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 support the chances of conception (1).

Healthy diet and male fertility health

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 dairy products.

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).

What nutrients support male fertility health?

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).

Vitamin C
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 support sperm motility, sperm count, and sperm morphology. It has been shown to have a role as an additional supplement to support semen quality and support chances for conception (3).

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps protect the sperm’s cell membrane from damage. Studies have shown that vitamin E supports sperm motility. Vitamin E and vitamin C may work together to support sperm function since vitamin C functions to regenerate vitamin E. Men who took vitamin E supplements for three months showed a significant change in fertilization and pregnancy rates (4).

Vitamin D
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 more 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 support 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 support sperm quality and support fertility by providing energy for sperm to change motility.

Maca root
One preliminary study showed that taking maca root powder daily for four months changed 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. 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).

Coenzyme Q10
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 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).


(1)Maximizing Male Fertility, The New England Fertility Institute

(2) Diet and Nutritional Factors in Male (In)fertility-Underestimated Factors. J Clin Med. 2020;9(5):1400.  Published 2020 May 9.

(3) Improvement in human semen quality after oral supplementation of vitamin C. J Med Food. 2006 Fall;9(3):440-2.

(4) Antioxidant supplements and semen parameters: An evidence-based review. Int J Reprod Biomed. 2016 Dec;14(12):729-736. PMID: 28066832; PMCID: PMC5203687.

(5) Effect of vitamin D supplementation on testosterone levels in men. Horm Metab Res. 2011 Mar;43(3):223-5.

(6) Association of vitamin D status with serum androgen levels in men. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2010 Aug;73(2):243-8.

(7) Effects of dietary selenium on sperm motility in healthy men. J Androl. 2001 Sep-Oct;22(5):764-72. PMID: 11545288.

(8) The Effect of Nutrients and Dietary Supplements on Sperm Quality Parameters: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Adv Nutr. 2018 Nov 1;9(6):833-848.

(9) Effect of Lepidium meyenii Walp. on Semen Parameters and Serum Hormone Levels in Healthy Adult Men: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:324369.

(10) Zinc is an Essential Element for Male Fertility: A Review of Zn Roles in Men's Health, Germination, Sperm Quality, and Fertilization. J Reprod Infertil. 2018;19(2):69-81.

(11) The Effect of Folate and Folate Plus Zinc Supplementation on Endocrine Parameters and Sperm Characteristics in Sub-Fertile Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Urol J. 2017 Aug 29;14(5):4069-4078. PMID: 28853101.

(12) Coenzyme Q10 and male infertility: a meta-analysis. J Assist Reprod Genet. 2013 Sep;30(9):1147-56.

(13) The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, EPA, and/or DHA on Male Infertility: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Diet Suppl. 2019;16(2):245-256.

(14) The impact of calcium, magnesium, zinc, and copper in blood and seminal plasma on semen parameters in men. Reprod Toxicol. 2001 Mar-Apr;15(2):131-6.