According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), roughly 10 to 15 percent of American couples experience infertility to some degree in their attempts to conceive. According to the ASRM definition, infertility occurs when “a couple is unable to achieve pregnancy after a year of unprotected intercourse.”
In general terms, infertility is some form of disorder of either (or both of) the male or female reproductive systems, which prevents the conception of a child or the ability of the woman to carry a pregnancy through to delivery.
There are too many possible causes of infertility to deal with in one short article. So in this one, we are focusing on a fairly basic problem, which is how diets, and more specifically, vitamin intake, can affect both men and women in ways that will diminish their ability as a couple to reproduce.
It’s important to understand that vitamins can play different roles in the whole fertility cycle. The levels of a vitamin at various points in the process from ovulation through fertilization to birth may and sometimes do have different – even opposing – effects. So it’s essential to look at the broader picture of how and when (and why) a specific vitamin can play some role in fertility.
Generally, the vitamins most often involved in promoting fertility are the vitamin B group (specifically B6, B9 and B12) and Vitamin D.
Where do vitamins B and D come from?
The best sources of all forms of vitamin B are whole grains, brown rice, barley and millet; red meat, poultry and fish; eggs, milk and cheese; beans and lentils; seeds and almond nuts; broccoli, spinach and kai lan; citrus fruits, avocados and bananas.
Vitamin D exists in two main isoforms. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is either derived from direct exposure to ultraviolet-B light, or from intake of foods like fatty fish, cod liver oil or egg yolk. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is derived from fungi such as mushrooms and yeast.
What are the normal vitamin B levels and RDAs?
- B6: range is 5 – 50 ug/L. Recommended daily amount (RDA) is 1.5 mg for women and 1.7 mg for men.
- B9: range is 2.7 – 17.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). Recommended daily amount (RDA) is 400 ug
- B12: range is 160 – 950 picograms per milliliter (pg/mL). Recommended daily amount (RDA) is 2.4 μg
What is a normal vitamin D level?
From a blood sample, vitamin D level is measured and rated using the Endocrine Society classification:
- Adequate: 30 ng/ml or greater.
- Insufficient: 21 – 29 ng/ml.
- Deficient: less than 20 ng/ml
The current recommended daily amount (RDA) for vitamin D is 600 µg, except for the particular case of pregnant women with a history of neural tube defects in previous pregnancies.
About vitamin supplements
There are many simple over-the-counter products that can provide any missing vitamins and minerals. Remember, though, that not all advertised products will deliver what they are promising. You should be sure to source your supplements from a qualified and ethical site that will deliver exactly what they are advertising.
For Vitamin D, the simple option of drops that can be added to any drink is offered by our own Vitamin D supplement, which delivers the recommended daily dose of 400 IU.
The perfect supplement for vitamin B is the Israeli OTC called B Card, which has as active ingredients 1,000 µg folic acid, 10 mg of vitamin B6, and 400 µg of vitamin B12.
Research has shown that vitamin B12 is vital in boosting sperm motility and improving sperm concentration. It also helps to prevent DNA damage in the cell nucleus.
Some studies have suggested that B12 deficiency may also be a factor in premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction and loss of libido.
Research has already shown that Vitamin D deficiency affects the reproductive performance of males, leading to the production of defective spermatozoa with reduced chromatin integrity. Another study shows that infertile men with vitamin D deficiency had significantly lower sperm production and motility compared with men having normal vitamin D status.
Vitamin B6 and B12 not only help to promote egg health but can also prevent ovulatory infertility.
Folic acid (vitamin B9) helps form the neural tube from which the brain and spinal column will grow. Adequate levels of folic acid can help prevent major birth defects of the brain like anencephaly, and of the spine, like spina bifida.
Women who are trying to conceive should take a minimum of 400 µg of folic acid every day, since the formation of the central nervous system in the fetus starts 3-4 weeks after conception, maybe before they become aware that they are already pregnant. By this time, adding folic acid to the diet may be too late to prevent some birth defects.
Women who have already had a pregnancy that was affected by a neural tube defect should be taking 4,000 µg of folic acid each day from one month before trying to become pregnant and through the first trimester.
In pregnant women, low vitamin D levels are linked to preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a number of fertility problems, including endometriosis, uterine fibroids and reduced IVF success. There are also higher rates of adverse pregnancy outcomes, including preterm births.
It’s also important to remember that a newborn baby’s vitamin D level largely depends on the mother’s vitamin D status.