7 Essential Supplements for Preconception and a Healthy Pregnancy
Preconception and prenatal vitamins assist you in getting the necessary nutrients your diet may lack. Though it does not replace healthy eating, good quality nutritional supplements are essential. Given both the sperm and egg are equally important in the creation of a healthy foetus, both mum & dad to be should ensure they are getting their necessary nutrients.
In this post we have outlined 7 supplements that are key to optimising your chances of a healthy natural pregnancy based on effective naturopathic principles, which also result in luminous glowing skin. I am so passionate to share with you the information that I have been able to gather about what makes a successful pregnancy and baby from the support of many of my clients and some of their concerns and questions along the way to getting pregnant along with my own pregnancy.
Multi Vitamin/Prenatal Supplement
— B vitamins are critical for hormone balance, carbohydrate metabolism along with the body’s detoxification processes.
— Many women who have had trouble falling pregnancy may need to be tested for MTHFR gene mutations. Approximately 30% of the population this gene mutation has an inability to convert folate (Vitamin B9) into its active form, which can lead to difficulty falling pregnant.
— Products which have high doses of quality vitamins and minerals and which do not contain fillers, additives and artificial colours.
— Avoid products which contain the retinol form of vitamin A or synthetic beta-carotene.
— Activated B vitamins, are more easily absorbed and have a higher bio-availability. Look for active forms of B6 and B12 in particular. These will appear on the ingredient label as Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate (P5P) and Methyl cobalamin.
— Folate in the form of Folinic Acid and 5-MTHF are easily absorbed and provide higher bio-availability. If you do have an MTHFR gene mutation, taking synthetic folate will cause more harm than good so make sure you are not taking a supplement with folate in the form of folic acid. Active forms of folate are readily transported through the blood brain barrier into the central nervous system and will increase active folate levels the fastest.
— Do not rely on low levels of fish oil, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D or zinc in a multi-vitamin if you are aware of a known deficiency.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
— The highest dietary source of omega-3 DHA and EPA are fish oils, particularly from deep -sea oily fish. Due to possible contaminants, such as mercury and pollutants, these dietary sources should be consumed in moderation as a source of omega-3 and some fish should be avoided altogether due to high mercury content.
— For this reason, high quality and mercury tested fish oil supplementation is often recommended for women planning to conceive and throughout their pregnancy and post-natal period to achieve the required omega-3 fat intake.
— Look for high quality fish oil capsules that have been purified by molecular extraction, to guarantee that the product does not contain mercury or other pollutants. Do not buy cheap and non-therapeutic products. These often contain quality fish oils with low levels of active ingredients. Many of these are insufficiently and irregularly tested for mercury and other pollutants found in ocean fish and/or are processed in a way which deteriorates the fish oils and reduces their efficacy
— Ensure that your supplement contains both EPA and DHA. They can be interconverted, so the ratio of EPA to DHA is not as significant as quality and amount are, but both should be present. A good ratio is 3:2.
— Ensure that your fish oil is mercury and lead free. Some manufacturers are not as stringent as need be and do not add this to the labels. You do not want to get omegas at the expense of consuming more toxins.
— If you are vegan, I recommend a high-quality algae extract. Ensure you do your research once again to ensure that the algae are free of ocean-borne contaminants like mercury and dioxin. Nordic Naturals Algae Omega is a pure vegan source of EPA and DHA.
— In addition to fish oil I recommend adding 2 tablespoons of flaxseed meal and 1 tablespoon of chia seeds to your diet. They also contain Essential Fatty Acids and fiber. Flaxseed in oil form may be susceptible to rancidity so I recommend against this.
— Iron deficiency in pregnancy is common with up to 1 in 5 women suffering from iron deficiency anemia at the time of pregnancy. Taking steps to ensure that your iron levels are adequate in the preconception period means that they will be more easily maintained during pregnancy.
— In fact, studies show that a mother’s iron deficiency early in pregnancy may have a profound and long-lasting effect on the brain development of the child, even if the lack of iron is not enough to cause severe anemia. This means that it is imperative you take steps to boost your iron stores during the preconception period prior to conceiving1.
— Ensure you have your iron stores checked in particular if you are vegan or have a history of anaemia. If your ferritin (iron store) levels are less than 50 micrograms you seek medical advice about the best supplement to boost your levels. Supplement with approximate 25 mg/day of iron during preconception if your iron stores are normal.
— Look for an iron supplement that is slow release to avoid any gastrointestinal side effects.
— Ensure that the bio-availability of your iron supplement is high. Traditional iron supplements like ferrous sulphate have low rates of absorption so you need to take high starting doses to restore your iron levels to normal. Consider a supplement such as Spat one Iron which contains naturally occurring iron-rich water from North Wales.
— Ensure your iron supplement is sugar, gluten and preservative free.
— Vitamin D has been shown to impact endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and can assist in balancing levels of progesterone and estrogen, which regulate menstrual cycles and improve the likelihood of successful conception2.
— In men, vitamin D is essential for the healthy development of the nucleus of the sperm cell, and helps maintain semen quality and sperm count. Vitamin D also increases levels of testosterone.
— A baby derives vitamin D exclusively form its mother so a low level in pregnancy can have significant repercussions associated with foetal growth and development, immunity and general health.
— A growing body of evidence shows that vitamin D plays a crucial role in disease prevention and maintaining optimal health. Vitamin D affects nearly 3,000 of the 30,000 receptors in the body.
— Very few foods contain a large amount of vitamin D and as we are spending more and more time indoors, the body is unable to produce sufficient levels of the vitamin.
— According to one of the leading vitamin D researchers, Dr Michael Holi, up to 50% of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency. A large proportion of pregnant women have also been found to be vitamin D deficient.
— I highly recommended that your stores are tested at least four months prior to planned conception. The recommended test is total 25-hydroxy vitamin D (25-OHD).
— Look for a supplement that is preservative free and free of fillers.
— There are two forms of supplemental vitamin D—D2 and D3. Supplement with vitamin D3 as this is what is naturally produced by our skin and is therefore more easily absorbed. If you are vegan, however, opt for vitamin D2 which is generally produced using yeast or mushrooms.
— Whilst standard recommendations for pregnant women call for supplementing with 400 IU daily of vitamin D, the daily recommended dose on current blood levels. The below acts as a guide for both men and women3.
— Zinc is used in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body and is one of the most important minerals when it comes to reproductive health. It can be difficult for us to obtain all of the zinc we need due to poor soil health and the heating of food which can destroy as much as 50% of the zinc in food.
— In men, zinc deficiency has been correlated with impaired sperm production with zinc supplementation significantly increasing semen volume, sperm motility and the percentage of normal sperm morphology4. This makes sense given zinc is found in high concentration in sperm and is needed to make the outer membrane and tail of the sperm.
— For women, zinc is important in helping your body utilise estrogen and progesterone and keep hormone levels stable throughout the menstrual cycle. A deficiency can lead to hormone imbalance, abnormal ovarian development, and menstrual irregularity. When your body is low on zinc it also inhibits the metabolism of protein, which in turn can lower the quality of eggs that are ripe for fertilization.
— Low levels of zinc have been directly linked to miscarriage in the early stages of a pregnancy according to the The Centers for Disease Control’s Assisted Reproductive Technology Report, a US report which tracks numerous fertility research reports administered in the country.
— If you suspect you may be zinc deficient it is a great idea to have your plasma zinc levels tested through a blood test along with your serum copper levels.
— Under normal circumstances, 15 to 25 mg daily is ideal with zinc picolinate and zinc citrate being the forms of zinc that in my experience tend to be absorbed most effectively.
— Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and is required for nearly every function in the body. Magnesium is sadly being farmed out of our soil so even though it is found in green vegetables and nuts and seeds, many of us are magnesium deficient.
— Magnesium is a nervous system nourisher and hence assists in balancing cortisol levels. This ensures that reproductive hormones are kept in check. Magnesium is also responsible for balancing insulin production which makes it instrumental in addressing blood sugar imbalances which makes it vital in assisting conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Magnesium also activates vitamin D which as mentioned above is critical in fertility health and assists in the creation of key steroid hormones including progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone.
— Magnesium levels can be hard to determine via a blood test as levels are found highest with red blood cells. However, signs of magnesium deficiency are often obvious and can include depression, anxiety, chocolate cravings, restless legs, insomnia and premenstrual syndrome.
— Supplementing magnesium for a short period is harmless and I recommend that everyone supplements with at least 200 mg of magnesium daily, or 300 to 400 mg if you have a known deficiency.
— Look for a magnesium tablet or powder containing magnesium glycinate which is a highly bio-available form of magnesium and the least likely to have a laxative effect. Avoid fillers and preservatives along with added nutrients (which are not necessary) if you are taking a magnesium powder.
— Magnesium is also well absorbed via the skin so indulging in regular Epsom salt baths (use about 1 cup) is of benefit as is applying a magnesium oil onto the soles of your feet before bedtime.
Functional Food Supplements
The below food supplements have been instrumental in my own personal experience and that of my clients in giving them the additional nutritional, hormonal and detoxification support to successfully fall pregnant. You can get MSM in a powder form however I recommend taking it as a capsule as it is not the most pleasant tasting supplement.
The below fertility smoothie makes it easy to get all of them in along with your green’s quota. Get your partner into the habit of having this daily as well!
- 1 cup kale, baby spinach or mixed greens
- 1 cup berries (frozen organic work well) or 1 frozen banana if you want something sweet
- 1 tablespoon Gut Replenish
- 1 teaspoon Native Collagen
- 1 tablespoon Maca Powder
- 1-2 teaspoons of Greens Powder
- 2–3 tablespoons of flaxseed meal or LSA (linseed, sunflower seed, almond meal)
- 1 cup of water
Blend all ingredients into a high-powered blender and enjoy. Make it a ritual to have this drink daily along with your supplements – you will not only feel healthier, your skin and bub-to-be will thank you for it!
- Mihaila et al., ‘Identifying a Window of Vulnerability during Fetal Development in a Maternal Iron Restriction Model, PLOS One, vol.6, no.3, e17483.