Low sperm count and infertility in men is more prevalent than most couples think. People tend to think that if a woman is not getting pregnant the fertility issue must be with the woman, but that is not necessarily always the case. There is an equal chance that male factor infertility can be the cause of a couple’s difficulty in achieving pregnancy. In fact, 40% of infertile couples find male infertility or male fertility-health problem contributes to their inability to conceive naturally, according to the University of Utah Health Science Center. While women have many tests to try to find out the cause of infertility, men have only a couple, the sperm analysis being the easiest. In this article we’ll be discussing the different causes of low sperm count, diet and nutrients needed for healthy male fertility, different herbs commonly used for male fertility and sperm health, and natural therapies like male fertility cleansing.
If you have been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, make sure that both of you go and get infertility testing. There are at-home sperm count tests available in stores, or you can have a complete semen analysis performed at your doctor’s office.
The results of a good test would be a sperm count of 15 million or more sperm with healthy motility and morphology. Suboptimal levels are less than 15 million sperm. According to Resolve, the National Infertility Association, “Counts below 10 million are considered poor; counts of 20 million or more may be fine if motility and morphology are normal.” If you find that your sperm levels are low or are having issues with mobility, motility or morphology, this article will share with you some natural therapies you can use to help improve sperm count and health.
Note: While most doctors still hope to see 20 million sperm/mL in a semen sample, in 2010 the World Health Organization (WHO) revised lower reference limits for human semen characteristics, determining that sperm concentrations in healthy men at 15 million spermatozoa/mL are adequate. (Journal of human reproductive sciences)
Causes of Low Sperm Count
There are many potential causes of low sperm count (oligospermia) and male infertility, fortunately many of them we have control over by reducing exposure to them.
Here is a list of the top culprits:
- EMF’s – Electromagnetic frequencies (EMF’s) have been shown through studies to lower sperm count due to the heating of the testicles from the EMF’s. Do not keep your cell phone in your pocket and do not place your laptop computer on your lap.
- Radio frequency electromagnetic waves (RF-EMW) – A study performed in 2011 (Fertlilty and Sterility) showed that RF-EMWs emitted from devices connected to Wi-Fi (wireless internet) decrease sperm motility, while increasing sperm DNA fragmentation. Men should avoid using laptop computers running on a Wi-Fi connection directly on their lap. In addition, be sure to avoid carrying a smart phone in your front pocket.
- Cigarette smoking – Smoking damages the sperm. Period. The good news is the damage done from smoking can be reversed… As long as you quit smoking.
- Pesticides and hormones in foods – The pesticides found on produce and the hormones added to dairy and meat have a HUGE effect on a man’s hormonal balance. Pesticides mimic estrogens in the body while the added hormones in meat and dairy are actual hormones (like estrogen) you do not want in your system.
- Soy foods – Highly processed soy foods (soy milk, TVP, soy burgers, etc.) contain concentrated amounts of isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogen shown to block estrogen receptor sites that are needed for testosterone.
- Alcohol– Rat and human studies alike have proven that alcohol has a harmful effect on both male hormonal balance, interfering with luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) secretion, and testicular function, interfering sperm formation and maturation. Researchers in the Asian Journal of Andrology note many of these studies, one being a 1973 study about which they say, “In a historical study performed on 685 men who drank alcohol (beer and wine) systematically in a 30- to 60-min period,16 a delayed seminal fluid liquefaction was found associated with low sperm motility. The authors speculated that the asthenozoospermia of these patients was secondary to inflammatory or irritative prostatitis due to the excessive alcohol intake.”
- Plastics – When plastics are heated, they release xenohormones which mimic estrogen in the body.
- Hyperthermia (overheating) – The testicles need to keep the sperm at a healthy temperature (which is less than the body’s temperature). It is thought that this may be in part why the male reproductive organs are external. Heat is known to damage sperm, so it may be best to avoid repeated exposure to activities that may elevate the temperature of the testicles. Examples are frequent use of saunas or hot tubs. In addition, tight underwear like briefs can keep the testicles from being able to hang and regulate their temperature. Boxers could be an alternative to briefs.
- Stress – Stress can have a big impact on hormone balance which can in turn have an effect on sperm production.
Additional factors according to the Mayo Clinic could be:
- having a pre-existing genetic condition
- severe mumps infection after puberty
- Anti-sperm antibodies
- hormone disorders
- a blockage caused by a previous infection
- injury to the groin area or hernia repairs
Download The Male Fertility Checklist
- Learn the 5 ways to support male fertility preparation
- Know exactly which nutrients are most important for men
- Find out how to support male hormonal health with herbs and essential oils
- Learn how to protect male fertility from hormone disruptors
Diet & Nutrients for Healthy Male Fertility
Diet has a big impact on sperm health and male fertility. What you are eating today is impacting the sperm that will be swimming 3 months from now.
“One production cycle, from spermatogonia through formed sperm, takes approximately 64 days. A new cycle starts approximately every 16 days, although this timing is not synchronous across the seminiferous tubules [where formed sperm are released into the duct system of the testis].” (BC Open Textbooks Anatomy and Physiology). Other study findings show a range of 42 to 76 days from the time of sperm production to ejaculation in healthy men.
The changes that you make today are impacting the sperm you will be using two to three months from now. This means that it will take about 2-3 months for diet, herbs and supplements to have an effect on sperm health.
Here are the nutrients specifically needed for a male fertility diet; they should be added to the diet as well as supplemented:
Food sources: Calf liver, oysters, beef, lamb, venison, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, turkey, peas, and shrimp. Zinc can be damaged by cooking so it is important to eat some foods high in zinc in their raw forms.
Selenium is necessary for the creation of sperm. In studies, men with low sperm counts have also been found to have low levels of selenium.
Food sources: Brazil nuts, liver, snapper, cod, halibut, tuna, salmon, sardines, shrimp, and turkey.
Necessary for every cell in the body for energy production, CoQ10 is an important antioxidant that helps to protect cells from free radical damage, thus protecting DNA; it is necessary for sperm motility in semen. Additionally, studies have shown that CoQ10 can increase sperm health.
Food sources: Found most abundantly in seafood and organ meats, though it is very difficult to obtain through the diet. CoQ10 Ubiquinol supplementation is the best way to obtain CoQ10 – keep in mind that amounts in the body decline with age.
Vitamin E has been shown in studies to improve sperm health and motility in men. Studies have also shown a diet deficient in Vitamin E to be a cause of infertility in rats. The meaning of the name for vitamin E ‘Tocopherol’ literally means to bear young. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant to help protect sperm and egg DNA integrity.
Food sources: Sunflower seeds, almonds, olives, spinach, papaya, and dark leafy greens.
Folic acid – Research suggests that folic acid can boost sperm health. A systematic review and meta-analysis of electronic databases from 1966 to December 2016 produced 6 studies on sub-fertile men proving “…folate plus zinc showed statistically higher effect on the sperm concentration (P < .001), morphology (P < .001), and serum folate level (P < .001) as compared to placebo.” (Urology Journal). Men with low levels of folate appear to be at an increased risk for forming sperm that contain too little or too many chromosomes. If an egg is fertilized by an abnormal sperm it could result in a birth defect such as Down syndrome, or an increased chance of miscarriage.
Food sources: Liver, lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, asparagus, spinach, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, and collard greens.
Vitamin B12 – Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 is involved in cellular replication and studies indicate a deficiency can lead to reduced sperm count and motility. Supplementation is advised for any man whose sperm count is less than 20 million or who has a motility rate of less than 50%. Studies indicate that supplementation with vitamin B12 at 1,000mcg per day may increase sperm count.
Food sources: Clams, oysters, muscles, liver, caviar (fish eggs), fish, crab, lobster, beef, lamb, cheese, and eggs.
Vitamin C – For men, vitamin C has been shown to improve sperm quality and protect sperm from DNA damage; helping to reduce the chance of miscarriage and chromosomal problems. Vitamin C also appears to keep sperm from clumping together, making them more motile.
Food sources: Abundant in plants and fruits including red peppers, broccoli, cranberries, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, and citrus fruit.
L-Carnitine – Carnitine is a necessary nutrient for sperm cells to function normally. Sperm require high concentrations of carnitine for energy metabolism. Studies indicate that the level of free carnitine in seminal fluid directly correlates with sperm count and motility. The lower the concentrations of carnitine in the seminal fluid, the lower the sperm count. Italian research published in Fertility and Sterility shows that supplementing with L-carnitine for a minimum of 4 months helps to increase sperm count and motility in men with low sperm count and quality. Carnitine and CoQ10 have been shown to work synergistically when combined.
Food sources: Red meat and dairy products.
Antioxidants – Antioxidants are one of the most important components to having healthy fertility and are something that every man and women needs to focus on. Antioxidants help to protect the sperm from free radical damage. Free radicals are able to damage both sperm cell health and the cell’s DNA. The DNA of both partners is the future blueprint for a child. Damaged DNA is known to cause miscarriages, birth defects, and/or developmental problems for the future child.
In one systematic review of the effect of oral antioxidants on male infertility in the journal Reprod Biomed Online, researchers found that 82% of 17 total trials (including 1665 men) shared results of an improvement in either sperm quality or pregnancy rate as a result of antioxidant therapy.
Studies have also shown a connection between oxidative stress caused from free radicals and male infertility. FertilicaTM Choice Antioxidants contains all of the most important antioxidants nutrients in a capsule form. This blend is great for both men and women, but especially for men with low sperm count and poor sperm health.
Hormone imbalance is not just something that is reserved exclusively for women. Men can also have imbalanced hormones. Hormones play a large roll in semen production and a man’s fertility. One of the main hormones in men is testosterone. Due to our modern lifestyles and many of the culprits mentioned above, men’s hormones can become imbalanced.
There are pollutants that “mimic” estrogens (xenohormones) in the body leading to a reduction in testosterone. Excess estrogen in men produces erectile dysfunction, low/lack of libido, low sperm count, and lowered production of seminal fluid.
These xenohormones can come from:
- soy foods
- pesticides on food
- hormones added to dairy and meat
5 steps to balancing your hormones:
1. Reduce your exposure to xenohormones
2. Eat only organic meats and dairy
3. Do not eat soy foods.
4. Cleanse the body of excess hormones and toxins. This can be done with a Male Fertility Cleanse
5. Eat lots of fiber and cruciferous vegetables. These vegetables contain a special element that helps the body to rid itself of excess estrogens. You can also take the supplement DIM to have the same effects.
Herbs for Male Fertility & Sperm Health
These traditional herbal tonics have been shown through studies and hundreds of years of use to help men have healthier sperm and increased fertility.
Most of these herbs are adaptogens which help to nourish the endocrine system so all of the hormones are working properly. For best results use these herbs for at least 3 – 6 months.
American Ginseng root (Panax quinquefolius)
American Ginseng may support a healthy sex drive, resolve erectile dysfunction and enhance sexual performance in men. It strengthens the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis, aiding hormonal balance, stress management, and immune function.
Ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera)
Traditionally used to improve sex drive and low sperm count, Ashwagandha supports endocrine system function for overall hormonal balance.
Epimedium, also known as horny goat weed (Epimedium grandiflorum)
Epimedium is known as an aphrodisiac, increasing sexual desire and performance. The active ingredient Icariin has been shown to increase nitric oxide. In turn, nitric oxide increases circulation to the extremities. It has been shown useful in aiding a sustained erection.
Fo-ti, also known as Ho Shou Wu or He Shou Wu, root (Polygonum multiflorum)
Fo Ti has been traditionally used for men who have low libido, low sperm count, erectile dysfunction, and poor sperm motility. This root supports fertility longevity.
Ginkgo leaves (Ginkgo biloba)
Ginkgo is the #1 remedy for erectile dysfunction. It increases circulation to the reproductive organs and is high in antioxidants, shown to be important for sperm health.
Goji berry, dried fruit (Lycium barbarum, L.chinense)
Goji berries have been shown to protect sperm from hyperthermia (overheating), helping to preserve and improve sperm quantity and quality through its high antioxidant content. Goji berries support hormonal balance through improved liver function support and they are extremely nutritious.
Maca root (Lepidium meyenii)
Regular consumption of maca has been shown to increase libido, seminal volume, and sperm count per ejaculate, and improves sperm motility (Asian J Androl). Maca is a wonderful superfood which can be taken in capsules or added to fertility smoothies in powder form.
Saw Palmetto berries (Serenoa repens)
Saw Palmetto has been traditionally used to improve prostate health, impotence, testicular atrophy, and low libido.
Schisandra fruit and seed (Schisandra chinensis)
One of the most supportive and protective herbs for liver health (important for hormone balance), Schisandra has been shown to support immunity, and enhances endocrine and nervous system function. In Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health by Dr. Aviva Romm, contributing author Angela J. Hywood, N.D., shares, “Schisandra chinensis… demonstrated hepatoprotective and hepatorestorative activity and assist with improvement of liver function and the detoxification processes in the body.” Studies have also shown it may help to increase sperm count. This berry helps the body to adapt to stress, making it useful for stress-related infertility as well.
Tribulus, aerial parts and fruit (Tribulus terrestris)
Tribulus has been shown to be effective in aiding sex hormone production, increasing luteinizing hormone (LH), DHEA, and testosterone production in men. This makes Tribulus useful for erectile dysfunction, low sperm count, and poor sperm health related to hormonal imbalance.
Yohimbe bark (Pausinystalia yohimbe)
The bark of this tree supports healthy circulation to the male reproductive organs, making it useful for erectile dysfunction. Yohimbe has been shown to help men sustain an erection and may help to make an erection firmer. The increased circulation to the reproductive organs has also been shown to increase libido.
Have Sex at The Right Time
There is a right time to have sex to optimize your chances of conception and to give sperm an extra boost.
Here are some fertility/sex tips:
- Know her cycle – Know when she is ovulating. Become interested in knowing the timing of her fertility cycle. If she does not know, find out when her period is. Roughly 12-14 days after the first day of her period is when she may ovulate. This is a rough estimate because women are all different in their cycles. Some other signs that she is ovulating is she is way more interested in sex and has cervical mucus resembling egg whites. You can learn more about fertility charting here.
- Timing is everything. You will not want to have sex 2 -3 days before ovulation so that your sperm supply is built up.
- Use sperm-friendly lubrication.
- Don’t have sex standing up. This makes it harder for the sperm to reach the cervix.
If you are experiencing low sperm count, there are many natural therapies that have been shown to increase sperm count and health. Here is a summary of steps you can take to increase your sperm health:
1. Get a sperm analysis done.
2. Reduce and/or eliminate exposure to EMF’s, pesticides, cigarette smoke, soy foods, alcohol, plastics, briefs, hot tubs, bike riding and stress.
3. Eat a diet and take supplements rich in nutrients specific for sperm and male reproductive health. These nutrients are zinc, selenium, CoQ10, vitamin E, folic acid, vitamin B12, L-Carnitine, and a wide range of antioxidants.
4. Support male hormonal balance and use supportive herbs.
5. Time baby-making sex at the right time.
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