You are here
Should You Take Fertility Supplements for Male Infertility?
October 2, 2012
If you are struggling with male infertility you may have been tempted by advertisements for fertility supplements. But do they really work? It’s important to look at the ingredients of each male fertility supplement you are considering to see if their claims are backed up by science.
While evidence is still limited, some fertility supplements, including those below, have shown promise for improving sperm count or sperm motility.
Growing evidence suggests that L-carnitine may be one of the more successful supplements for male infertility. L-carnitine is a naturally occurring amino acid that helps your body turn fat to energy, but recent research has also shown that it may be effective for boosting sperm function as well.
A 2007 Chinese review of nine studies on L-carnitine and male infertility concluded that supplementation with this amino acid significantly improves sperm quality. In addition to improving sperm motility and decreasing sperm abnormality, supplementation with L-carnitine was also associated with pregnancy rates four times greater than that of control groups.
A more recent study of 52 men with unexplained infertility in the Urology Journal found that after receiving 25 mg/day of L-carnitine for 3 months, their sperm counts increased by 64 percent. The supplementation was also associated with higher semen volume and sperm motility. With these results, the researchers concluded that L-carnitine supplementation is a “reasonable, safe, and effective” male infertility treatment.
So what makes L-carnitine so effective? It helps carry fatty acids into the mitochondria, or the “powerhouse” of the cells, where they are then burned for energy.
“Simply put, L-carnitine helps sperm cells generate the energy they need to function optimally,” says Amos Grunebaum, M.D., a double board-certified OB/GYN who developed the formula for the male fertility supplement FertilAid.
Zinc and Folate a
You may know folate as the vital vitamin for a healthy pregnancy, but research suggests that this B-vitamin, when paired with the mineral zinc, may also help you when trying to conceive.
According to a study in Fertility and Sterility, men with fertility problems who were given a daily dose of 66 mg of zinc sulfate and 5 mg of folic acid for 6 months boosted their total sperm count by 74 percent. There was no significant benefit to taking either zinc or folic acid individually—improvements were only seen when they were combined.
How can these two compounds affect your chances when trying to conceive?
“Both of these nutrients are needed for DNA production, an important step in the formation of sperm cells,” says Dr. Grunebaum.
Antioxidants have been touted for everything from anti-aging to cancer protection, and now it looks like they may also give you some power when trying to conceive.
A 2011 Cochrane review of 34 studies concluded that couples in which the male took antioxidant supplementation while the female underwent assisted reproduction were almost 5 times more likely to have a live birth than couples who didn’t supplement.
One possible reason? Antioxidants may reduce oxidative stress, which is especially damaging to sperm cells. Oxidative stress can lead to reduced sperm count, poor sperm motility, and DNA damage.
According to Dr. Grunebaum, several antioxidants in particular seem especially effective for sperm health with trying to conceive. He recommends vitamin C, vitamin E, and coenzyme Q10, along with antioxidants found in grape seed extract.
What to Keep in Mind
While recent research points in favor of some fertility supplements for male infertility, it is important to recognize that they may not be a cure-all.
Even if supplements are natural, they can still cause side effects. For instance, the antioxidant vitamin C is associated with gastrointestinal disturbances like diarrhea, gas, or stomach upsets when taken in high doses. Also, zinc may cause nausea, vomiting, and a metallic taste for some people.
It is also possible that natural remedies such as fertility supplements can interact with other medications you are taking. For that reason, it is important to discuss your plans with your fertility doctor before you begin a regimen.
If you decide to take a fertility supplement, the ideal time to begin treatment is about three months before you are actively trying to conceive.
“By starting this regimen before trying to get pregnant, it allows the body a chance to produce healthy, strong, sperm,” says Dr. Grunebaum. To further increase your chances of a successful pregnancy, he also recommends quitting smoking and other recreational drugs, as well as avoiding any activities that can cause your testicles to overheat, such as frequent and extended cycling, during that three-month period.