Zoltan P. Rona, MD, MSc
Conception problems becoming more and more common among today's couples. Read on to find out ways to boost male fertility and increase sperm count naturally, and to understand lifestyle factors which can impact male fertility.
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 and sperm count. Before attempting natural remedies, it is important to rule out any underlying treatable medical conditions.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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:
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.
Source: World Health Organization