It’s so important to start taking prenatal vitamins when trying to conceive. The national guidelines recommend taking a Folic Acid supplement of at least 400ug/day and a vitamin D supplement of 10ug/day before conceiving and while pregnant. But why are they so important?
Folic Acid – Folate* is one of the B-vitamins, if you have a normal level of folate in your body before you get pregnant, it reduces the risk of the baby developing neural tube defect. Neural tube defects are problems with the brain or spinal cord, including spina bifida. The job of folic acid is actually quite small and specific: it shuttles single carbon atoms bristling with hydrogens and oxygens from one chemical compound to another. That tiny transfer, though, is a vital part of building DNA. Folate-assisted transfers are also essential for converting some amino acids into others. Amino acids are building blocks the body uses to assemble the thousands of proteins it needs for everything from extracting energy from food to building skin, muscle and other tissues. The ability to change one amino acid into another guarantees that the body has a steady supply of all amino acids, even when the diet is supplying too much of one kind and not enough of another. Reproduction is a time of furious DNA replication and protein assembly, hence the importance of folate. Folate also recycles homocysteine, a potentially toxic amino acid. Folate helps turn homocysteine into methionine, a benign amino acid that is intimately involved in regulating many genes. Women with high homocysteine are more likely to have early miscarriages and severe high blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia). Extra folate is one way to keep homocysteine levels low.
All women are recommended to take a folic acid supplement of at least 400ug/day three months before conceiving and all the way through the first trimester to ensure there is an adequate supply in your body. Along with your daily supplement you can also eat foods which naturally contain folate and fortified foods which contain folic acid. Food sources include dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, cabbage and broccoli, beans and pulses, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals.
* Folate is the naturally occuring form of folic acid. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate used in multivitamins and in fortifying foods.
Vitamin D – Vitamin D plays an important role in our bodies by helping with the absorption of dietary calcium and phosphate from our intestines. All of these nutrients are needed to help maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscles. It also plays an important role in your immune system. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to fatigue, bone and muscle pain, as well as getting ill more often than usual.
The main source of Vitamin D is sunlight, therefore it is recommended that all women take Vitamin D supplement of 10/ug/day before conceiving and while pregnant to boost both the mother’s and baby’s bone and muscle health. Although there aren’t many dietary sources of vitamin D, oily fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna and mackerel, eggs, fortified foods such as most fat spreads and breakfast cereals and mushrooms all contain some vitamin D.
As well as the role vitamins play in pregnancy health, there is also increasing evidence that vitamins play a role in fertility. The Nurses’ Study found that for folic acid, women who got at least 700mcg a day from diet and supplements were 40- 50% less likely to have had ovulatory infertility than women getting less than 300mcg.
Vitamins for sperm health – if you have a male partner, it’s also important that they take supplements to boost the health of their sperm. Vitamins and minerals help boost the number and quality of sperm cells, two key contributors to successful conception. It makes sense that sperm production depends on an ample supply of micronutrients. Creating a thousand new sperm cells a second means churning out miles of DNA, a process that depends on folate, iron, zinc and other micronutrients.
In couples where the cause of subfertility is a male factor (such as low sperm count), 30% to 80% of cases are thought to be due to the damaging effects of oxidative stress on sperm. In theory, this is when molecules containing reactive oxygen (called reactive oxygen species) overcome the semen’s “natural antioxidant defences” to cause cell damage. Increased levels of these molecules are thought to be due to several factors including pesticides, pollution, alcohol, smoking and poor diet.
A recent study found that antioxidants can reduce oxidative damage. They found that couples where the men took oral antioxidants had a significant increase in live birth rate compared with couples where the men took control pills. They also found that for couples where men took antioxidants, they had a significant increase in pregnancy rate.
Your change for the week
Start taking your prenatal vitamins! A Folic Acid supplement of at least 400ug/day and a vitamin D supplement of 10ug/day.
If you’re in a relationship, take your prenatal vitamins with your partner. It will help you both remember and stick to the daily supplement.
Proxeed is a supplement that has been validated in clinical trials to support sperm health, and contains antioxidants.