Does taking fish oil for fertility really help?

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Does Taking Fish Oil for Fertility Really Help?

If you’re trying to conceive, you’ve probably heard that taking fish oil supplements may enhance fertility. But is there any truth to this claim? Let’s take a closer look at what the research says.

What is Fish Oil?

Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids, primarily EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These essential fats provide a wide range of health benefits, from reducing inflammation to improving heart health.

Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are natural sources of EPA and DHA. Fish oil supplements are commonly made from anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and other oily fish.

How Might Fish Oil Support Fertility?

Here are some of the proposed ways fish oil may enhance female and male fertility:

  • Regulates menstrual cycle – Omega-3s help balance female sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone which influence ovulation and menstrual regularity.
  • Improves egg quality – DHA is found in high concentrations in eggs and helps nourish eggs. Supplementing DHA may enhance egg cell development.
  • Aids embryo implantation – Omega-3s increase blood flow to the uterus, promoting a healthy environment for an embryo to implant.
  • Boosts semen quality – DHA improves sperm count, motility and morphology which helps sperm function.
  • Reduces inflammation – Chronic inflammation can interfere with ovulation and conception. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s counter this effect.
  • Regulates hormones – Omega-3s promote optimal hormone levels in both women and men to support fertility.
  • Improves lubrication – EPA and DHA help cervical mucus stay lubricated and promote blood flow to the vagina.

What Does the Research Say?

Multiple studies have found correlations between omega-3 intake and improved fertility markers like menstrual cycle regularity, ovulation rates, antral follicle count, and conception rates.

For example, a 2018 review of 11 studies found omega-3 supplementation improved pregnancy rates and live birth rates in women undergoing assisted reproductive therapy like IVF. Another study in 93 women trying to conceive naturally found 2.4 grams of daily fish oil increased pregnancy rates over 3 cycles compared to a placebo.

Research also indicates supplements may aid male factor infertility. One study gave infertile men 600 mg of DHA daily for 3 months. DHA treatment improved sperm count, motility, morphology, and follicle stimulating hormone levels compared to the control group.

However, the evidence is inconsistent. Some studies reveal only weak correlations or no benefit from omega-3 supplementation. More research is still needed, especially large randomized control trials.

Potential Concerns with Fish Oil Supplements

While fish oil provides benefits, there are some potential drawbacks to consider:

  • Purity concerns – Poor quality fish oil may contain toxins and contaminants like mercury and PCBs. Only take reputable, purified supplements.
  • High vitamin A – Cod liver oil contains vitamin A, which in excess has been linked to birth defects. Avoid cod liver oil.
  • Blood thinning – High doses of omega-3s can slow blood clotting. This may increase menstrual flow. Those with bleeding disorders should use them with caution.
  • Digestive issues – Fish oil can cause nausea, gas, fishy burps, and loose stools in some users. Start with a low dose.
  • Medication interactions – Omega-3s may interact with blood thinners like Warfarin or drugs that affect clotting. Talk to your doctor.

Also, more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to fish oil and fertility. Excessive intakes beyond 3 grams per day do not seem to provide added conception benefits.

Getting Omega-3s from Whole Foods

While supplements offer a concentrated source of EPA and DHA, you can also boost your omega-3 intake from whole foods like:

  • Fatty fish – salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines
  • Walnuts, chia, hemp and flax seeds
  • Fortified eggs, yogurt, milk and juices
  • Seaweed and algae
  • Brussel sprouts, winter squash, kidney beans

Aim for at least two servings of fatty fish per week, along with other omega-3 whole food sources. This helps provide a steady supply of omega-3s to support fertility.

The Bottom Line on Fish Oil and Fertility

Research indicates omega-3 fatty acids may benefit fertility in both women and men. However, the extent of the benefits is unclear. For ideal fertility, focus on getting sufficient omega-3s from whole food sources like fatty fish, nuts and seeds. But taking a moderate daily fish oil supplement (1-2 grams) appears safe and may offer additional fertility perks. Along with fish oil, be sure to follow an overall healthy fertility promoting diet and lifestyle. And as always, consult your doctor before taking any new supplements.

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