If you’re TTC, you may have seen TikTok videos or other opinions on the internet making claims about dietary supplements to improve fertility. Have you heard of ashwagandha? How about taking magnesium supplements or weight-loss supplements like “fat burners”? It’s easy to get swept up in the hype, but it’s important to take a step back and evaluate their claims, side effects, and potential interactions with other medications you may be taking, especially when you’re trying to conceive. Dietary supplements are not reviewed or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they are put on the market and their manufacturers do not have to provide evidence that their products is safe or effective. Let the buyer beware! Be sure to consult with your physician before starting a new supplement, even if it claims to be a “fertility booster.”
Ashwagandha is an evergreen shrub growing in Asia and Africa. Historically, its roots, leaves and seeds have been used as a tonic to reduce stress, arthritis, pain and inflammation by practitioners of ayurvedic and alternative medicines. It’s called an “adaptogen,” meaning it’s reputed to reduce and modulate the stress response. Ashwagandha has been featured in several TikTok videos since the pandemic brought stress to the fore for many people. It is said to help lower cortisol levels and regulate thyroid levels. Stress has long been believed to negatively affect fertility. However, there is no good scientific evidence to support these claims for ashwagandha.
Some studies show it may help to improve male fertility by increasing sperm count, improving sperm quality, and improving testosterone levels. Do not take ashwagandha if you have been diagnosed with hemochromatosis, hyperthyroidism, or low blood pressure. It should also be avoided if you’re pregnant, due to the lack of research about its effects on a fetus.
Another supplement promoted in TikTok videos is magnesium. It is an essential mineral used by the body to regulate several functions, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. There are several forms of magnesium, but the one promoted in the videos as a remedy for stress is magnesium glycinate. Some researchers believe there is a link between low magnesium levels and infertility. Low magnesium intake has been linked to chronic inflammation, which is associated with poor egg quality and poor fertility outcomes. Magnesium is essential to the production of progesterone. Magnesium deficiency in pregnancy has also been associated with a higher risk of miscarriage and premature birth.
Magnesium is found naturally in many foods and is also added to some fortified foods. You can find magnesium in beans, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables like spinach, milk, yogurt, and some other dairy products, pumpkin, chia seeds, and some fortified breakfast cereals and other foods.
Weight Loss Supplements
Often touted as “diet pills” or “fat burners,” there are a multitude of over-the-counter weight loss dietary supplements on the market claiming to make weight loss fast and easy. Although maintaining a healthy weight is important for conception and a healthy pregnancy, weight loss supplements may not be safe for conception, pregnancy, or your general health. Weight loss supplements may have side effects or interactions with other medications you are taking. Be sure to consult your medical provider before using these supplements. A notorious example is ephedra, which was a popular weight loss supplement in the 1990s. Ephedra was found to cause abnormal blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, and was banned.
Very few over-the-counter supplements have been found to be safe and effective. Many have significant side effects. Caffeine and green coffee bean extract have similar side effects to those of drinking too much coffee, i.e., anxiety, rapid heartbeat, and insomnia. Green tea extract is reputed to increase fat burning when paired with exercise but contains caffeine and may cause side effects in people who are sensitive to caffeine. Here is a complete list of the most popular supplements, whether they work, and their side effects.