Male fertility factors
Fertility challenges are more common than many people realize. In the U.S., roughly one couple in five will have some difficulty conceiving. Reasons are varied, but generally fall fairly evenly between 40% exclusively male and 40% exclusively female, with the remaining 20% of the time, factors that occur with both partners.
The definition of infertility is defined as the failure to conceive after a full year of unprotected intercourse, though some providers consider infertility as the failure to conceive after 6 months of trying. Many couples seek professional assistance after that point but there are also some lifestyle and nutritional steps you can take to improve the chances of conception (1).
Healthy diet and male fertility
According to some data, the quality of human semen has deteriorated by 50%–60% over the last 40 years. The good news is that a healthy diet clearly correlates with better sperm quality and a smaller risk of abnormalities in parameters such as sperm count, sperm concentration and motility, and lower sperm DNA fragmentation. Experts recommend a varied and balanced diet based on vegetables and fruit, fish and seafood, nuts, seeds, whole-grain products, poultry, and low-fat dairy products.
What nutrients support male fertility?
Research indicates several nutrients important to sperm quality and functionality. Adding plenty of these key vitamins and minerals to your diet can be beneficial. Male fertility supplements can also provide essential nutrients and ensure you are getting all you need to help support your health and fertility goals, even prior to trying to conceive (2).
Vitamins C and E are essential antioxidants that protect the body’s cells from damage from oxidative stress and free radicals. Vitamin C contributes to healthy sperm by protecting the sperm’s DNA from free radical damage. Vitamin C is found in abundant quantities in the semen of fertile men. Research indicates that vitamin C supplementation can improve sperm motility, sperm count, and sperm morphology. It has been shown to have a role as an additional supplement to improve semen quality and improve chances for conception (3).
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps protect the sperm’s cell membrane from damage. Studies have shown that vitamin E improves sperm motility. Vitamin E and vitamin C may work together to improve sperm function since vitamin C functions to regenerate vitamin E. Men who took vitamin E supplements for three months showed a significant improvement in fertilization and increased pregnancy rates (4).
Along with several other important roles such regulating the immune system and improving muscular function, vitamin D is essential for male reproduction and androgen (testosterone) status. In a recent study, men with normal vitamin D levels had better sperm motility than men who were vitamin D deficient.
In studies evaluating the influence of vitamin D on testosterone levels, researchers found that concentrations increased significantly for those men taking vitamin D compared to those in a placebo group. Their results indicate that vitamin D supplementation might increase testosterone levels and suggest this is a promising area for further study (5,6).
Selenium is a trace mineral that functions as an antioxidant. Studies have shown that selenium supplements can increase sperm motility, and when combined with vitamin E can decrease damage from free radicals (7).
L-Carnitine is an amino acid derivative produced by the body that functions to transport fat so it can be broken down for energy. L-carnitine is also thought to have antioxidant properties. Limited studies show promise that L-carnitine can improve sperm quality and support fertility by providing energy for sperm to increase motility (8).
One preliminary study showed that taking maca root powder daily for four months improved both motility and sperm count. However, more study is needed (9).
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that plays a role in sperm formation, testosterone metabolism, and cell motility. Zinc supplementation has been shown to increase testosterone levels, sperm count, and sperm motility. Although it’s the second most abundant trace element in the human body, zinc can’t be stored, so we rely on regular dietary intake. Supplementation can help when we aren’t getting enough. Zinc also plays a role as a hormone balancer and aids prostate and sexual health, and functions as an antibacterial agent in the male urea system. Zinc deficiency can impede spermatogenesis, causing sperm abnormalities, and have a negative effect on serum testosterone concentration. Based on their findings, many researchers consider zinc to have significant potential in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of male infertility (10).
Folate is a B-vitamin necessary for DNA synthesis. Low levels of folate have been associated with a decreased sperm count and decreased sperm motility. In a recent study, the combination of zinc and folic acid results in a 75% increase in total normal sperm count. Early studies also show a positive effect on sperm quality when folate supplementation is combined with zinc supplementation (11).
Early studies show that coenzyme Q10 supplementation increased sperm counts by about 17% and motility by over 50%. However, more study is needed to determine if this supplement leads to more live births or simply better sperm counts (12).
Omega-3 fatty acids:
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are precursors to eicosanoids, are known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Compared to other body tissues and cells, testis and spermatozoa have a higher concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Effective fertilization depends on the lipid composition of the sperm membrane. It has been demonstrated that omega-3s have the ability to modify the composition of the cell membrane by building into it, supporting cell functioning. Studies also indicate that EPA and DHA supplementation with fatty acids significantly increases sperm motility and DHA concentration in semen.
Multiple randomized controlled trials have shown a positive relationship between omega-3 supplementation and semen quality. The same is true for dietary models containing fish and seafood, since fish and seafood represent the main sources of DHA and EPA (Omega-3) in the diet. It can be challenging to get enough omega-3s from diet alone, especially for vegans, in which case supplementation can help make up that gap (13).
Magnesium, Calcium, Copper, Manganese:
These four minerals are important to have in adequate supply. Magnesium is a key element in the course of spermatogenesis and sperm motility. Calcium affects the motility, hyperactivation, and capitulation of sperm and ultimately, the acrosome reaction, leading to sperm penetration into the oocyte. Copper is necessary for the proper functioning of sperm, and manganese affects the motility of sperm and the fertilization process. Look for supplements carefully formulated for optimum amounts since manganese and copper in excessive amounts show an adverse effect (14).