Male infertility is a factor for 40 percent of couples who are having difficulty trying to conceive, says H. Randall Craig, M.D., FACOG, medical director of the Valley’s Fertility Treatment Centers. The shape of the man’s sperm, having too many or too few sperm, even the mobility of the sperm can put a wrench into the works of conception.
Craig, who specializes in treating fertility issues in both men and women, blames testosterone supplements for recent increases in male infertility. Whether for building muscle and strength or to improve mood and combat fatigue, any form of testosterone use—creams, pills or injections—can crash the sperm count to zero, says Craig. Men don’t always admit they are using the drug during an initial fertility consultation. “But if it is one of these muscle guys that looks like he can lift the Eiffel Tower,” says Craig, “I know what is going on.”
Marijuana use also can lower sperm count, says Craig. So can smoking or heavy alcohol use. Herbal medications such as black cohosh, echinacea or St. John’s wort can “denature,” or damage, the sperm’s DNA, though it doesn’t always affect sperm count.
Some alternative therapies can be beneficial for infertility, says Craig, who works with reproductive acupuncturists to carefully time treatments to enhance vascular health in women who undergo in-vitro fertilization therapies.
Sperm production can be affected by heat, say urologists Al Borhan, M.D. and Mark Hong, M.D. of Affiliated Urologists in Phoenix and Scottsdale. Hot baths, sitting for long periods of time and tight-fitting clothing that constricts the testes can elevate temperatures long enough to suppress sperm production.
Is male fertility related to diet? There are no shortcuts to boosting sperm quality or sperm counts, says Craig, although some extra zinc and a slight amount of high quality fish oil can help. But the good news is that the human reproductive system is designed to function through feast or famine. Whether you’re on the Twinkie diet or the tofu diet, Craig says, most couples eventually conceive.
Some foods and vitamins may help to increase the chances for conception, say Borhan and Hong, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to give them a try:
Oysters: Help increase the production of sperm and testosterone because of zinc content. Beef, poultry, dairy, nuts, eggs, whole grains and beans also contain zinc.
Pumpkin seeds: Contain zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, which stimulate blood flow to sexual organs and improve sexual function. Also try flaxseed, almonds or fatty fish like salmon or sardines.
Pomegranate juice: A powerful antioxidant and, according to various studies, can boost sperm count and overall quality.
Fruits and vegetables: The antioxidants found in fruits and veggies help protect sperm from cellular damage and can keep them strong and speedy.
Vitamin A: Helps prevent sluggish sperm. Found in leafy greens, carrots, red peppers and apricots.
Vitamin C: Critical to sperm motility and viability. Found in orange juice, tomatoes, grapefruit and broccoli.
Vitamin E: Keeps sperm vital. Found in vegetable oils.
Vitamin B: Crucial for keeping sperm free of chromosomal abnormalities. Found in leafy greens, beans and most fruits, which contain folic acid.