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Men: Increase Nutrient Intake for Healthy Sperm
by Leigh Ann Woodruff, September 19, 2012
For healthy sperm, men should increase their intake of antioxidants, particularly if they are older or have fertility issues. Two recent studies have found that increased antioxidant intake is linked to improved sperm quality.
"Americans spend billions of dollars every year on vitamins and other supplements. Evidence of the benefit is lacking. The problem is that proving the efficacy of one type of treatment for multiple diseases with multiple causes is nearly impossible," says Joe Massey, M.D., a founder of Servy Massey Fertility Institute in Atlanta, GA. "In male infertility, the situation is parallel. In a modern society, dietary deficiency is unlikely to have caused male infertility. With this understanding, in cases of male subfertility, there is new evidence that there is some improvement in DNA strand breaks by high consumption of certain vitamins or by supplementation at levels difficult to reach with food."
Older Men and Sperm Quality
These days more older men over 35 are becoming fathers, and as men age, their sperm are likely to have more sperm DNA fragmentation. chromosomal rearrangements and DNA strand damage. In addition, studies have found that the age of the father when a baby is conceived does matter with regard to passing on gene mutations.
Now, researchers have found that improving one's diet may be a way to protect against some of this damage. in a study led by scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and reported in the journal Fertility and Sterility, researchers analyzed 80 healthy male volunteers between 22 and 80 years of age. They found that men older than 44 who consumed the most vitamin C had 20 percent less sperm DNA damage compared to men older than 44 who consumed the least vitamin C. They found the same was true for vitamin E, zinc and folate. However, they did not see the same effects in younger men — higher intake of micronutrients didn’t improve their sperm DNA.
Essentially, the scientists concluded that getting the recommended daily allowance of these micronutrients may help turn back the clock on the sperm DNA damage. The men age 44 and older who consumed at least the recommended dietary allowance had sperm with a similar amount of DNA damage as the sperm of younger men. Many studies have shown that dietary supplementation with antioxidants and increased consumption of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can decrease the amount of oxidative DNA damage.
Infertile Men and Antioxidants
Another study by Spanish researchers found that infertile men may benefit from taking antioxidant supplements to improve sperm quality for better outcomes with assisted reproductive technology.
The scientists from Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona Administration found that administering a three-month multivitamin course that contained L-carnitine, vitamin C, coenzyme Q10, vitamin E, vitamin B9, vitamin B12, zinc and selenium significantly improved key sperm parameters in 20 men diagnosed with asthenoteratozoospermia (sperm with a low motility and abnormal morphology). In addition, the supplement helped reduce sperm DNA fragmentation (SDF) and the amount of sperm with high levels of DNA degraded sperm (DSS).
The study was published in Andrologia.
Should You Increase Antioxidants to Improve Fertility?
Unfortunately, there is no body of research that shows that increasing antioxidant intake will actually improve a man's fertility. "NO one has shown improved fertility.," Dr. Massey says. "They probably never will. The studies are too difficult and the original causes of the male problem are more complex."
On the other hand, Dr. Massey explains, infertility treatment is expensive, so why not optimize the sperm to the extent possible? "It is pretty difficult to focus your diet and be sure you are getting enough zinc and everything else on the list," he says. "One of the recent studies suggests that doses need to be over that available in food. Further, you can only eat so much grapefruit, so why not fill in the gaps with a supplement? DNA breaks lead to malfunction in fertilization. So, let’s give every sperm its best shot at good DNA!"
There are several companies offering fertility supplements tailored to men.
"In addition to the micronutrients, it would be wise to add some l-carnitine, which was the target of lots of antioxidant related research a few years back," Dr. Massey says. L-carnitine is available in supplements such as Proxeed® or as a separate supplement in health food stores. Also, "There is a new compound out, which is made by a company started by IVF pioneer Patrick Steptoe in England (nutrafertil.com)," he says. "It contains Astanxanthin. It’s a super antioxidant, more potent than vitamin E . More importantly, it has been tested and shown to improve IVF success. It’s a small study, about 60 men, so this is not gospel yet. Spurmax is the capsule — take once a day, but remember you really need 90 days for semen to improve."