Women struggling with fertility and using in vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive sometimes turn to supplements for help.
Unfortunately, a new study finds only weak evidence to support that strategy.
In contrast, the same research found that the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet does boost the odds that a woman will become a mother.
Compared to the fat- and sugar-rich Western diet, adopting a Mediterranean regimen appears to be a “straightforward approach” to boosting fertility, according to a team led by Roger Hart.
He’s a fertility specialist and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Western Australia, in Perth.
The new study was published Dec. 20 in Reproductive Biomedicine Online.
As Hart explained in a journal news release, “nutritional supplements are usually not prescribed” for women using IVF.
Instead, women typically try them out on their own. Such women are, therefore, “self-medicating” with supplements.
“Our information is largely anecdotal but it’s quite clear from online IVF discussion forums that they [supplements] are widely used and of great public interest,” Hart said.
But can supplements help women become pregnant?
To find out, the new study examined the collected evidence regarding the following products: dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), melatonin, co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ1O), carnitine, selenium, Vitamin D, myo-inositol, Omega-3 and Chinese herbs.
Researchers also analyzed data on various diets and whether they might help women on IVF conceive.
Regarding supplements, there was some weak evidence that DHEA and COQ10 helped a bit better than whatever placebo or “control” treatment the woman received.
There was also a bit of evidence supporting melatonin, but it was unclear which types of women might benefit or what the best dosage might be.
Antioxidants taken as supplements showed no effect on fertility.
However, the evidence was much stronger that the adoption of the Mediterranean diet could boost IVF success.
The diet — already recommended for general health by numerous medical groups — is heavy on vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, fish and olive oil while avoiding highly processed foods.
“These diets are high in B-vitamins, antioxidants, omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acids and fibre and are low in saturated fat, sugar and sodium,” Hart explained. The omega-3 fatty acids, especially, “may be beneficial” in boosting outcomes from IVF, including the quality of embryos, he added.
The study found that benefits to fertility occurred even when women used the Mediterranean diet for as few as six weeks.
Overall, Hart and his colleagues conclude that a switch to this type of eating may be the single most effective step women pursuing IVF can take to help them conceive.
Beyond that, using supplemental DHEA, COQ10 and omega-3 fatty acids might help a bit, too, he said. Hart also stressed that women should always consult with their doctors to make sure they’re in good health as they attempt to become pregnant.
Find out more about IVF at the Mayo Clinic.
SOURCE: Reproductive Biomedicine Online, news release, Dec. 20, 2023
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