Male infertility is generally tied to a decrease in the quality, number, ability of movement of sperm (motility) or abnormal shape of sperm. There are many possible causes, some of which readily respond to complementary medicine, and others do not. It is important to identify the specific cause of infertility by a doctor before you consider solutions.
Diet & Nutrition
Dietary changes that may be helpful:
- Mediterranean diet. Researchers found that men at a fertility clinic whose diet most closely favored a Mediterranean diet had the best sperm count, motility, and shape/size.2
- Antioxidants & Low Fat Diet: Another study finds that lab animals on a low-fat diet with antioxidant supplementation (astaxanthin, E & C) had much better sperm count and motility than animals on either only a fat-restricted diet or a diet with antioxidants.1
- BPA and type of dietary fat: Lab animal fed a diet that included olive oil rather than butterfat produced better quality sperm whether or not they also received BPA, a known endocrine disrupter found in some types of rigid plastic.6
- Avoid strict vegetarian diet: Strict vegetarians were found to have poorer sperm quality, especially lacto-ovo vegetarians; vegans fared the worst.7
- Avoid alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption was tied to larger rates of poor sperm quality.
- Eat organically grown foods: An interesting study found that Danish organic greenhouse workers had an unexpectedly high sperm count.
Medical professionals define infertility as a couple's inability to conceive after a year of unprotected sex. The condition affects about 15% of couples.
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Certain medications
- Smoking and recreational drugs
- Exposure to pesticides and herbicides
- Temperature of testes
- Underlying medical condition
- Nutritional deficiencies, including those caused by gluten intolerance
- Oxidative stress due to free radicals
There are a number of possible conventional treatments. One is carefully timing sexual relations to coincide with ovulation. Ovulation is usually the 2nd week of a woman's menstrual cycle. In addition, men may avoid taking drugs that might reduce sperm count.
Sperm can be placed in the cervix or uterus via artificial insemination. IVF (in vitro fertilization) combines the collected man's sperm and woman's egg (surgical procedure) in controlled lab conditions. Then, later, the fertilized embryo can be implanted in the woman's uterus.
Herbs that may be helpful
- Asian ginseng: (Panax ginseng) (4 grams per day for three months): Asian ginseng may prove useful for male infertility. A study with 66 men found that supplementation with Asian ginseng led to an improvement in sperm count and sperm motility.
- Antioxidants: A study published in the journal Human Fertility discusses how oxidative stress can be a major factor in male infertility. The research highlights the effectiveness of antioxidants found in carnitines, and vitamins C and E as well as glutathione, selenium and coenzyme Q10 when it comes to measurable positive outcomes - that is, pregnancy rates in the subjects' partners
- Vitamin C Vitamin C protects sperm from oxidative damage and improves the quality of sperm in smokers by reducing agglutination.
- Zinc (for deficiency): A lack of zinc can reduce testosterone levels and may increase both sperm counts and fertility. In most studies, the infertile men took zinc supplements for at least several months. Some doctors recommend 30 mg two times per day. Zinc supplementation should be accompanied with copper in an approximate 15:1 ratio (zinc to copper) as the body uses copper to process zinc in the body. If long term in dosages over 80mg per month, this treatment should be monitored by a healthcare provider..
- Arginine: This amino acid found in many foods is needed for sperm production. Research shows that several months of L-arginine supplementation helps sperm quality, sperm count, quality and fertility provided that sperm count was not extremely low.
- L-carnitine (3-4 grams per day for four months): Carnitine appears to be necessary for normal functioning of sperm cells. In studies, supplementation helped normalize sperm motility in men with low sperm quality.
- Vitamin B12: B12 is also needed for fertility. Trials replicated with double-blind research have found that vitamin B12 injections can improve sperm counts. For vitamin B12 injections, men should consult their medical provider.
- Selenium (100 mcg per day for three months): In a double-blind study of 64 infertile men with reduced sperm motility, selenium supplementation significantly increased motility, but had no effect on sperm count.
Lifestyle changes that may be helpful
- Medications: Some medications can interfere with fertility. If you are taking prescription drugs, consult your doctor.
- Temperature: The optimal testes temperature for sperm production is a little lower than normal body temperature. For this reason, the scrotum naturally hangs away from the body. Simple lifestyle habits such as tight underwear, frequent hot baths and saunas and even working with a laptop regularly on your lap can negatively affect sperm quality and count.
- Diet: Favor a Mediterranean diet (mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil), lowfat and supplement with antioxidants.
- Environmental exposures: Environmental exposures to toxins, smoking, and use of recreational drugs may cause abnormal sperm shape or reduce sperm count. 3, 4 Smoking is known to adversely affect the quality of semen.5
- A Chinese study found that men who habitually stayed up late and who worked in high temperature environments had poorer sperm quality.8
When male fertility is due to impaired sperm functioning, acupuncture might be helpful. Researchers have found that in men with male infertility one measure of sperm function markedly improved when the men were treated with acupuncture twice a week for five weeks compared to controls.50-52
1. A. Vahidinia, A.R. Rahbar, et al., Journal of Dietary Supplements, May, 2016.
2. D. Karayiannis, M.D. Kontogianni, et al., Association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and semen quality parameters in male partners of couples attempting fertility, Human Reproduction, January, 2017.
3. Hruska KS, Furth PA, Seifer DB, et al. Environmental factors in infertility. Clinical Obstettrics and Gynecology, 2000
4. Wang SL, Wang XR, Chia SE, et al. A study on occupational exposure to petrochemicals and smoking on seminal quality. Journal of Andrology, 2001
5. Zhang JP, Meng QY, Wang Q, et al. Effect of smoking on semen quality of infertile men in Shandong, China. Asian Journal of Andrology, 2000
6. P. Tarapore, M. Hennessy, et al., High butter-fat diet and bisphenol A additively impair male rat spermatogenesis, Reproductive Toxicology, September, 2016.
7. E.M. Orzylowska, J. D. Jacobson, et al., Food intake diet and sperm characteristics in a blue zone: a Loma Linda Study, European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, August, 2016.
8. J. Cong, et al, Prevalence and Risk Factors of Infertility at a Rural Site of Northern China, PLoS One, May 2016.