The presence of couples unable to conceive is an increasingly common scenario in my clinic compared to two decades ago. About 15 percent of couples experience conception problems, and this percentage is growing. Infertility is defined as the absence of conception after one year of regular intercourse without the use of any contraceptive. Men are responsible for this problem at least 40 percent of the time. Where modern medicine has developed its own technical solutions for assisting infertile couples in getting pregnant, complementary medicine can also offer its own assistance in increasing male fertility. Before attempting natural remedies, it is important to rule out any underlying treatable medical conditions.
1. Improve sperm count
The average sperm count is between 120 and 350 million per cubic centimeter. A low sperm count is below 40 million per cubic centimeter. Low sperm counts or poor sperm motility may be due to environmental toxins such as chemicals, radiation, drugs, heavy metal exposure, cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol use, street drug use and pollution.
Heat can also reduce sperm production. Hot baths, sitting for long periods of time and tight-fitting underwear that constricts the testes can all elevate temperatures long enough to suppress sperm production.
The anti-ulcer drugs cimetidine and ranitidine have both been reported to decrease sperm count and produce impotence.
2. Reduce chemical exposure
The semen of the average man today has half the sperm, and of poorer quality, than 50 years ago.
This is believed to be caused by exposure to xenoestrogens (PCBs, DDT, dioxin, other pesticides, plastics and industrial pollutants) that mimic the effects of estrogen. You can prevent or minimize the impact of xenoestrogens on your health by doing the following:
- Avoid plastic containers for food storage, plastic bottles, wraps and utensils.
- Use office paper products whitened without chlorine.
- Use only non-bleached coffee filters, paper, napkins and toilet tissue to reduce dioxin exposure.
- Avoid chlorinated tap water, chlorine bleach and other chlorinated products; use hydrogen peroxide as an alternative.
- Eat organic food as much as possible to avoid pesticides and herbicides.
- Avoid synthetic deodorants and cosmetics; use only organic products whenever possible.
- Avoid animal products with a high fat content that contain hormones, especially conventional milk and dairy products, chicken, beef and pork.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Avoid fried, charcoal-broiled or barbecued forms of cooking.
- Eat lots of foods high in antioxidants (carotenes, vitamins A, C, E and selenium) such as green leafy vegetables, kale, carrots, citrus, broccoli, cauliflower and yams.
3. Improve diet
Getting plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes can help boost fertility. Also avoid tobacco, refined carbohydrates, coffee, tea, alcohol and foods with artificial additives.
Maintain your ideal weight. Food deprivation in men leads to a loss of sex drive and structural changes to reproductive tissue leading to infertility.
Obesity, on the other hand, can be associated with a low sperm count and impotence, possibly because of higher temperatures caused by excess fat near the testes.
4. Exercise regularly
According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, regular exercise (five times a week for at least 45 minutes) and a healthy diet enhance fertility by keeping body weight at normal levels and relieving stress and anxiety.
Excessive amounts of exercise (marathon running and associated training) can be a cause of infertility because it can lead to amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) in women and a lowered sperm count in men.
If you are not sure what type of exercise is best for you, get yourself a personal trainer. He or she can give you an exercise program to bring your weight and fitness levels into the ideal range.
5. Take nutritional supplements
For men, the most important supplemental nutrients to enhance fertility are vitamin C and zinc. Vitamin C (2,000 to 6,000 milligrams daily) helps prevent sperm from clumping or sticking together, thus improving the chances for fertility.
Zinc supplementation (100 to 200 mg daily) has been shown to increase testosterone levels, sperm count and sperm motility. High zinc sources include oysters, organ meats, lean beef, turkey, lamb, herring, wheat germ, legumes and nuts.
Arginine is an amino acid the body produces from the digestion of protein. It is found in high amounts in the head of the sperm. Although not available as a supplement in Canada, arginine has been shown to help low sperm counts and poor motility. In high doses, arginine is also a potent dilator of arteries, leading to better erections. Food sources of arginine include nuts, chocolate, meat, poultry, fish and dairy.
Other nutrients that have been shown to improve sperm counts include essential fatty acids (9 to 12 grams daily), chromium (1,000 mcg daily), selenium (200 mcg daily), copper (2 mg daily), vitamin E (800 IU daily), coenzyme Q10 (400 mg daily) and B-complex vitamins (50 mg daily), especially vitamin B12 (1,000 mcg daily).
6. Try herbal helpers
The herbs listed below may be effective for improving erections, sexual desire, blood flow to the sexual organs and general sexual health with virtually no side-effects:
- panax ginseng (Korean ginseng): 500 milligrams, 1 to 3 capsules daily
- saw palmetto berry: 80 mg, 1 to 2 capsules daily
- muira puama: 500 mg, 3 to 6 capsules daily
- ginkgo biloba extract: 250 mg, 1 to 3 capsules daily
- rhodiola rosea: 500 mg, 1 to 3 capsules daily
- nutmeg: 500 mg, 1 capsule daily
- horny goat weed: 500 mg, 1 capsule daily
- elk antler velvet: 500 mg, 1 to 3 capsules daily
- Tribulus terrestris: 500 mg, 1 to 3 capsules daily
Since sperm formation takes almost three months, it will take at least this amount of time before experiencing the benefits of a nutrient supplementation program.
Causes of Male Infertility
- inadequate sperm production by the testes
- poor sperm motility
- varicocele (dilated veins in the scrotum)
- undescended testis/testes
- excessive xenoestrogen (environmental estrogen) exposure
- infectious disease of the epidydimis (storage tube for sperm), testes, seminal vesicles, urethra, prostate or vas; benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlargement)
- endocrine (glandular) diseases affecting the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, adrenals and the testes (e.g. low DHEA and low testosterone levels)
- congenital abnormalities
- urethral stricture
- malnutrition, especially protein deficiency
- Ten to 20 percent of all men have low sperm counts.
- Two to three percent of all men are completely infertile, producing no sperm at all.
- Infertility affects at least 15 percent of the reproductive age population, with roughly 40 percent of the cases attributable to men.
- Eighty-five percent are treated with conventional medications (synthetic hormones) or surgery to repair diseased reproductive organs.
- Less than five percent of infertile couples attempt in vitro fertilization, which has a 10 to 20 percent success rate at a cost of $10,000 per attempt.
Source: World Health Organization