Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert.
Statistics show that male infertility is on the rise accross the globe. With this in mind many people may wish to understand what natural treatments are available before they consider anything invasive such as IVF.
This article covers the following points:
- Infertility basics
- Drugs, alcohol and smoking
Infertility is a very common problem but is not often discussed publicly. The general definition of infertility is not being able to get pregnant after at least one year of having regular frequency unprotected sex. It is a problem that affects many couples.
There are many possible causes of male infertility. It may be caused by sperm production issues such as low sperm count, zero sperm, abnormal sperm function, or blockages that prevent the delivery of sperm.
It could be caused by chronic health conditions, infections, previous illnesses, and previous injuries. Lifestyle choices such as drinking alcohol, smoking, and drug use can also cause infertility.
Oftentimes there are no signs or symptoms so you may not know that you have infertility issues until you try to conceive a child. Diagnosis and treatment of infertility is not always easy.
You and your partner will have to undergo many tests. Semen analysis, blood tests, urine tests, genetic tests, ultrasounds, and biopsies may be ordered by your doctor.
All of these tests and appointments probably sound overwhelming, time-consuming, stressful, and expensive. The good news is that lifestyle choices can positively affect fertility and you can try natural treatments to increase fertiltiy.
There have been numerous research studies completed to support the use of natural treatments to increase fertility.
Avoid Illict Drug Use and Alcohol and Smoking
Illicit recreational drug use can damage sperm and decrease fertility. Even steroids that are sometimes used by athletes to stimulate muscle growth will decrease healthy sperm production, likewise, Adderall which is prescribed to improve attention can have a similar effect.
Drinking alcohol lowers testosterone levels, can cause erectile dysfunction, and decrease sperm count. Studies have been done on animals and humans that showed that drug and/or alcohol use damages sperm and the horomones that aid reproduction (Sansone, et al. 2018).
It is well known that smoking is not healthy. Evidence suggests that men who are smokers and trying to conceive should be advised to quit smoking. Discontinuing smoking will increase the chance of successful conception (Kovac, et al. 2015). The harmful chemicals that are absorbed by smoking can be harmful to your health and your sperm.
Fertility specialist Dr. Sarah Vij says that men who smoke have more inflammation of their semen which makes the sperm weak.
Cigarettes are known to contain cancer causing carcinogens and heavy metals which are known to damage the DNA of sperm. Smoking can also cause erectile dysfunction which will make sex and conceiving more difficult (Milanowki, 2021).
Having a healthy well-balanced diet plays a huge role in one’s health. Your body is constantly making new cells such as sperm.
These cells are built using amino acids and energy that your body gets through nutrition. A recent study done in 2020 which was published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine concluded that a high-fat diet and obesity negatively affect the structure of sperm.
Also omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, carnitine, and coenzyme Q10 aid in the production of healthy sperm. The study suggests that having a varied and balanced diet is beneficial to fertility (Skorack, et al. 2020).
According to an article written by Dr. Edwin McDonald for the University of Chiago Medicine there are five types of food that you should avoid in order to keep sperm healthy.
They are processed meats, food with high trans-fats, soy products, high-fat diary products, food packaged in plastic containing bisphenol-A (BPA), and food known to have high pesticide content.
Processed meats such as lunch meat, hot dogs, beef jerky, and read meats have be shown to decrease sperm counts and imped sperm motility. Trans-fats increase the risk of obesity and heart disease and are linked with decreased sperm counts.
Soy products have compounds similar to estrogen in them and may decrease sperm cocentration. High fat diary products are linked with abnormal sperm shape and low sperm motility. Dr. McDonald says BPA and pesticides are the scariest on the list because they are not foods but we consume them through what we eat.
BPA and pesticides have chemicals similar to estrogen that are terrible for sperm concentration. Dr. McDonald recommends eating fish, fruits, vegetables, and walnuts to improve semen health (McDonald, 2018).
Exercise is also a critical part of leading a healthy lifestyle. A literature review published in the American Journal of Men’s Health in 2017, found that exercise does affect semen quality, concentration, mobility, and development (Jóźków and Rossato, 2017).
Dr. Audrey Gaskins and Dr. Jorge Chavarro have done extensive research on exercise and how it affects men’s fertility. In 2013, Dr. Gaskins was quoted saying
“Men engaging in exercise for seven hours or more per week, essentially one hour a day, had 48 percent higher concentrations than men who were engaging in less than one hour per week……Weightlifting has been shown to increase testosterone levels and improve insulin sensitivity…Both of those have been related to higher sperm concentrations” (Gaskins, 2013).
In another study done by Dr. Jorge Chavarro and Dr. Audrey Gaskins, it was found that men who were more sedentary which was measured by the number of hours they watched TV had lower sperm counts than men who were more physically active.
The study found that men who viewed more than 20 hours of TV every week had a 44% lower sperm count. Males who did moderate to vigorous exercise for 15 or more hours a week had a 73% higher sperm count than men who exercised less than five hours a week. Dr. Jorge Chavarro said
“The majority of the previous studies on physical activity and semen quality had focused on professional marathon runners and cyclists, who reach physical activity levels that most people in the world cannot match. We were able to examine a range of physical activity that is more relevant to men in the general population” (Diaz, 2014).
Vitamins, Herbs, Antioxidants, and Supplements That Increase Fertility
Vitamins, herbs, and supplements are a great way to increase your fertility without any invasive medical procedures or tests.
Antioxidants are beneficial to producing healthy sperm. There have been numerous research studies completed to support the use of vitamins, herbs, and supplements to increase male fertility.
Carotenoids are antioxidants found in many fruits and vegtables that the body turns into Vitamin A.
These have been found to benefit fertility by the reduction of free radicals in the body which could damage sperm (Ribeiro, 2018).
Vitamin D is positively associated with improving sperm motility (DeAngelis, 2017). Good levels of Vitamin E are linked with higher live birth rates (Matorras, et al., 2020).
Minerals are also important to sperm development. Folic acid improves sperm quality (Azizollahi, et al. 2011). Zinc is essential for sperm function and fertilization.
Studies have shown that zinc deficiency can cause sperm dysfunction and male fertility issues (Fallah, et al. 2018). Selenium is not a mineral you hear much about but it can improve semen quality and mobility (Moslemi, et al. 2011).
Some lesser-known supplements and antioxidants such as lycopene, beta-carotene, retinol, N-acetyl-cysteine, Coenzyme Q10, D-aspartic acid, fenugreek, and ashwagandha can have benefits to men struggling with fertility.
Lycopene, beta-carotene, and retinol have been shown to reduce sperm DNA damage and offer antioxidant benefits (Ghyasvand, et al. 2015).
Taking Lycopene has been shown to improve sperm motility, sperm development, and pregnancy rates (Williams, et al. 2019)(Agarwal, et al. 2014).
Doses of Lycopene within the 4-12mg range have been reported as being effective.
Coenzyme Q10 and N-acetyl-cysteine studies show that they can improve semen development (Alhmar, 2019)(Jannatifar, et al. 2019).
Ashwagandha is a root extract that has been used to treat male infertility (Ambiye, et al. 2013). Fenugreek helps increase testosterone levels and sperm production (Maheshwari, 2017).
Infertility can be difficult to diagnosis and treat.
Oftentimes a doctor will not see you for infertility until you have been trying to conceive for at least a year. Diagnosis and treatment can be invasive, time consuming, and expensive.
There are many natural treatments that can be utilized to aid a man’s fertility. Lifestyle choices are important to fertility.
Diet and exercise play an important role. Recreational drugs, alcohol, and smoking should be avoided. There are several vitamins and supplements that can help increase your fertility.
Audrey Gaskins, doctoral student, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Jorge Chavarro, M.D., assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health; presentations, International Federation of Fertility Societies/American Society for Reproductive Medicine meeting, Oct. 12 to 17, 2013, Boston
Datz, T. (2014, January 13). TV viewing, exercise habits may significantly affect sperm count. Harvard T.H. School of Public Health. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/tv-viewing-exercise-habits-may-significantly-affect-sperm-count/
Jóźków, P., & Rossato, M. (2017). The Impact of Intense Exercise on Semen Quality. American journal of men's health, 11(3), 654–662. https://doi.org/10.1177/1557988316669045
Kovac, J. R., Khanna, A., & Lipshultz, L. I. (2015). The effects of cigarette smoking on male fertility. Postgraduate medicine, 127(3), 338–341. https://doi.org/10.1080/00325481.2015.1015928
McDonald, E. (2018, December 10). Diet and male fertility: Foods that affect sperm coun. Diet and male fertility: Foods that affect sperm count - UChicago Medicine. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/health-and-wellness-articles/dont-make-the-mistake-of-letting-a-diet-kill-sperm
Milanowski, A. (2021, April 20). How stopping smoking boosts your fertility naturally. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-stopping-smoking-boosts-your-fertility-naturally/
Moslemi, M. K., & Tavanbakhsh, S. (2011). Selenium-vitamin E supplementation in infertile men: effects on semen parameters and pregnancy rate. International journal of general medicine, 4, 99–104. https://doi.org/10.2147/IJGM.S16275
Sansone, A., Di Dato, C., de Angelis, C., Menafra, D., Pozza, C., Pivonello, R., Isidori, A., & Gianfrilli, D. (2018). Smoke, alcohol and drug addiction and male fertility. Reproductive biology and endocrinology : RB&E, 16(1), 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12958-018-0320-7
Skoracka, K., Eder, P., Łykowska-Szuber, L., Dobrowolska, A., & Krela-Kaźmierczak, I. (2020). Diet and Nutritional Factors in Male (In)fertility-Underestimated Factors. Journal of clinical medicine, 9(5), 1400. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm9051400