This is the third post in a series about functional medicine and fertility, starting with Functional Fertility Basics. In the last post, we dove into the causes of male infertility – remember that 50% of infertility is due to the guy. Here we talk about what men can do to improve fertility, which usually means improving sperm…
What can men do to improve sperm and semen?
The most common male fertility problem is with sperm and semen: count, movement, shape. and the ability to liquify (liquification) Depending on your analysis, you may be able to improve these issues without resorting to IVF.
Sometimes simply taking one of the male fertility supplements or herbal formulas on the market can do the trick. When it doesn’t, we take a root-cause approach. We start with checking for nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalances, oxidative stress, and subpar mitochondrial function. All of these factors can negatively affect sperm and semen production.
Diet and nutrients
Diet and nutrition are key for optimal sperm production. This researcher writes:
“For optimum nutrition it is necessary to remove grains, processed foods, sugars and starches from the diet, and obtain necessary carbohydrates from vegetables, some fruits and starchy sources like sweet potatoes and squash. The healthy fats in the diet especially from sources like coconuts, coconut oil, olives and olive oil, butter, grass-fed meats, eggs, avocado and nuts need to be increased. Proteins especially from grass fed meats, eggs, and nuts are also helpful. There is a need to eat vegetables, especially green leafy varieties and to avoid processed dairy products.”
Keep in mind that even with the above dietary recommendations, it’s possible to have nutrient deficiencies that affect sperm.
This paper summarizes the nutrients that affect sperm: calcium, magnesium, chromium, zinc, vitamin B12, folic acid, inositol (B8), vitamin B6, selenium, and manganese. In particular, zinc and folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and folate correlate low levels of inferior sperm and semen.
Clinical testing for these nutrients is not routinely offered. However, it is possible to test for potential deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals through specialty labs.
Oxidative stress and mitochondria
Oxidation is the natural “rusting” process in your body. It results in reactive oxygen species (“free radicals”) which need to be in the perfect range. Some free radicals are needed, but too many can damage sperm DNA as well as your mitochondria. Fortunately, oxidation and mitochondria health can be assessed and improved.
Antioxidants that are proven to help improve sperm include L-carnitine, selenium, vitamins C and E, selenium, N-acetyl-cysteine, and coQ10. However, you don’t want to take buckets of these and risk throwing your body chemistry out of balance. A better idea is to first test (a urine organic acid test) for oxidative stress and levels of all these antioxidants, including the antioxidant you make yourself – glutathione. This test will also give information about your mitochondrial health and function – and it turns out that many of the nutrients that improve sperm also improve mitochondria.
Any hormone that’s significantly out of balance can affect sperm production. This includes insulin (often controlled by what you eat), and cortisol (regulated by sleep and stress). It also includes thyroid hormones and all sex hormones, including testosterone, estrogen, DHEA, and even LH (luteinizing hormone). Men have “female hormones” in small amounts.
Do not underestimate the power of all of your hormones, and the need to check them out comprehensively. You can test most hormones with a simple blood test. Adrenal hormones are best tested with urine or saliva.
What about herbs?
Chinese herbal medicine has a rich history of male fertility treatment that goes back hundreds of years. A skilled practitioner assesses your pattern of imbalance and treats it accordingly with acupuncture and herbs.
Chinese herbs are unique in that they can treat all aspects of sperm and seminal fluid: count, motility, shape, and qualification. These herbs are potent, but please don’t self-prescribe. Getting the formula correct, as well as a clean source, is very important.
Deeper roots to pull up
It’s very likely you will see results with these approaches. You can produce millions of sperm per day, but it takes 2.5-3 months for them to mature. So give it three months of treatment and then redo your semen analysis. If it hasn’t improved, the next steps are to see if there’s something deeper to adjust that is affecting your sperm.
Examples of deeper issues include:
- Toxins that damage sperm DNA. These can be from chemicals, metals, or mold.
- Infections such as sexually transmitted diseases, gut bugs, or chronic infections that cause inflammation and oxidation.
- Autoimmune issues such as anti-sperm antibody production, which you can test with a semen analysis.
Want some help figuring this out? Please reach out!
I welcome your comments below,