How to Choose a Natural Male Fertility Supplement
Have you ever wondered how supplements for men help to get a female partner pregnant? These days there are a lot of supplements available on the market which are touted to enhance male fertility, and while there is a still a lot to be understood about this subject, research suggests that men and their partners can benefit from the nutritional boost found in supplements.
When it comes to enhancing male fertility there are four target areas for researchers: preventing oxidation of the sperm, enhancing sperm count and fertility, supporting hormones (specifically testosterone) and enhancing libido and erectile function. In this article, we'll break down how and why each of these factors are important to male fertility and the conception process. Before we begin, it's important to note that a supplement is no substitute for a balanced diet rich in whole foods. However, we don't always have time to maintain our most effective habits. This is where nutritional supplements enter the picture.
Good supplements provide antioxidant support
Key nutrients: vitamin C, selenium, lycopene
One thing to understand about male fertility is that DNA is highly susceptible to oxidative damage, and damage done to the DNA in sperm can prevent fertilization or negatively impact healthy development after fertilization. Studies have shown that lower selenium concentrations in semen have been associated with male infertility1 and that selenium plays an important role in spermatogenesis.2
Oxidative stress can decrease sperm counts, sperm motility, and increase abnormal sperm shape. Fortunately, one way to counter oxidation is with antioxidant nutrients and compounds.3 Since sperm are made in about two months time, consumption of antioxidants can add a little extra protective power during this process. One study showed that taking vitamin C at 1000 mg twice daily for two months significantly improved sperm morphology, motility, and sperm counts. It has also been shown that supplementing with 200 micrograms of selenium daily can improve sperm motility.4
Fertilization means sperm count and motility
Key nutrients: vitamin C, zinc, selenium maganese, copper, CoQ10, L-carnitine
Among the most important parameters for evaluating male fertility are sperm count, motility, and morphology. Fertilization has its best chance with a lot of sperm, with the right shape, moving in the right direction. These nutrients have been shown to help improve the fertile fitness of the sperm.5
Human semen contains several trace elements – zinc, selenium, manganese, and copper – that have been thought to support normal sperm production, motility, and function6, while nutrients like coenzyme q10 and l-carnitine help promote cellular energy production (as you can imagine, the tail on a sperm requires a lot of energy to propel itself toward the egg). One study measured the concentration of coenzyme q10 in semen and also measured sperm motility. After six months of daily supplementation, semen and sperm cell concentrations of CoQ10 increased and sperm motility improved.7
The importance of hormone production
Key herbs and nutrients: fenugreek, tribulus, aspartic acid, zinc
Testosterone is the “boss” hormone responsible for the manufacturing of sperm in the body. Any supplement that can help boost testosterone production within a normal range should have an impact on sperm production. If you have a condition where testosterone levels are critically low, then a testosterone prescription from your doctor is warranted. But for many men testosterone is not clinically low, and these herbs and nutrients may only cause a modest increase. Zinc is the most widely accepted nutrient in supporting testosterone production and men's health in general.8,9
As for herbal supplements, studies are hard to come by, and often fail to show benefit in improving testosterone or other parameters in human fertility. Aspartic acid is touted for both fertility enhancement and athletic enhancement due to its purported effect on testosterone production and release. However, many studies have shown than while aspartic acid may lead to a slow increase in animal models, human studies have been inconclusive.
Stress in male fertility
Key herbs and nutrients: maca, damiana, ginseng, L-arginine, B vitamins
Libido and erectile function are very sensitive to stress, whether the causes are work, relationships, underlying depression, or anxiety. Sometimes even the pressure of trying to conceive can really put a damper on “bedroom fun.” It is for this reason that many supplements designed to improve male fertility include herbal aphrodisiacs. The mechanism of how herbs enhance arousal isn't well-understood, but there are several small studies that suggest increased sexual desire compared to placebo. For example, a double-blind placebo controlled study conducted on individuals with sexual impairment showed negative side effects resulting from antidepressant medications.10 The study participants were given either placebo or maca (lepidium meyenii) at varying concentrations. The study found that the groups taking maca had improved sexual desire, and groups taking the highest concentration of maca experienced greater improvement in sexual function.
Herbal remedies and supplements could have an affect on the nervous system by lowering inhibition and/or stimulating blood flow to sex organs and improving energy.11 L-Arginine is a mild vasodilator which can have an effect on erectile function. B vitamins as a family are important for general energy and metabolism, and are extremely important in supporting the nervous system. B vitamins' role in fertility is broad and less direct, but nonetheless important at helping the body cope with chronic stress.
Supplements to support fertility
There have been very few studies on combination products of supplements.12 Studies done on individual nutrients or herbs can be limited in number and only have a small number of participants. While it can sometimes be difficult to tell if a particular product is actually helpful, there is no doubt nutrients and minerals play critical roles in sperm production and sperm health. With that in mind, what would be the harm in giving your body an additional nturitional boost for peace of mind on the road to fatherhood?
When choosing a product, it is best to find a reputable company, ideally one recommended by a health care practitioner. One thing to keep in mind is to make sure that individual doses of nutrients compare to what has been proven to be an efficacious amount. Also, not all supplements are created equal: while cheap products may produce equally cheap results, expensive products do not always indicate high quality. Also, remember that herbs can also respond unpredictably with other medications, so always check with a doctor to see if a supplement is right for you.
Scheduling male fertility boosters
It's easy to feel gung-ho and enthusiastic about taking a natural supplement for a few days or weeks. It is also common for people's tolerance for supplements to wane over time due to cost, creeping doubt (not feeling any different), or because it isn't baked into the daily routine. But remember, it takes two months for new sperm to be generated. If you are actively trying to conceive it make take a few months of taking supplements consistently to see the benefits and improvements in sperm quality. Any supplementation is just a little extra reassurance that you are doing everything you can to optimize your health. Pregnancy is multifactorial, and even under the most ideal conditions it can still take time.
Now you have the basics for evaluating what is in your men's fertility supplement. The bottom line: antioxidants are good, minerals are good- and not just for your fertile health. You can make a concerted effort to increase consumption of mineral-rich, antioxidant-packed foods in your day-to-day diet. For a little extra assurance, add in a men's multivitamin or a fertility-specific supplement.
Oregon State University. (2014). Selenium. Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Center. Retrieved from http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/selenium. Accessed Sept 2017.
Boitani C, Puglisi R. Selenium, a key element in spermatogenesis and male
fertility. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2008;636:65-73. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-09597-4_4.
Review. PubMed PMID: 19856162.
Hashemi MM, Behnampour N, Nejabat M, Tabandeh A, Ghazi-Moghaddam B, Joshaghani HR. Impact of Seminal Plasma Trace Elements on Human Sperm Motility Parameters. Rom J Intern Med. 2017 Aug 28. doi: 10.1515/rjim-2017-0034. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28865234.