Fertility and health in general benefit from a diet based on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat protein (skinless poultry, fish, legumes and beans) and clean water. But research from around the globe reveals that specific nutrients also help sperm. One recurring rationale is that many of these vitamins and minerals are antioxidants, substances that protect sperm from toxic damage.
Nicotine and other by-products of cigarette smoke reduce sperm count, speed and morphology by 20 percent (Archives of Andrology, 1995, vol 34). Men who work around lead, pesticides and other chemicals are affected even more. When Earl Dawson, PhD from the University of Texas in Galveston gave 75 heavy smokers vitamin C, their sperm quality increased; the more vitamin C they received, the more they improved.
Other antioxidants showing promise for male infertility are vitamin E, coenzyme Q10 (professional experience), selenium, zinc and glutathione. Glutathione, produced in the body with vitamin C supplementation, helped several infertile men in Italy (Human Reproduction, 1993, vol 10). One sign of vitamin E deficiency in men is slow moving sperm (Nutrition Reviews, 1988, vol 46).
When Coon-Nam Ong from the National University of Singapore checked over 200 men for trace elements, he found higher sperm density was associated with increased zinc and selenium levels. Cadmium on the other hand, a by-product of cigarette smoke, went hand in hand with low semen volume (Reproductive Toxicology, 1993, vol 7) and sperm density (International Journal of Fertility, 1994, vol 39).
Because the prostate gland is rich in zinc and magnesium, these two minerals have long been considered important treatments for prostatic and other male complaints. Zinc, a cadmium antagonist and necessary for protein synthesis, is one part of a comprehensive fertility program (Urology, 1987, vol 29). Orhan Deger from the Ataturk University in Turkey found infertile men had about half the semen magnesium as fertile men (Magnesium, 1988, vol 7).
Carnitine, the nutrient that's not sure if it's a vitamin or not, is concentrated in the epididymis and spermatozoa. When levels drop too low due to inadequate precursors (lysine and methionine) or cofactors (vitamins B6 and C, niacin, iron), poor absorption, high fat diet, drugs or disease, sperm production and speed fall also (Andrologia, 1994, vol 26). If you plan to take this nutrient, use only the L-carnitine form not the DL or D types.
Finally, two members of the B-complex family have shown potential in infertility treatment. Folic acid is needed for synthesis of the genetic material, DNA. When Giorgio Bentlivoglio, MD of the University of Genova supplemented Italian men with folinic acid, folic acid's active form, for three months their sperm numbers and motility increased (Fertility and Sterility, 1993, vol 60). Vitamin B12 may also improve sperm count (Infertility, 1984, vol 7).
Stress used to be blamed for half of all infertility cases. While there's no doubt that daily pressures impact health including fertility, only five percent are now attributed directly to stress. Besides emotional tensions, stress includes reaction to surgery, long standing immobility, physical demands and even foods, like excessive sugar and salt.
During the past decade, a link has been drawn between immunity and psychological states. That same connection, called neuroendocrinology, has been made between reproduction and emotions. Stress creates a familiar scenario: fast beating heart, sweating, rapid breathing. The reproductive system isn't immune to this body-wide reaction. Adrenalin, for example, can decrease blood flow to a man's testes.