearly announces that the “FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.”
The organization will step in when a supplement is adulterated or misbranded in some way, but that policy leaves a lot of room for error.
Do Fertility Supplements Work?
Because the FDA does not always check into supplement testing, you should understand that research happens either voluntarily or because of problems with the product. In addition, many researchers focus on vitamins or multivitamins, leaving out products that specifically market as fertility supplements.
Although research is sparse, one 2014 review of supplements found their value lacking when related to fertility.
Co-authors Bulent Urman from American Hospital and Ozgur Oktem from the Koc University School of Medicine concluded: “The current literature seems to suggest a beneficial effect of antioxidants on male infertility. There is, however, no FDS that has been proven beyond doubt to increase conception rates in female infertility” [FDS referring to food and drug supplements].
In another 2016 review conducted by David Yao and Jesse Mills from the Department of Urology at UCLA, the authors looked at a variety of lifestyle factors and supplements for male fertility. While some vitamins proved beneficial, they found that the alleged fertility-booster FertilAid did not give men any added advantage.
A Positive Result?
Finally, one study by the Stanford University School of Medicine did show some positive results when women took the supplement FertilityBlend. During the study, 30 women participated without knowing whether they were taking a placebo or the real supplement. Participants had been unsuccessful in getting pregnant for 6–36 months.
The researchers then studied the women’s progress after several months. They found that those taking FertilityBlend did have a significant increase in progesterone levels and basal body temperature, both indications of boosted fertility. After 5 months, about 30 percent of the women had achieved pregnancy.
While this study did show some benefit, researchers have not conducted any new research for the fertility supplement. The study above was published in 2004. Also, like many other studies for supplements, the research had only a small test group and would need a much larger controlled trial to confirm its result.
Experts simply don’t have enough information to warrant doctors recommending these supplements to their patients. For those who have had a positive experience, you could argue that the supplements simply boosted micronutrients in the body that the women were already lacking.
What to Do Instead
Rather than wasting your time and energy on unresearched fertility supplements, talk to your doctor about other prescription, lifestyle or nutritional alternatives. A few lifestyle changes to consider:
1. Chart your basal body temperature.
Your basal body temperature is the natural temperature that your body has at rest. For women, your BBT will fluctuate around the time of ovulation by rising between .4 to 1 degree.
It will stay elevated until your next period and then drop again. If you become pregnant, your BBT will not drop around your normal period time but will continue to be elevated.
By keeping a chart of your basal body temperature, you will be able to tell if and when you’re ovulating. Then, you can increase your chances of getting pregnant by having intimacy around that time.
2. Eat well.
In reality, the best way to get in all the necessary nutrients for your body is to add them to your diet. Switch out the fast food for a homemade meal loaded with fruits and vegetables, and you’ll be well on your way. If you truly suspect a nutritional deficiency, ask your doctor about getting a lab test and then follow his advice if you find that you are deficient.
In addition, you’ll want to make sure that you’re maintaining an optimal weight. Your body will then have all the energy it needs to focus on making a healthy baby.
3. Cut back on stress.
Believe it or not, stress can actually cause you to miss ovulation. Obviously, that fact would have a direct effect on your chances of getting pregnant; so learn to say no to a few activities.
Too much exercise can also add stress to your life. While you need to stay healthy, try casual walking or swimming and don’t fret when you miss a workout.
4. Get intimate.
A good way to get pregnant faster is to simply have sex more often. Opt for one intimate session every other day until you achieve pregnancy. Even if you have irregular ovulation, you’ll have a high chance of still getting pregnant this way.
With the right guidance and expert advice, many women who struggle with fertility can achieve pregnancy. Whether you can get pregnant through fertility supplements is still a debatable factor. More research simply needs to happen before doctors can recommend them. Otherwise, you should just stick with what has proven to work, and talk with your doctor about other lifestyle changes that might help.
This article first appeared on AskDrManny.com.