Are you actively trying to get pregnant? Want to get your period symptoms under control? Eating clean, exercising regularly, and getting quality sleep can help ensure a properly functioning reproductive system. But you can take all of that a step further by adding certain supplements to your wellness routine.
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, too: 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.
Dr. Talebian 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. It packs a powerful punch for your whole body but specifically aids in promoting a healthy estrogen balance.
Plus, DIM improves the healthy utilization of the hormone testosterone. (Yep, even women need testosterone.) “Testosterone balance aids bone health, brain health, heart health, and sexual health,” says Dr. Michele Sherwood, DO, co-author of Fork Your Diet and founder of the Functional Medical Institute of Tulsa, Oklahoma. 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, but Dr. Talebian especially likes it for women’s health.
“This [is an] amino acid that helps with cell division, immune function, and the release of hormones,” says 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 says.
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).
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, says Lindsay. 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, 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 can be used to support women’s reproductive health (specifically, it supports a regular menstrual cycle), according a study 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.