What are vitamins and minerals?

By Juliana Kassianos, Transformational Fertility Coach, Yoga Teacher and Founder of The School of Fertility

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WHAT ARE MICRONUTRIENTS?

  • Vitamins and minerals

  • Nutrients required in very little amounts

WHY DO WE NEED MICRONUTRIENTS?

Essential for keeping the body working properly, especially when trying to conceive. They don’t contain calories or provide us with energy, but they do have an effect on our energy metabolism as they help the body convert calorie containing nutrients into energy. We can’t make them in our bodies so we have to get them from the food we eat or from taking synthetic forms that have been created in laboratories.

VITAMINS

Vitamins are organic compounds that are necessary for our normal growth and function. If we don’t have vitamins in our diet, we can get life-threatening deficiency diseases, such as scurvy from a deficiency in vitamin C. We tend to take synthetic vitamins not just to treat vitamin deficiencies, but also to optimise our health, which is important when trying to conceive.

There are two types: water soluble and fat soluble.

  • Water soluble vitamins (B complex and C) are easily lost through body fluid and need to be replaced daily

  • Fat soluble vitamins (A, E, D and K) are soluble only in fatty liquids; they aren’t easily lost in body fluids

MINERALS

Minerals are inorganic compounds found in rocks and soil. Vegetables in the soil absorb minerals. There are two types: macrominerals and microminerals.

  • Macrominerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium) are needed in large amounts. They are required daily to ensure our internal systems function properly

  • Microminerals (iron, copper, iodine, uoride and zinc) are only needed in tiny amounts

FERTILE MICRONUTRIENTS FOR WOMEN

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)

Deficiencies linked to anovulation (lack of ovulation) (e.g. sun ower seeds, peas and macadamia nuts)

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

Deficiencies linked to sterility, miscarriage, and low birth weight (e.g. whole almonds contain 1 milligram of riboflavin, 85% of the recommended daily allowance, spinach and sesame seeds)

Vitamin B3

Initial findings indicate vitamin B3 may help to prevent miscarriages and birth defects, however, further research is being carried out (e.g. avocado, sun ower seeds and peanuts)

Vitamin B6

Regulates hormones and can help to lengthen the luteal phase of a cycle (e.g. eggs, oatmeal and pistachio nuts)

Vitamin B9 (Folate)

Associated with higher luteal progesterone levels and decreased chances of anovulation (lack of ovulation) (e.g. asparagus, spinach and sun ower seeds)

Vitamin B12

May help boost endometrium lining in egg fertilisation (e.g. salmon, shell fish and eggs)

Vitamin C

Can help improve hormone levels, increase progesterone levels in women with luteal phase defect and assist with the absorption of iron (e.g. citrus fruits, kiwi and yellow peppers)

Vitamin D

Observational studies have reported better IVF outcome in women with sufficient vitamin D levels (e.g. sunshine, egg yolks and salmon)

Vitamin E

Deficiencies linked to infertility in rats. ‘Tocopherol’ means to bear young. It’s an antioxidant, so it protects eggs from damage by free radicals (e.g. almonds, eggs and wholegrains)

Calcium

Study shows it’s vital in triggering growth in embryos (e.g. sardines, sesame seeds and kale)

Magnesium

Link between low magnesium and infertility. It ensures proper blood supply to the uterus and is important in the production of progesterone (e.g. spinach, swiss chard and avocado)

Iron

Deficiencies linked to anovulation (lack of ovulation) as well as poor egg quality (e.g. oatmeal, spinach and kidney beans)

Selenium

An association has been found between women who experience recurrent miscarriage and those with selenium de ciency. As an antioxidant selenium can help to prevent chromosomal breakage and DNA damage, which can be a cause of miscarriage and birth defects (e.g. Brazil nuts, oats and mackerel)

Zinc

Women who are deficient in zinc are more likely to experience foetal loss, intrauterine malformations, pregnancy complications and abnormal deliveries. Zinc plays an essential role in protein synthesis and cell division, which is important in the production of good quality eggs and embryo development. If you are undergoing IVF, make sure you’re getting enough of this mineral (e.g. Adzuki beans, pumpkin seeds and shrimp)

FERTILE MICRONUTRIENTS FOR MEN

Vitamin B12

Increases sperm count, enhances sperm motility and reduces sperm DNA damage. (e.g. salmon, shell fish and eggs)

Vitamin C

Assists in the prevention of agglutination (when sperm clump together). Assists with absorption of iron (e.g. citrus fruits, kiwi and yellow peppers)

Vitamin D

Improves sperm function (e.g. sunshine, egg yolks and salmon)

Vitamin E

Antioxidant that protects sperm from free radical damage (e.g. almonds, eggs and wholegrains)

Calcium

The concentration in semen determines the motility of the sperm. There is no scientific evidence to show that it increases overall fertility though (e.g. sardines, sesame seeds and kale)

Selenium

Antioxidant that protects sperm from free radical damage and increases sperm motility (e.g. Brazil nuts, oats and mackerel)

Zinc

Increases sperm motility and quality (e.g. Adzuki beans, pumpkin seeds and shrimp)

SUPPLEMENTS

It’s always best to eat a varied diet so that you get the vitamins and minerals your body needs from the food you eat, but sometimes supplementation may be necessary.

Pre-pregnancy supplements vary in price and ingredients. Some contain just micronutrients, whilst others also include food supplements such as beta-carotene and maca. You don’t necessarily need to go for the really expensive ones to get all the micronutrients you need. Whichever one you choose, just make sure it definitely has folic acid in the ingredients.

Vitamin A

Unless advised by your doctor, don’t take vitamin A (retinol) supplementation as having too much has been linked to foetal abnormalities. Check any supplements you take to make sure it’s not listed on the label and avoid eating liver, which is particularly high in vitamin A. Instead, you can get your vitamin A intake from foods that contain Beta Carotene, such as carrots, apricots and spinach. Beta Carotene is a pigment found in plants that the body can change into vitamin A and it’s not associated with causing birth defects.

Vitamin B6

You should be able to get your vitamin B6 from the food you eat. The Department of health advises that if you take supplements of vitamin B6, not to take more than 10mg a day unless advised otherwise by your doctor. Be aware that if you take more than 200mg a day for a long period, it can lead to peripheral neuropathy (loss of feeling in the arms and legs).

Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)

Vitamin B9 is known as folic acid in its synthetic form and plays a vital role in the development of healthy babies. Women are recommended to take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, two to three months before pregnancy and for the first trimester, to help reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects. In some cases, a higher dose may be recommended, so it’s best to check with your doctor. Men can also benefit from folic acid supplementation. One study showed how deficiency decreased sperm counts by 90% in rats.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C has also been shown to enhance the ovulation-inducing effects of Clomifene (Clomid). It’s been found that women who take both the drug along with vitamin C supplementation are more likely to start ovulating.

Vitamin D

One study showed that women who are deficient in vitamin D are half as likely to conceive with In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) compared to those who aren’t deficient. It’s also been found to improve sperm function in men. The recommended amount for adults, pregnant and breast-feeding women is 10 micrograms daily. Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, you can get vitamin D from being outdoors and exposing your bare skin to direct sunlight. It’s also found in a few foods like oily fish, egg yolks and some fortified foods.

Co-enzyme Q10

Evidence shows Co-enzyme Q10 (also known as ubiquinone) a vitamin-like substance that cells use to generate energy, can boost fertility in both men and women. We produce less and less of it as we age. Research suggests it may be beneficial for women trying to conceive at a later age. It’s found in foods such as mackerel, peanuts and spinach. Cooking can destroy concentrations so the amount we get in our food can be quite low. ‘Linwoods’ do a ‘Milled flaxseed, nuts & Co-enzyme Q10’ that you can add to smoothies or porridge. There’s controversy over best dose.

L-Arginine

According to one study, oral supplementation of the amino acid L-arginine in those who respond poorly to IVF, may improve ovarian response, endometrial receptivity and pregnancy rate. It has also been shown to improve sperm motility. Food sources include spirulina, pumpkin seeds and chickpeas.

Vitex Agnus-Castus

Otherwise known as vitex, chaste tree, chasteberry is thought to be an e cient medication in the treatment of luteal phase defects. Speak to a qualified herbalist.

Fish Oil

Quality is important if you do take a fish oil suppplement. Make sure its mecury-free and does not contain vitamin A.

THE CONTRACEPTIVE PILL AND NUTRIENT DEFICIENCY

Be aware that taking oral contraceptive pills can deplete the body of certain micronutrients including folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E, magnesium, selenium and zinc. If you’ve recently stopped taking the contraceptive pill and think you may be de cient in certain micronutrients, it’s best to see your doctor.

REFERENCES

  • Preconception B-vitamin and homocysteine status, conception, and early pregnancy loss. Ronnenberg AG et al. Am J Epidemiol. 2007 Aug 1;166(3):304-12. Epub 2007 May 2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ pubmed/17478435

  • Vitamin B12 deficiency, infertility and recurrent fetal loss. Bennett M. J Reprod Med. 2001 Mar;46(3):209-12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11304860

  • Vitamin B12 and Semen Quality. Saleem Ali Banihani. Biomolecules. 2017 Jun; 7(2): 42. https://www. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5485731/

  • Effect of Zinc Supplementation on Pregnancy and Infant Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Benjamin W. Cha ee and Janet C. King. Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Oct 1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3787719/

  • Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements. Palmery M et al. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2013 Jul;17(13):1804-13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23852908

  • Folic Acid Supplementation and Pregnancy: More than Just Neural Tube Defect Prevention. James A Greenberg et al. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2011 Summer; 4(2): 52–59. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ articles/PMC3218540/

  • Coenzyme Q10 restores oocyte mitochondrial function and fertility during reproductive aging. Assaf Ben-Meir et al. Aging Cell. 2015 Oct; 14(5): 887–895. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC4568976/

  • Efficacy of coenzyme Q10 on semen parameters, sperm function and reproductive hormones in infertile men. Safarinejad MR. J Urol. 2009 Jul;182(1):237-48. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2009.02.121. Epub 2009 May 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19447425

  • http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-B.aspx

  • Adjuvant L-arginine treatment for in-vitro fertilization in poor responder patients. Battaglia C et al. Hum Reprod. 1999 Jul;14(7):1690-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10402369

  • L-arginine and male infertility. Scibona M et al. Minerva Urol Nefrol. 1994 Dec;46(4):251-3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7701414

  • Vitex agnus castus extract in the treatment of luteal phase defects due to latent hyperprolactinemia. Results of a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study. Milewicz A et al. Arzneimittelforschung. 1993 Jul;43(7):752-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8369008


Juliana Kassianos