Can supplements improve egg quality for IVF?

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Q:

Is it possible to improve ovarian reserve and egg quality using supplements?

A:

Several studies have shown that certain supplements may improve egg quality in older women or those with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR). Although there is no magic formula to turn back the hands of time, it’s worth discussing the following supplements with your doctor. Be careful to never take more than the recommended amount.

Myo-inositol and PCOS

Myo-inositol (MI) is part of the B-vitamin complex and is a known insulin sensitizer. It has been reported to improve both physical and reproductive manifestations in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In addition, MI plays a role in cell growth. Early studies have indicated that higher levels of MI in follicular fluid are associated with better egg quality. It may take several months of MI supplementation before the benefits are apparent, so talk with your doctor about starting this treatment early.

Melatonin and Increased IVF Success

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep/wake cycle, as well as other hormones, in particular the hormones of the female reproductive cycle. Some studies have shown that taking melatonin (especially in conjunction with myo-inositol) for several months before IVF may help to improve egg quality. Be aware that melatonin supplementation could produce side effects such as exacerbation of depression, so discuss it with your doctor. In addition, don’t take melatonin if you take medication for a thyroid condition. Melatonin may suppress natural ovulation, so it should not be taken by women who are trying to conceive naturally.

DHEA for Diminished Ovarian Reserve or Poor Responders

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that serves as a building block for the reproductive hormones estrogen and testosterone. Much research has indicated the potential benefits of DHEA supplementation in improving egg quantity and quality in woman with a diminished ovarian reserve or who are poor responders to fertility drugs. It’s recommended to take DHEA for several months before fertility treatment for the maximum benefit.

CoQ10 for Egg and Sperm Quality

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a naturally occurring fat-soluble nutrient essential for energy production. It has powerful antioxidant properties and cell membrane stabilizing effects that may make it beneficial for egg and sperm quality. Naturally occurring levels of CoQ10 decline with age, so a supplement could be beneficial for older women or for those who have poor embryo quality with IVF.

Essential Fatty Acids for Overall Reproductive Health

Although not a lot of clinical research has been done to show the effect of essential fatty acids such as EPA and DHA (not to be confused with DHEA) on fertility and IVF outcome, it’s a safe bet that supplements of omega-3 fatty acids will improve your overall reproductive health and egg quality.

Essential fatty acids are incorporated into every cell membrane in the body and are the building blocks of many anti-inflammatory molecules. To improve your fertility and chance of success, look for high-quality supplements and start taking them as soon as possible before treatment.

Vitamin D for IVF Success

High levels of vitamin D have been shown to improve fertility in both men and women. So much so that some fertility clinics routinely measure the vitamin D levels of patients as a preliminary test before treatment starts. Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s produced in response to exposure to sunlight. If you live in a darker climate or are trying to conceive during the winter months, you might want to check if you have low levels of vitamin D and talk to your doctor about taking a supplement or increasing your dietary intake.

As with all supplements it’s essential to consult with your doctor before starting something new.This is especially true if you are taking any prescription medication. Certain nutritional combinations might benefit one woman but not suit another. Nutritional care is not one-size- fits-all, so leave it to the professionals to find what is best suited to your individual situation.

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Dr. Rebecca Matthews has a PhD in embryo implantation and currently works as an embryologist. Her book, "IVF: A Patient's Guide," can be found on Amazon.

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