Infertility is defined by doctors as the failure of a couple to achieve pregnancy after a year to 18 months of unprotected intercourse. In men, infertility is usually associated with a decrease in the number, quality, or motility (strength of movement) of sperm. In most cases the causes of low or abnormal sperm counts cannot usually be established.
Problems with male fertility are now thought to account for around half of couples who fail to conceive. Sperm counts have halved in the last fifty years. One suspected reason for this is the escalation of environmental pollution of heavy metals, pesticides and oestrogen deposits in water, coupled with the increased use of pesticides on food and a heavy reliance on processed foods in the diet.
A normal sperm count should be between 20 and 200 million sperms per millilitre of ejaculate, of which 40% should be mobile and 60% of normal form. Most men considered to be infertile are actually sub-fertile, having a reduced sperm count rather than an absence of sperm. Sub-fertility may be due to chronic infection in the epididymis, the prostate or urethra, chlamydia or anti-biotics. Some conventional medications can interfere with fertility, if in doubt, men taking prescription drugs should consult their physician.
Total absence of sperm is rare and may be due to mumps infection, failure of the seminiferous tubules to manufacture sperm or a blockage in the epididymis which may be cleared with surgery.
Nutritional Supplements that could help. (Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)
|Supplement/Herb||What it does||Dosage|
|L-Arginine||Arginine is required for the formation of sperm and maintaining normal sperm counts and motility.||500 – 4000mg daily on an empty stomach|
|L-Carnitine||Carnitine is needed in high concentrations in the epididymis of the testes, where sperm mature and acquire their motility.||500 – 2000mg daily on an empty stomach|
|Selenium||Selenium is known to play a key role in male reproductive health, particularly in the production of sperm, and in promoting their motility.||50 – 200ug daily|
|Zinc||Needed for sperm production and motility. Low zinc levels contribute to a reduction in testosterone.||15 – 30mg daily|
|Astaxanthin||Free radical activity is a major factor in male infertility, affecting both sperm count and motility. Studies suggest that astaxanthin can improve sperm motility and improve conception rates among infertile men.||1 – 10 mg daily|
|Antioxidants||To combat free radical damage which may cause abnormal sperm production and low sperm counts.||As directed|
|Vitamin B12||B12 supplementation has been found to increase numbers and motility of sperm in men with reduced sperm function.||200 – 1000ug daily|
|Folic Acid||Folic acid is essential for proper cell division. A deficiency may therefore be implicated in the development of low sperm counts and reduced sperm motility.||200 – 400ug daily|
|Siberian or Korean Ginseng||Supportive to the adrenal glands and useful to combat stress and fatigue.||500mg 3 times daily|
|Gingko biloba||Stops platelets from sticking together too much, improves circulation, also anti-oxidant.||500mg 3 times daily|
Diet and Lifestyle Factors
Bear in mind that it takes 3 months to make healthy new sperm.
Good nutrition is vital. A diet rich in Vitamins C & E, Zinc, selenium and anti-oxidants is important. Eat 5 to 7 portions of fruit and vegetables daily, including spinach and avocado. Eat dark green, red and orange vegetables, red, blue and black berries for antioxidants.
Eating 100gm daily of nuts and seeds, particularly pumpkin seeds will provide zinc.
Reduce or preferably avoid the following:
- Saturated fats, Trans/hydrogenated fats, artificial additives/preservatives found in many refined/processed foods, all of which may containing damaging free radicals.
- Alcohol and caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, colas etc). Caffeine and alcohol cause considerable damage to sperm, so avoid them for at least 3 months before trying to conceive.
- Pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, chemical, solvent exposure as these can all disturb your hormone levels.
- Remove plastic shrink wrapping from food, or better still don’t buy food which is plastic shrink wrapped as the plastic contains xenoestrogens which interfere with your hormones.
- Stop smoking as nicotine narrows the arteries, reducing the supply of blood and nutrients needed for building healthy sperm.
Increase your intake of:
- High quality protein, preferably free range or organic meat and oily fish.
- Whole foods in their natural state, such as brown rice and wholegrain bread.
- Organic Fruit and Vegetables, 5 to 7 portions daily in a wide variety
- Nuts and seeds
- Take regular exercise to ensure good blood circulation.
Minimise the impact of stress by employing stress management techniques. Stress hormones are always produced at the expense of reproductive hormones.
The optimal temperature of the testes for sperm production is slightly lower than body temperature, which is why the testes hang away from the body in the scrotum. Men with low sperm counts are frequently advised to minimise lifestyle factors that may overheat the testes and damage sperm, such as wearing tight underwear, tight trousers, riding a bike or frequently using spas and hot baths. Wear loose fitting pants and trousers.
Suggested further reading:
- Male infertility explained
- Improving fertility