For some, getting pregnant happens quickly and effortlessly. But for others, it may take months or even years to start the family they’ve always wanted. In fact, one in eight couples will experience difficulty when trying to conceive. Any quick internet search will provide a lot of information on what women can do to support their fertility, but may leave questions about what steps men can take.
Well, men – this one is for you. There are several nutrients that can help support male fertility, and most of them 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 has questions about their fertility, 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), which tells us several important things about the man’s sperm and its ability to fertilize an egg.
A semen analysis reveals:
1. Sperm count. This is a measure of how many sperm are present in the semen.
2. Motility. This shows the percentage of sperm that are actively swimming.
3. Morphology. This is the percentage of sperm that are shaped normally.
If all three of these parameters are in the healthy range, a man should have no concerns about his 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?
No matter what the results of your SA are, you should consider taking male fertility supplements as soon as you and your partner decide to start trying for a baby. This will help to ensure your healthy diet incorporates certain nutrients that can promote optimal fertility health. Those nutrients are antioxidants, methyl donors, and motility enhancers.
One of the most damaging factors to male fertility is the presence of free radicals, also called oxidants. A small number of free radicals are always present in a man’s semen and are actually important for healthy sperm function. However, roughly 30-80% of men with fertility concerns may have elevated levels of free radicals in their semen.
It takes a bit less than three months for sperm to fully mature. During that time, free radicals impact sperm health and may change the membrane that surrounds sperm cells. They can also change 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 that are normally present in semen. They include vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, lycopene, zinc, and coenzyme Q10. Research suggests that supplementing with these antioxidants may help to reduce the formation of free radicals and promote healthy fertility in men.
Vitamin C and Vitamin E
Vitamins C and E work together to support 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 radicals. Furthermore, vitamin C helps to regenerate vitamin E and has been shown to promote healthy sperm count, function, and motility.
Make your foods work for you. Harness the antioxidant power of vitamins C and E by eating vitamin C-rich foods like citrus, strawberries, bell peppers, and broccoli. Include nuts, seeds, and avocado for a healthy dose of vitamin E.
Selenium is a trace mineral that also functions as an antioxidant. Supplementing with selenium may support healthy sperm motility. Moreover, a combination of vitamin E and selenium has been shown to decrease damage from free radicals and promote healthy sperm motility.
You could meet your entire selenium needs for the day with just one brazil nut. But, don’t go overboard with these nuts every day. You can also get selenium from tuna, chicken, shrimp, and eggs, among many other foods.
Lycopene is a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their bright red color – it’s also a powerful antioxidant. It is found in high levels in the male testes. Research has shown that lycopene supplementation plays an important role in male fertility.
Tomatoes and tomato products contain the most lycopene of any food, but pink grapefruit and watermelon also contain smaller amounts if you’re looking for new ways to boost your lycopene intake.
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 support healthy testosterone levels, sperm motility, and sperm count.
Include foods like meat, poultry, oysters, and legumes to help reach your zinc needs each day.
2. Methyl Donors
Methyl donors contribute a critical step in sperm DNA synthesis. They include several B vitamins.
Folate is a B-vitamin, which along with vitamins B6 and B12, are critical for DNA synthesis. Maintaining healthy levels of folate can support healthy sperm function and motility.
3. Energy/Motility Production
Before the sperm can fertilize the egg, it must reach it. Sperm must swim through the cervix into the uterus and then swim further into the fallopian tube where fertilization occurs. 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 promote healthy 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 healthy vitamin D levels play an important role in supporting sperm motility and function, which may help improve pregnancy chances.
CoQ10 is a “two birds with one stone” kind of nutrient and has one foot in two of our nutrient categories. It is involved with energy production in the cells and it has antioxidant properties, so it can play a key role in sperm health and development. Taking a CoQ10 supplement may support healthy sperm motility.
Keep your body as energy-efficient as possible by also including foods rich in CoQ10, like organ meats, salmon, tuna, chicken, beef, canola and soybean oil, and pistachio nuts.
L-carnitine is an amino acid-like nutrient that 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 L-carnitine supports male fertility by promoting healthy sperm motility.
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. Also, note that many doctors will conduct two or three separate sperm analyses to get a good idea of a man’s fertility health. The American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) recommends that sperm analysis should be conducted at least one week over the course of two or three months. This allows healthcare professionals to take an average of the sperm samples to get the most precise results.