Fertility for men relies on the quantity, quality and motility of the sperm. It is thought that around 40-50% of infertility cases are related to the males inability to achieve pregnancy in fertile females . There are many potential reasons behind male infertility such as; genetic abnormalities, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, stress, medication, smoking, alcohol and many more .
Fortunately, there are many ways to support male fertility with a few simple changes through diet, lifestyle and supplementation, which can make a positive difference to sperm health.
Spermatogenesis (sperm formation) is regulated by Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) within the testes, occurring best at 3 degrees below body temperature. Being extremely sensitive to high heat, just one degree increase in testicular temperature can reduce spermatogenesis by up to 14%. The plasma membrane of sperm is also very unique and consists of high levels of Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs) which are essential for membrane flexibility. However, the high level of fat makes them vulnerable to lipid peroxidation which can cause DNA damage and affect the mitochondrial membrane, which is essential for energy production and motility of sperm .This can also result in oxidative stress, which occurs when the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) exceeds the body’s natural antioxidant defenses. This is often driven by alcohol, pesticides, poor nutrition, stress, environmental toxins and electromagnetic waves. It is thought that anything from 30% to 80% of male infertility is a result of excess oxidative damage and decreased antioxidant capacity .
The key antioxidants and other core nutrients to support optimal sperm levels and reduce risk of cellular damage are mentioned below.
Antioxidants – Vitamin E, vitamin C, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione are the most potent antioxidants found in semen. These antioxidants have the ability to neutralise free radicals, protect sperm from ROS that is already produced, reduce potential DNA damage, and improve the function of other antioxidants. Eating a varied diet of many colourful fruits and vegetables will support optimal antioxidant status, as they work best together rather than in isolation.
CoQ10 is a potent antioxidant which is involved in generating essential energy for mitochondrial function. The mitochondria, which fills the body of sperm, controls the motility and speed of which sperm swims. Dietary intake of CoQ10 tends to be low as the highest levels are found in organ meats, with moderate levels found in fish and nuts, and low levels in fruit and vegetables. Supplementation is often recommended for a more therapeutic dose .
Zinc is known to increase sperm count and concentration. There is a high volume of zinc within sperm, which is thought to protect against bacteria and prevent damage to chromosomes. Zinc also plays an important role in testicular development and sperm maturation. Richest sources of zinc are found in exotic shellfish, with moderate levels found in pumpkin seeds and hemp seeds .
Selenium is essential for formation of sperm and testosterone biosynthesis which helps to maintain normal sperm integrity. Selenium has also shown to improve sperm count and concentration. Selenium-rich foods include brazil nuts, fish and poultry. Both selenium and zinc were once found in abundance in our soil, however they are now often depleted, affecting our overall intake .
L-Carnitine is a very important amino acid which is highly concentrated in the epididymis (a long, coiled tube that stores sperm and transports it from the testes), which is known for its crucial role in sperm metabolism and maturation. Studies have shown supplementation of L-Carnitine significantly increases both sperm concentration and total sperm count . Beef and chicken contain the highest dietary levels, however most studies have taken place with levels that may be difficult to achieve solely through diet, therefore supplementation is often recommended .
Omega 3 has shown to significantly improve total sperm count & concentrations, reduce lipid peroxidation & ROS generation, and increase antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione and SOD .
DHA has also shown to provide structural support for sperm formation . Including 3-4 portions of small oily fish a week such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring, will increase overall omega 3 intake. Flaxseeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds are great plant based options. Supplementation is necessary if diet lacks in omega 3, this can be offered through fish oil supplements or plant based options too.
Below is a table containing the most essential nutrients for sperm health, and the best food sources to help spur on the sperm through diet! We also offer one to one Nutritional Consultations to optimise nutrient status and overall health with a personalised plan. Click here for further information about Nutritional Therapy for fertility.
Essential Nutrient Food Sources
Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, almonds, greens, pumpkin, avocado.
Vitamin C: Peppers, broccoli, berries, Brussel sprouts, acerola cherries, parsley, kiwi, lemons.
SOD: Found in all fresh food sources – richest in spinach, peas, tomatoes, mustard leaves, cabbage, barley grass.
Glutathione: Watermelon, cruciferous vegetables, eggs, onions, garlic, leek, mushrooms, whey protein, oily fish, berries, avocado.
CoQ10: Salmon, organ meats, lesser amounts in wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
Zinc: Crab, lobster, oyster, beef, chicken, pumpkin seeds, cashews, chickpeas
Selenium: Brazil nuts, halibut, sardines, beef, turkey, brown rice, eggs, oats.
L-Cartinine: Beef, chicken, milk, asparagus.
Omega 3: Sardines, anchovies, mackerel, salmon, herring, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts.
[i] Kumar N, Singh AK. Trends of male factor infertility, an important cause of infertility: A review of literature. J Hum Reprod Sci. 2015;8(4):191-196. doi:10.4103/0974-1208.170370
[ii] Ahmadi S, Bashiri R, Ghadiri-Anari A, Nadjarzadeh A. Antioxidant supplements and semen parameters: An evidence based review. Int J Reprod Biomed. 2016;14(12):729-736.
[iii] Barbagallo F, La Vignera S, Cannarella R, Aversa A, Calogero AE, Condorelli RA. Evaluation of Sperm Mitochondrial Function: A Key Organelle for Sperm Motility. J Clin Med. 2020;9(2):363. Published 2020 Jan 29. doi:10.3390/jcm9020363
[iv] Ahmadi S, Bashiri R, Ghadiri-Anari A, Nadjarzadeh A. Antioxidant supplements and semen parameters: An evidence based review. Int J Reprod Biomed. 2016;14(12):729-736.
[v] Saini R. Coenzyme Q10: The essential nutrient. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2011;3(3):466-467. doi:10.4103/0975-7406.84471
[vi] Office of Dietary Supplements - Zinc, 2021
[vii] Office of Dietary Supplements - Selenium, 2021
[viii] Agarwal A, Said TM. Carnitines and male infertility. Reprod Biomed Online. 2004;8(4):376-384. doi:10.1016/s1472-6483(10)60920-0
[ix] Office of Dietary Supplements - Carnitine, 2021
[x] Safarinejad MR. Effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on semen profile and enzymatic anti-oxidant capacity of seminal plasma in infertile men with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratospermia: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised study. Andrologia. 2011;43(1):38-47. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0272.2009.01013.x
[xi] Hosseini B, Nourmohamadi M, Hajipour S, et al. The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, EPA, and/or DHA on Male Infertility: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Diet Suppl. 2019;16(2):245-256. doi:10.1080/19390211.2018.1431753
Please note that the information contained within this website does not and should not replace medical advice, and is not intended to treat or diagnose. We always recommend you consult with your doctor. Our Nutritional Therapy team is highly trained and we offer one to one Nutritional Therapy Consultations, which are designed to be complementary to any medical treatment from a functional medicine approach, as well as offering a preventative & optimal health focus.