If you are experiencing infertility, you are not the only one. Approximately 10% of all men (people with penises) who are trying to conceive are facing the same challenges. The best way to make informed choices is to get informed.
Male fertility is shaped by a complex relationship that involves multiple factors, including genetics, overall health status, sperm quality, hormone status, lifestyle, stress management, hydration, diet, anatomy and physiology of reproductive organs, and age. There is a higher probability of fertility occurring if the semen discharged in an ejaculation contains at least 15 million sperm per milliliter. If there are too few sperm in an ejaculation, it is more difficult to get pregnant because there are fewer sperm available to fertilize the egg.
A sperm count, also called a semen analysis, measures the quality and quantity of semen and sperm in an ejaculate.
Sperm volume is the actual amount of semen produced during an ejaculation.
Semen is what you ejaculate; it contains a combination of citric acid, free amino acids, fructose, enzymes, phosphorylcholine, prostaglandin, potassium, and zinc. It can be assessed by various attributes: the total number of spermatozoa, the nature of spermatozoa, the fluid volume and concentration, sperm viability, motility, and shape, as well as the composition of the secretions. Detailed analysis of these factors can help identify the reason for male infertility.
Sperm is a component of semen. It is made in the testes, then processed in the epididymides, and mixed with secretions from the male accessory sex organs, including the prostate, seminal vesicles, bulbourethral glands, and the epididymides. The sperm must move through the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes of the human intending to become pregnant in order for it to meet and fertilize the egg.
Low sperm count indicates that the ejaculate fluid contains fewer sperm than normal. When the number of viable sperm is below 39 million sperm per ejaculate, or less than 10 million/milliliter, it is considered to be low. Having a low sperm count decreases the odds that a sperm will reach an egg and a pregnancy will occur, though many of these people are able to contribute to a pregnancy. Possible causal factors include physical or structural issues within the reproductive organs, or hormonal issues such as low testosterone.
Low motility is lowered ability for sperm to swim/travel to meet and fertilize the egg. Structural issues with the reproductive organs and hormonal issues can contribute to motility issues. This study found that high levels of calcium, sulfur, and copper are correlated with lower motility in sperm. Low motility by itself, however, does not have a significant impact on the likelihood of natural conception. Motility is best measured within an hour of semen collection.
It’s simply a numbers game. A lower sperm count means fewer sperm travel to the egg, which lowers the odds of one actually fertilizing that egg. The more semen and sperm that reach the egg, the higher the chances are of pregnancy occurring.
This study showed that vitamin C supplementation in infertile men might improve sperm count, motility, and morphology, and could improve the quality semen towards conception. Another study demonstrated that antioxidant properties could improve sperm count and motility.
Lower levels of vitamin D are associated with poor semen quality (lower sperm count and motility), according to this study. Vitamin D is also important for testosterone levels.
As an antioxidant, vitamin E may improve semen quality and have beneficial and protective effects, especially on sperm motility. One study reported that men who were supplemented with vitamin E and selenium for 3 months had significantly reduced oxidative stress and improved sperm motility.
Lycopene is a powerful red carotenoid pigment with antioxidant properties naturally found in most red and pink foods like tomatoes. Oxidative stress can negatively affect sperm health so incorporating lycopene promotes glutathione levels which may help promote quality and quantity of sperm.
Selenium is an important mineral for thyroid health, which can impact overall sperm health. This study confirmed that selenium supplementation in sub-fertile subjects can improve sperm motility and chance of impregnation.
L-Carnitine is made in the body from a combination of two amino acids (methionine and lysine). It is known for its ability to turn fat into energy and it can also contribute to sperm health. According to this study, L-Carnitine helps with sperm motility, but does not change sperm volume or concentration.
This study contends that CoQ10 has a beneficial effect on seminal quality, especially regarding sperm motility. Another study reported that semen parameters in subjects who took 400mg of CoQ10 were greatly improved compared to those who took 200mg.
According to this study, vitamin B12 can increase both sperm count and motility.
Zinc is essential in spermatogenesis, which is the biological process of producing sperm cells. Its high concentration in seminal fluid (approximately 30 times higher than in blood) suggests a link to semen quality, potentially through its antioxidant functions.
Ashwagandha is used in Ayurvedic medicine for stress, strain, and overall general health. According to this study, it has the potential to support sperm count and motility. It is generally taken in capsule form. Care/of’s ashwagandha, dubbed The Chill Pill, supports sexual wellness.
Maca, sometimes called Peruvian Ginseng, is an adaptogenic herb found in the Andes Mountains that supports energy and fitness performance. It has also been taken for male infertility, post-menapausal health issues, and boosting sexual desire. In this study, semen volume increased by 9% and normal morphology of sperm increased by 21% after 12 weeks. Another study of 9 healthy men found that after 16 weeks, maca supplementation increased sperm concentration by 35%, total sperm count by 84%, and motile sperm count by 109%. Maca is available in powder formula, such as Care/of’s maca, dubbed The Energy Root.
Fenugreek is an herb that has been found to boost testosterone levels and improve sexual function in men (and other people with penises). This study reports that fenugreek can improve free testosterone and sperm count, as well as promoting mental alertness and cardiovascular health.
In this study, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and testosterone levels increased after 90-day supplementation with shilajit. FSH plays a role in stimulating sperm production and testosterone is also necessary for sperm production.
According to findings from this study, omega-3 supplementation might result in higher antioxidant activity in human seminal fluid and enhanced sperm count, motility, and morphology.
There is no magic pill that will increase your sperm count and volume overnight. The general consensus ranges from 3 to 5 months, but always comes with the suggestion to consult your healthcare provider before adding a supplement for fertility to your regimen.
Lifestyle changes like smoking cessation, reducing alcohol intake, healthy eating, exercise, weight management, avoiding toxic lubricants during intercourse, and ensuring the scrotal temperature is not increased can all help improve male factor fertility.
Generally, if you have been trying to impregnate your partner with unprotected intercourse for a year and have not been successful, it is time to see a healthcare professional. If the woman (person with a uterus) is over the age of 35, they should consult their physician after 6 months. If you know of an underlying health condition or situation that could be a causal factor of infertility, it is best to see your doctor as soon as you want to attempt impregnation.
Infertility can be a difficult journey with a plethora of options, each of which can seem daunting. It is important to get all the facts before you make any decisions. Healthy lifestyle, including diet, weight management, exercise, managing stress, and limited alcohol can only help you as you navigate this path. Talk to your physician, and maybe even your therapist if you have one, about your situation. There are numerous options available to enhance fertility and support your journey toward having children. Your physician can refer you to a fertility specialist if needed, or other healthcare providers for information about IVF, adoption, and surrogacy. The most important things to keep in mind are that you are not the only one and you are certainly not alone on this journey.