Where do I start to improve sperm health with nutrients?
To improve sperm health with nutrients it is important to know what a ‘nutrient’ is.
A nutrient is a biochemical compound found, most commonly, in the foods we eat. A well-known example is vitamin C, found in citrus.
The idea goes that if one eats a balanced, nutritious diet with food of an acceptable quality, one will absorb the nutrients – or biochemical components – found in that food.
But, if something goes awry in the body, then it is possible that the nutrient balance may be affected and disease, or ill-health, may follow.
Conversely, when problems are diagnosed, it is sometimes possible to support the body to recovery by taking nutrients in more concentrated/potent doses (eg vitamins).
To improve sperm health there are several, well-known nutrients which have been historically well used, but with this latest information strong evidence now supports their use in this to support men with low fertility.
Where do I begin to learn more about sperm?
On your journey to improve sperm health, a good, reputable place to start is with an organisation like Andrology Australia.
Of course, if you haven’t consulted with your preferred GP that’s also important as a full medical assessment is warranted as there can be many factors which affect a couple’s chances of conception.
Once you’ve covered those bases, consider taking a read of this page to learn more about my approach to pre-conception care with male fertility acupuncture.
This page takes great care and time to explain how sperm health is assessed with the semen analysis and, regardless of how you choose to improve sperm health, it is a great place to start.
What are antioxidants and what is their role in sperm health?
Normal, healthy cellular function requires oxygen and nitrogen. The body, to help the cells make use of these gases, produces molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS). This article is of high quality and explains this well.
The reactive species include ‘free radicals’. ‘Free radicals’ are oxidising agents. When they become too many in number, they have the potential to cause cellular damage and inflammation.
Oxidative stress, caused by excess free radicals, is thought to be a major cause of male factor infertility. Therefore, ‘antioxidant’ nutrients are associated with correcting this imbalance in the body.
How do I get too many ‘free radicals’?
This is where poor dietary and other lifestyle choices might contribute to you having ‘oxidative stress’.
Examples of poor dietary and other lifestyle choices might include the consumption of alcohol, smoking, a diet with too many bad fats, too much exposure to air pollutants, too much sun and even too much exercise.
Do we know how ‘free radicals’ and ‘oxidative stress’ damage sperm?
The connection between free radical damage on sperm is becoming clearer.
Free radical damage causes oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is recognised as a contributing factor to male sub-fertility or infertility due to cellular damage associated with reactive oxygen species (ROS).
While ROS is a naturally occurring mechanism in spermatogenesis, excess levels of ROS has been linked with damaged sperm DNA and poor sperm motility (movement).
What does the science tell us about nutrients to improve sperm health?
Interestingly, the nutrients used historically to improve sperm health are, by and large, the same nutrients recently studied in a large systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials in this area.
The nutrients used to improve sperm health caused by oxidative stress are called antioxidants.
The nutrients (and foods) covered in this systematic review include lipoic acid, selenium, NAC (glutathione), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, folic acid, zinc, omega-3 oil, CoQ10/ubiquinol, carnitine, lactobacillus paracasei, nigella sativa oil, walnuts, crocus sativa and ‘Menevit’.
The semen parameters most improved by antioxidant nutrients include:
- Sperm counts (total) improved by supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids and CoQ10
- Sperm concentration improved by supplementation with selenium, zinc, omega-3 and CoQ10
- Sperm motility improved by supplementation with selenium, zinc, orega-3, CoQ10 and carnitines
- Sperm morphology improved by supplementation with selenium, omega-3, CoQ10 and carnitines.
What about all the other nutrients examined in the study, but not listed to improve sperm health?
The study doesn’t say they’re not useful – in fact, individual studies record improvement in parameters with Vitamin C and E etc.
However, for the purposes of the systematic review and meta analysis there wasn’t enough evidence to reliably report on them – so more research is required.
What should I do next to improve my sperm health?
If you haven’t consulted with a GP and just have concerns you may be sub-fertile, then your first port of call is to them.
Beyond that, it is important to not just start taking supplements without consulting someone who has professional training in that area (even if you can easily buy products online or in the chemist or supermarket). Not all supplements are good quality, so getting advice is a good idea.