Whether you’re actively trying to get pregnant or want to get your period symptoms under control, eating clean, exercising, and sleeping well can help ensure a properly functioning reproductive system.
But you can take all of that a step further by using supplements for additional support, says Dr. Michele Sherwood, DO, co-author of Fork Your Diet and founder of the Functional Medical Institute of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Here are eight expert- and science-backed supplements that can help promote a healthy reproductive system.
Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil and some plant-based oils, like flaxseed) are often lauded for their ability to support brain and heart health. But they’re also good for overall female reproductive health, notes Sheeva Talebian, MD, co-founder of Truly MD and director of third party reproduction at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine in New York City. That’s because they include something called essential fatty acids, which are key for our biological processes.
Research proves it: A study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology looked at women aged 20-35 who were suffering from PMS, and concluded that taking an omega-3 supplement supported good health during menstruation.
“The three types of omega-3 fatty acids involved in human physiology are a-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in plant oils, as well as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—both commonly found in marine oils,” Sherwood says.
Common sources of plant oils containing the omega-3 ALA fatty acid include walnut, chia seeds, and hemp oil. Sources of animal omega-3 EPA and DHA fatty acids include fish, fish oils, squid oils, and krill oil.
Dr. Sheeva recommends purified fish oil, but advises steering away from cod liver oil, as some have very high levels of vitamins A and D and can contain heavy metals.
Diindolylmethane, or DIM, is the breakdown product of indole 3-carbinol, the phytochemical found in veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. And it packs a powerful punch for your whole body. Basically, it’s an antioxidant that aids in promoting a healthy estrogen balance, Dr. Sherwood notes.
Plus, DIM improves the healthy utilization of the hormone testosterone. (Yep, even women need this hormone). “Testosterone balance aids bone health, brain health, heart health, and sexual health,” she says. DIM also promotes a healthy metabolism. Win-win!
L-arginine, an amino acid and a building block of protein, promotes various functions in the body. L-Arginine becomes nitric oxide (a blood vessel-widening agent called a vasodilator) in the body, which helps promote healthy blood pressure. Dr. Talebian also likes it for women’s health.
“This [is an] amino acid that helps with cell division, immune function, and the release of hormones,” says Dr. Talebian. “
This is one of the most important nutrients for reproductive health, notes nutritionist Victoria J. Lindsay, RD. “Folate is a type of B-vitamin required for DNA synthesis and the formation of new cells in the body,” Lindsay explains.
Folate is especially important for its role in ovarian health and in the prevention of birth defects. “During pregnancy, the developing fetus requires folate to form new organs and tissues, and a deficiency in folate can result in a higher risk of neural tube defects,” she explains.
Don’t just take folate when you’re preparing for pregnancy, though. All women of reproductive age should be taking folate daily—in case of unexpected pregnancy.
“This nutrient plays a big role in transporting oxygen throughout the body, as well as creating protein and helping with the body’s energy production,” explains Lindsay. And women are at extra risk for iron deficiency due to losing blood during menstruation. While an iron deficiency can manifest itself in issues like increased fatigue, low levels have also caused fertility issues. In fact, the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found a link between the consumption of iron supplements and fertility.
That said, you’ll do well to proceed with caution when supplementing with iron, as too much iron in the body may have adverse health effects, Lindsay notes. “Monitor dosage and work with a physician when wanting to increase iron intake,” she advises. (And for women who don’t need to supplement with iron but want to take a multivitamin, multis are available without iron for women).
6. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
Flaxseed, as mentioned above, is a rich source of the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—good for our overall health and menstrual symptoms. And the lignans (a type of health-promoting polyphenol) in flaxseed are thought to have some antioxidant properties that may support healthy estrogen activity, according to the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.
All women can benefit from taking probiotics, Lindsay shares. That goes for even women without tummy problems or vaginal issues.
“Probiotics—the bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tracts—are responsible for several essential metabolic processes, such as immune system regulation and proper digestion and absorption of food and nutrients,” says Lindsay.
For women, she explains, the better our bodies can process and absorb the nutrients in our food, the better we fuel all of the chemical reactions needed to keep ourselves and our reproductive systems healthy.
8. Chaste tree berry (vitex agnus castus)
This ironically-named herb is used to support women’s reproductive health (specifically, it supports a regular menstrual cycle), notes a study published in the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association.
The study showed that women had a decrease in the number of heavy bleeding days they experienced after using the extract.
Important to note: The herb does take several months to kick in. Pregnant women are warned against using it, as it could cause miscarriage.