Wanting to have a child is easy for many couples. Conceiving, however, may not be so easy. Improve your odds with better sperm quality. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
Get a checkup
Visit your doctor to find out whether your infertility is due to a treatable medical condition or to a medication
Avoid excessive drinking to keep sperm count high
Get extra antioxidants
Take a daily nutritional supplement containing 1,000 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, and 200 mcg of selenium to reduce oxidative stresses that damage sperm
Improve sperm quality by taking 60 mg of this essential mineral every day, along with 1 to 2 mg per day of copper, for three months
Add L-carnitine to your daily routine
Taking 3 grams a day of this supplement may improve sperm motility
About This Condition
Infertility is defined by doctors as the failure of a couple to achieve pregnancy after a year of unprotected intercourse.
In men, infertility is usually associated with a decrease in the number, quality, or motility (power of
movement) of sperm. There are multiple possible underlying causes for male infertility, some of which readily
respond to natural medicine, while others do not. The specific cause of infertility should always be
diagnosed by a physician before considering possible solutions.
The inability of a couple to become pregnant after one year of regular, unprotected sex may indicate infertility of one or both sexual partners. Low sperm count in the semen, decreased sperm motility, or abnormal shape of the sperm are responsible for infertility in about 40% of these couples.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
Some conventional medications can interfere with fertility. If in doubt, men taking prescription drugs should consult their physician.
The optimal temperature of the testes for sperm production is slightly lower than body temperature, which is why the testes hang away from the body in the scrotum. Men with low sperm counts are frequently advised to minimize lifestyle factors that may overheat the testes, such as wearing tight (e.g., “bikini-style”) underwear or frequently using spas and hot baths.
Environmental exposures (e.g., formaldehyde), smoking, and use of recreational drugs (e.g., marijuana, cocaine, hashish) may reduce sperm count or cause abnormal sperm morphology (shape).1, 2 Smoking adversely affects the semen quality of infertile men.3
Acupuncture may be helpful in the treatment of some cases of male infertility due to impairment of sperm function. A controlled study of men with reduced sperm function found that one measure of sperm function significantly improved in the men treated with acupuncture (two times per week for five weeks) compared to controls.4 Similar results have been reported in other studies.5, 6 Nevertheless, double-blind trials are needed to determine conclusively whether acupuncture is a useful treatment for male infertility.
The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. For this condition, scientific research has found benefit in the following healthy eating tips.
Avoid excessive drinking to keep sperm functioning normally.
In a study of men with poor sperm quality, excessive alcohol consumption was associated with a decrease in the percentage of normal sperm.7 In a study of Danish greenhouse workers, an unexpectedly high sperm count was found among organic farmers, who grew their products without the use pesticides or chemical fertilizers. The sperm count was more than twice as high in these men as in a control group of blue-collar workers.8 Although these findings are not definitive, they suggest that consuming organically grown foods may enhance fertility.
Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
60 mg (plus 2 mg of copper, to prevent depletion) daily
Zinc deficiency leads to reduced numbers of sperm and impotence in men.9 The correlation between blood levels of zinc and sperm quality remains controversial. Infertile men have been reported to have lower levels of zinc in their semen, than do men with normal fertility.10 Similarly, men with normal sperm density tend to have higher amounts of zinc in their semen, than do men with low sperm counts.11 However, other studies have found that a high concentration of zinc in the semen is related to decreased sperm motility in infertile men.12, 13 A few studies have shown that oral zinc supplementation improves both sperm count14, 15 motility,16, 17 and the physical characteristics of sperm in some groups of infertile men.18 For infertile men with low semen zinc levels, a preliminary trial found that zinc supplements (240 mg per day) increased sperm counts and possibly contributed to successful impregnation by 3 of the 11 men.19 However, these studies all included small numbers of volunteers, and thus the impact of their conclusions is limited. In a controlled trial, 100 men with low sperm motility received either 57 mg of zinc twice daily or a placebo.20 After three months, there was significant improvement in sperm quality, sperm count, sperm motility, and fertilizing capacity of the sperm. The ideal amount of supplemental zinc remains unknown, but some doctors recommend 30 mg two times per day. Long-term zinc supplementation requires 1–2 mg of copper per day to prevent copper deficiency.
4 grams daily
Arginine, an amino acid found in many foods, is needed to produce sperm. Research, most of which is preliminary shows that several months of L-arginine supplementation increases sperm count, quality,21, 22, 23 and fertility.24, 25 However, when the initial sperm count was extremely low (such as less than 10 million per ml), L-arginine supplementation produced little or no benefit.26, 27 While some pregnancies have been attributed to arginine supplementation in preliminary reports,28 no controlled research has confirmed these claims. For infertile men with sperm counts greater than 10 million per milliliter, many doctors recommend up to 4 grams of L-arginine per day for several months.
4 grams daily
Asian ginseng may prove useful for male infertility. One preliminary study found that 4 grams of Asian ginseng per day for three months led to an improvement in sperm count and sperm motility.29
3 grams daily
L-carnitine is a substance made in the body and also found in supplements and some foods (such as meat). It appears to be necessary for normal functioning of sperm cells. In preliminary studies, supplementing with 3–4 grams per day for four months helped to normalize sperm motility in men with low sperm quality.32, 33 While the majority of clinical trials have used L-carnitine, one preliminary trial found that acetylcarnitine (4 grams per day) may also prove useful for treatment of male infertility caused by low quantities of immobile sperm.34
1,500 to 3,000 mg daily
A small clinical trial found that healthy men who took dried maca powder had increased sperm counts and enhanced sperm motility.35
100 mcg daily
In a double-blind study of infertile men with reduced sperm motility, supplementation with selenium (100 mcg per day for three months) significantly increased sperm motility, but had no effect on sperm count. Eleven percent of 46 men receiving selenium achieved paternity, compared with none of 18 men receiving a placebo.36
1,500 mcg daily
Vitamin B12 is needed to maintain fertility. Vitamin B12 injections have increased sperm counts for men with low numbers of sperm.37 These results have been duplicated in double-blind research.38 In one study, a group of infertile men were given oral vitamin B12 supplements (1,500 mcg per day of methylcobalamin) for 2 to 13 months. Approximately 60% of those taking the supplement experienced improved sperm counts.39 However, controlled trials are needed to confirm these preliminary results. Men seeking vitamin B12 injections should consult a physician.
Refer to label instructions
L-carnitine is a substance made in the body and also found in supplements and some foods (such as meat). It appears to be necessary for normal functioning of sperm cells. In preliminary studies, supplementing with 3–4 grams per day for four months helped to normalize sperm motility in men with low sperm quality.40, 41 While the majority of clinical trials have used L-carnitine, one preliminary trial found that acetylcarnitine (4 grams per day) may also prove useful for treatment of male infertility caused by low quantities of immobile sperm.42
Refer to label instructions
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a nutrient used by the body in the production of energy. While its exact role in the formation of sperm is unknown, there is evidence that as little as 10 mg per day (over a two-week period) will increase sperm count and motility.43 In one study, men with low sperm counts were given CoQ10 (60 mg per day for about three months). No significant change was noted in most sperm parameters, but a significant improvement was noted in in-vitro fertilization rates.44
Refer to label instructions
Preliminary research suggests that oral SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine), in amounts of 800 mg per day, may also increase sperm activity in infertile men.45
Refer to label instructions
Vitamin E deficiency in animals leads to infertility.46 In a preliminary human trial, 100–200 IU of vitamin E given daily to both partners of infertile couples led to a significant increase in fertility.47 Vitamin E supplementation may enhance fertility by decreasing free-radical damage to sperm cells. In another preliminary study, men with low fertilization rates in previous attempts at in vitro fertilization were given 200 IU of vitamin E per day for three months.48 After one month of supplementation, fertilization rates increased significantly, and the amount of oxidative stress on sperm cells decreased. However, the evidence in favor of vitamin E remains preliminary. A review of research on vitamin E for male infertility concluded that there is no justification for its use in treating this condition.49 Controlled trials are needed to validate these promising preliminary findings.
1. Hruska KS, Furth PA, Seifer DB, et al. Environmental factors in infertility. Clin Obstet Gynecol 2000;43:821–9.
2. Wang SL, Wang XR, Chia SE, et al. A study on occupational exposure to petrochemicals and smoking on seminal quality. J Androl 2001;22:73–8.
3. Zhang JP, Meng QY, Wang Q, et al. Effect of smoking on semen quality of infertile men in Shandong, China. Asian J Androl 2000;2:143–6.
4. Siterman S, Eltes F, Wolfson V, et al. Effect of acupuncture on sperm parameters of males suffering from subfertility related to low sperm quality. Arch Androl 1997;39:155–61.
5. Riegler R, Fischl F, Bunzel B, Neumark J. Correlation of psychological changes and spermiogram improvements following acupuncture. Urologe [A] 1984;23:329–33 [in German].
6. Fischl F, Riegler R, Bieglmayer C, et al. Modification of semen quality by acupuncture in subfertile males. Geburtshilfe Fraunheilkd 1984;44:510–2 [in German].
7. Goverde HJM, Dekker HS, Janssen HJG, et al. Semen quality and frequency of smoking and alcohol consumption - an explorative study. Int J Fertil 1995;40:135–8.
8. Abell A, Ernst E, Bonde JP. High sperm density among members of organic farmers’ association. Lancet 1994;343:1498.
9. Prasad AS, Cossack ZT. Zinc supplementation and growth in sickle cell disease. Ann Intern Med 1984;100:367–71.
10. Kvist U, Kjellberg S, Bjorndahl L, et al. Seminal fluid from men with agenesis of the Wolffian ducts: zinc-binding properties and effects on sperm chromatin stability. Int J Androl 1990;13:245–52.
11. Saaranen M, Suistomaa U, Kantola M, et al. Lead, magnesium, selenium and zinc in human seminal fluid: comparison with semen parameters and fertility. Hum Reprod 1987;2:475–9.
12. Danscher G, Hammen R, Fjerdingstad E, Rebbe H. Zinc content of human ejaculate and motility of sperm cells. Int J Androl 1978;1:576–81.
13. Carpino A, Siciliano L, Petroni MF, et al. Low seminal zinc bound to high molecular weight proteins in asthenozoospermic patients: evidence of increased sperm zinc content in oligoasthenozoospermic patients. Hum Reprod 1998;13:111–4.
14. Stankovic H, Mikac-Devic D. Zinc and copper in human semen. Clin Chim Acta 1976;70:123–6.
15. Hartoma TR, Nahoul K, Netter A. Zinc, plasma androgens and male sterility. Lancet 1977;2:1125–6.
16. Stankovic H, Mikac-Devic D. Zinc and copper in human semen. Clin Chim Acta 1976;70:123–6.
17. Kynaston HG, Lewis-Jones DI, Lynch RV, Desmond AD. Changes in seminal quality following oral zinc therapy. Andrologia 1988;20:21–2.
18. Tikkiwal M, Ajmera RL, Mathur NK. Effect of zinc administration on seminal zinc and fertility of oligospermic males. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol 1987;31:30–4.
19. Marmar JL, Katz S, Praiss DE, DeBenedictis TJ. Semen zinc levels in infertile and postvasectomy patients and patients with prostatitis. Fertil Steril 1975:26:1057–63.
20. Omu AE, Dashti H, Al-Othman S. Treatment of asthenozoospermia with zinc sulphate: andrological, immunological and obstetric outcome. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 1998;79:179–84.
21. De Aloysio D, Mantuano R, Mauloni M, Nicoletti G. The clinical use of arginine aspartate in male infertility. Acta Eur Fertil 1982;13:133–67.
22. Tanimura J. Studies on arginine in human semen. Part II. The effects of medication with L-arginine-HCl on male infertility. Bull Osaka Med School 1967;13:84–9.
23. Scibona M, Meschini P, Capparelli S, et al. L-arginine and male infertility. Minerva Urol Nefrol 1994;46:251–3.
24. Schacter A, Goldman JA, Zukerman Z. Treatment of oligospermia with the amino acid arginine. J Urol 1973;110:311–3.
25. Schacter A, Friedman S, Goldman JA, Eckerling B. Treatment of oligospermia with the amino acid arginine. Int J Gynaecol Obstet 1973;11:206–9.
26. Mroueh A. Effect of arginine on oligospermia. Fertil Steril 1970:21:217–9.
27. Pryor JP, Blandy JP, Evans P, et al. Controlled clinical trial of arginine for infertile men with oligozoospermia. Br J Urol 1978;50:47–50.
28. Aydin S, Inci O, Alagol B. The role of arginine, indomethacin and kallikrein in the treatment of oligoasthenospermia. Int Urol Nephrol 1995;27:199–202.
29. Salvati G, Genovesi G, Marcellini L, et al. Effects of Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer saponins on male fertility. Panmineva Med 1996;38:249–54.
30. Comhaire FH, Mahmoud A. The role of food supplements in the treatment of the infertile man. Reprod Biomed Online 2003;7:385-91 [review].
31. Comhaire FH, El Garem Y, Mahmoud A, et al. Combined conventional/antioxidant "Astaxanthin" treatment for male infertility: a double blind, randomized trial. Asian J Androl 2005;7:257-62.
32. Costa M, Canale D, Filicori M, et al. L-carnitine in idiopathic asthenozoospermia: a multicenter study. Andrologia 1994;26:155–9.
33. Vitali G, Parente R, Melotti C. Carnitine supplementation in human idiopathic asthenospermia: clinical results. Drugs Exp Clin Res 1995;21:157–9.
34. Moncada ML, Vicari E, Cimino C, et al. Effect of acetylcarnitine treatment in oligoasthenospermic patients. Acta Europaea Fertilitatis 1992;23:221–4.
35. Gonzales GF, Cordova A, Gonzales C, et al. Lepidium meyenii (maca) improved semen parameters in adult men. Asian J Androl 2001;3:301–3.
36. Scott R, MacPherson A, Yates RWS, et al. The effect of oral selenium supplementation on human sperm motility. Br J Urol 1998;82:76–80.
37. Sandler B, Faragher B. Treatment of oligospermia with vitamin B12. Infertility 1984;7:133–8.
38. Kumamoto Y, Maruta H, Ishigami J, et al. Clinical efficacy of mecobalamin in treatment of oligozoospermia. Acta Urol Jpn 1988;34:1109–32.
39. Isoyama R, Baba Y, Harada H, et al. Clinical experience of methyl-cobalamin (CH3-B12)/clomiphene citrate combined treatment in male infertility. Hinyokika Kiyo 1986;32:1177–83 [in Japanese].
40. Costa M, Canale D, Filicori M, et al. L-carnitine in idiopathic asthenozoospermia: a multicenter study. Andrologia 1994;26:155–9.
41. Vitali G, Parente R, Melotti C. Carnitine supplementation in human idiopathic asthenospermia: clinical results. Drugs Exp Clin Res 1995;21:157–9.
42. Moncada ML, Vicari E, Cimino C, et al. Effect of acetylcarnitine treatment in oligoasthenospermic patients. Acta Europaea Fertilitatis 1992;23:221–4.
43. Tanimura J. Studies on arginine in human semen. Part III. The influences of several drugs on male infertility. Bull Osaka Med School 1967;13:90–100.
44. Lewin A, Lavon H. The effect of coenzyme Q10 on sperm motility and function. Mol Aspects Med 1997;18 Suppl:S213–9.
45. Piacentino R, Malara D, Zaccheo F, et al. Preliminary study of the use of s. adenosyl methionine in the management of male sterility. Minerva Ginecologica 1991;43:191–3 [in Italian].
46. Thiessen DD, Ondrusek G, Coleman RV. Vitamin E and sex behavior in mice. Nutr Metab 1975;18:116–9.
47. Bayer R. Treatment of infertility with vitamin E. Int J Fertil 1960;5:70–8.
48. Geva E, Bartoov B, Zabludovsky N, et al. The effect of antioxidant treatment on human spermatozoa and fertilization rate in an in vitro fertilization program. Fertil Steril 1996;66:430–4.
49. Martin-Du Pan RC, Sakkas D. Is antioxidant therapy a promising strategy to improve human reproduction? Are anti-oxidants useful in the treatment of male infertility? Hum Reprod 1998;13:2984–5.
The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.
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