In the last post, we talked about conventional causes of male infertility. I mentioned in cases of known causes, it’s 50-50 between men and women. Here we talk about what men can do to improve fertility naturally.
What can men do to improve fertility from a conventional approach?
Besides the lifestyle factors mentioned in the previous post, sadly there’s not much that men can do. If there is a known structural issue, such as a blockage from a varicocele, you can consider an outpatient surgical procedure. However, the common male factors are problems with sperm count, movement, and shape – and there is not much to do about these. Conventionally, that is.
Reproductive specialists suggest you bypass these issues with assisted reproductive techniques (ART), such as insemination or in-vitro fertilization. Indeed, this is a route that many couples choose.
What can men do alternatively?
Fortunately, there are things men can do from Functional and Chinese medical approaches to improve sperm count, motility, and morphology, as well as seminal fluid.
In both these systems of medicine, we look for root causes of infertility that may be outside the box of conventional medicine.
A Functional medicine approach to male infertility
Functional medicine practitioners take a whole-body systems approach to improving sperm. We uncover factors such as nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalances, oxidative stress, and subpar mitochondrial function. All of these factors can negatively affect sperm and semen production.
Diet and Nutrient Repletion
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 easy to test for potential deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals. Testing is far more efficient than guessing.
Oxidative Stress and Mitochondria
Oxidation is the natural “rusting” process in your body. It results in reactive oxygen species (ROS or “free radicals”) which need to be in the Goldilocks range. Some ROS are needed, but too much causes oxidative stress and can damage sperm DNA. Fortunately, this is treatable.
Is the solution to take high doses of antioxidants? Absolutely not! You don’t want to overdo supplementation with antioxidants and throw your body chemistry out of balance. A better idea is to first test for oxidative stress.You can also assess where the oxidative stress is coming from, and which antioxidants are needed. Antioxidants that are proven to help improve sperm include: L-carnitine, selenium, vitamins C and E, selenium, N-acetyl-cysteine , and coQ10. Finding out which ones you need is a smart way to supplement.
An organic acids urine test (Organix®) is a good way to do this. This test also informs you about your mitochondrial function. Your mitochondria produce energy in every single cell of your body. Many of the nutrients needed for healthy sperm also fuel your 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.
How does Chinese medicine fit in?
Chinese 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 accordingly with acupuncture and herbs.
In Chinese medicine, like Functional medicine, there is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis or treatment plan. It’s important to assess your pattern of imbalance that contributes to subpar fertility.
Chinese 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.
Sometimes we need to look deeper into what is causing oxidative stress and sperm DNA damage. Causes we look for include:
- Chemical, mold, and metal toxins that damage mitochondria and sperm DNA.
- 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.
The next post is for the ladies: Functional Fertility: Female Factors. Read on!