What's the real deal with supplements for male fertility?
To round out the Movember installment of Techno Tidbits, let’s try to answer the question all men want to know: “What can I do to increase my sperm count?”
Always start with the basic modifiable risk factors:
Some other common questions we are often asked:
- Can I ride my bike? Yes. A study of 5000 men who cycled up to more than 8.5 hours per week showed no association with infertility.
- Boxers or briefs? Boxers.
- Should I avoid hot tubs? Probably a good idea.
- Will my sperm count decline if I ejaculate too much? A study that followed daily ejaculations in volunteers for two weeks did not show a significant change in the major sperm parameters. The men were just really tired at the end of the study.
However, by far, the question that is asked the most: “What can I take to make my sperm better?” An easy fix in the form of a magic pill that would boost male fertility would be wonderful. A quick Google for “male fertility supplements” reveals many a potion are being marketed accordingly.
The appeal of dietary supplements for fertility (or any other health concern) is intuitive enough: if a certain nutrient is essential for good health, ingesting more of it makes sense. The prospect of taking control of one’s health with something simple and “natural” is also empowering. Indeed, certain supplements have in fact been shown to be good for you (for example, folic acid during pregnancy), but most have been found to be ineffective. Even worse, some are potentially harmful. Yet that hasn’t stopped us from spending $300 billion dollars per year on these concoctions. But I digress…
Many supplements have been suggested to boost sperm function. A recent review of the most popular supplements available online found over 90 ingredients that were included. The five most popular ingredients were:
- L-Carnitine- found in the sperm mitochondria, thought to improve sperm motility
- CoQ10- also to improve sperm motility
- Vitamin C- antioxidant function to improve sperm quality
- Vitamin E- also reduces oxidative stress in sperm
- Zinc- found in high concentrations in seminal fluid, thought to be important for many aspects of sperm function
The authors concluded that despite promises of these supplements to improve male fertility, the claims were rarely backed by any scientific evidence.
In fact, it also appears that too much of a good thing can be bad when it comes to supplements and male fertility. In a 5 year, multicenter, randomized control trial of 2370 couples trying to conceive, men were randomized to a supplement that contained 5mg folic acid and 30mg zinc, or placebo. Neither semen analysis parameters nor livebirth rates were improved for those who took the supplements compared to those who took placebo. Furthermore, those who took the supplement actually had higher DNA fragmentation rates, a sign of poor sperm quality. In addition, the folic acid & zinc group had more side effects than the placebo group. More gastrointestinal issues and no benefit to fertility: doesn’t sound like a very appealing combination to me…
So what’s a man got to do to improve his fertility? Well, if there is an actual issue to be concerned about, we’ll refer you to one of our excellent urologists. They’ll check out the plumbing, and figure out if there is something to be fixed.