Many couples who have a difficult time conceiving often discover that the male partner’s sperm health may be, at least, partially contributing. Whether an underlying, correctable cause is found or not, there are several types of male fertility supplements that can potentially help. Those supplements fall into three categories – antioxidants, methyl donors, and motility enhancers.
In this article, we provide information on male fertility supplements and the types of nutrients within each category that may help.
What does the semen analysis tell us?
When a couple is experiencing fertility issues they may seek the help of a physician. During the physician’s evaluation, the first step is usually to have the male partner undergo a semen analysis (SA). That test will tell us several important things about the man’s sperm and its ability to fertilize an egg. Firstly, the SA will show how many sperm are present in the semen. This number is called the sperm count.
The SA will also show the motility of those sperm. Motility is defined as the percentage of sperm that are actively swimming.
Finally, the SA will tell us what percentage of the sperm are normally shaped. This result is called the “normal morphology percentage.”
If all three of these parameters are normal, we assume that the man should have normal fertility. However, if one or more of those results are not normal, then further diagnostic testing may help uncover the cause.
When should I consider taking male fertility supplements?
You can consider taking male fertility supplements whether there is an underlying, correctable cause for your infertility or not. Depending on the results of your SA, you can incorporate nutrients that fall into one or more of three overall categories of male fertility supplements. Those categories are antioxidants, methyl donors, and motility enhancers.
There are a number of factors that contribute to male infertility. Perhaps one of the most damaging can be the presence of free radicals, also called oxidants. A small number of free radicals are always present in the semen and may actually be important for normal sperm function. However, roughly 30-80% of infertile males have much higher levels of free radicals in their semen, which can damage critical components of the sperm.
It takes a bit less than three months for fully mature sperm to form. During that time, free radicals can cause damage to the sperm by attacking and destroying the membrane that surrounds sperm cells. They can also severely damage DNA, causing errors in the genetic information carried by the sperm
Free radicals are normally kept under control by the presence of antioxidants in the semen. When the number of free radicals in the semen exceeds the number of antioxidants, we say that “oxidative stress” is present.
There are several antioxidants which are normally present in the semen. They include vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, lycopene, zinc and coenzyme Q10. A recent Cochrane Review found that antioxidant supplementation in men may improve pregnancy and birth rates for couples going through fertility treatment.
Vitamin C and Vitamin E
Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that work together to protect the body’s cells from damage from oxidative stress. Vitamin C is one of the most abundant antioxidants found in semen. It contributes to the maintenance of healthy sperm by protecting the sperm’s DNA from free radical damage. Furthermore, vitamin C helps to regenerate vitamin E and has been shown to increase sperm count, motility, and to protect the sperm’s form and structure.
Selenium is a trace mineral that also functions as an antioxidant. Supplementing with selenium may lead to increased sperm motility. Moreover, a combination of vitamin E and selenium has been shown to decrease damage from free radicals and improve sperm motility in infertile men.
Lycopene is a carotenoid (plant pigment) and potent antioxidant found in tomatoes. It is also found in high levels in the male testes. Research has shown that lycopene supplementation improves sperm parameters in infertile men.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral that may play a role in testosterone metabolism, sperm formation, and cell motility. Supplementing with zinc has been shown to increase testosterone levels, sperm motility, and sperm count.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
2. Methyl Donors
Methyl donors contribute a critical step in sperm DNA synthesis. They include several B vitamins and choline.
Folate (folic acid) is a B-vitamin, which along with vitamins B6 and B12, are critical for DNA synthesis. Low levels of folate may lead to decreased sperm count and motility. Studies have shown that folate supplementation improves DNA quality.
3. Energy/Motility Production
Before the sperm can fertilize the egg, it must reach it. Sperm must swim through the cervix into the uterus, then, swim further into the fallopian tube where fertilization takes place. For a tiny, microscopic sperm, that is a huge distance to cover, and it requires the sperm to produce a lot of energy.
There are several nutrients that have been shown to enhance sperm energy production and improve sperm motility.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that has several important roles in the body, including male reproduction and androgen (testosterone) status. Studies have shown that men with healthy vitamin D levels have better sperm motility than men who are vitamin D deficient.
One study found a direct relationship between vitamin D levels and an improved ability of sperm to begin a pregnancy, both during ovulation induction and timed intercourse. Normal vitamin D levels have also been linked to better semen quality and sperm motility (movement), which may help improve pregnancy rates.
CoQ10, which is also an antioxidant, plays a key role in sperm energy production. Taking a CoQ10 supplement for three to six months may improve sperm motility.
L-carnitine is an amino acid-like nutrient which plays a critical role in sperm mitochondria – the cellular ‘furnace’ where energy is produced in sperm. L-carnitine is found in our diet, but it is also easily obtained in supplement form. Many studies have shown that supplementation with L-carnitine improves sperm motility and male fertility.
How long should I take male fertility supplements?
As noted above, from start to finish, it takes the body roughly 70 days to produce a fully mature sperm. So, it makes sense that it would take at least that long to get the maximum benefit from nutrient supplementation. Most studies have used supplements for at least 90 days before retesting sperm health. However, some benefits may be realized in as little as 1 to 2 months, particularly with improving sperm morphology and motility.For more information, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @Theralogix! Don’t miss an article! Sign up for our newsletter below and we’ll let you know when our next article comes out.