When a couple has trouble conceiving, the problem might come all or in part from the man — but fish oil supplements can help boost his fertility.
When a couple has trouble conceiving, it’s not always entirely the woman’s reproductive system that is creating the problem. Male fertility counts, too. In fact, male sperm counts have been falling for decades.
Adding omega 3-fatty acids to their diets could help all men be healthier — and perhaps bring on a baby. Two facts you need to know: Omega 3 fatty acids are part of the membrane of sperm cells, so essential to the health of sperm, and they must come from food.
One way to get more Omega-3s is to eat salmon, herring, sardines, and anchovies — or take cod liver oil. You can also eat flax seed, chia seeds, and walnuts, all of which are all high in omega-3s.
Would any kind of supplement help speed conception? There has been considerable research on whether antioxidant supplements boost male fertility, with mixed results. A small 2020 study, for example, found that a supplement containing vitamins C, E and D, selenium, l-carnitine, zinc, folic acid, and lycopene, taken for up to six months, didn’t boost semen quality in male with infertility or raise pregnancy or birth rates.
Fish-oil supplements seem a better bet. Although probably a bigger boost to men with fertility problems, they had an impact even in a large group of healthy young men in a new 2020 study.
The study analyzed data from nearly 1,700 young men who were signing up for the Danish military and answered questions about their diet during a physical exam. Those who reported taking fish oil on 60 or more days during the previous three months had semen volume that was 0.64 mL higher on average than men not using the supplements. Taking fish oil less often — on fewer than 60 days — helped but by less. This group’s semen volume on average was 0.38 mL higher than those who didn’t take them at all.
There are many reasons a man might have fertility troubles. A semen analysis will look at the number of sperm (concentration), and its motility (movement) and morphology (shape). In the Danish study, the men who took fish oil also had bigger testes, more sperm, and well-shaped sperm that swam straight forward (rather than in circles).
Here’s another reason to eat fish: A 2018 study found that couples who favored seafood had sex more often. Researchers followed more than 500 Michigan and Texas couples who wanted to conceive. Over a year, the couples took notes on their seafood diet and sexual activity in daily journals.
The team then compared couples who ate seafood less than once a month against those who ate seafood more than twice a week on average, or more than eight times in a month. In the first group, the couples had sexual intercourse 22 percent more often, and 92 percent of the women became pregnant, compared to 79 percent in the less-frequent seafood eaters. The first group also became pregnant more quickly.
While upping your fish consumption or taking supplements, it’s also worth thinking about how you can reduce any of the risk factors of infertility in men. Being overweight or obese, smoking, drinking alcohol, using marijuana, exposure to testosterone medication or steroids ( a synthetic testosterone), taking hot tubs or sauna or sitting in a wheelchair, or exposure to certain medications can affect male fertility. The common antacid Tagamet affects fertility. A man could also be affected by exposure to pesticides, lead, cadmium, or mercury.
When is it time to seek medical attention for infertility? Research suggests that after a year of having unprotected sex, 15 percent of couples are unable to conceive. In about a third of these couples, the man’s issues are the cause, and in another third he may be contributing to a joint problem. If you and your partner haven’t gotten pregnant after trying for a year (six months if the woman is age 35 or older, or there’s reason to think male infertility may be a factor), see a doctor for an evaluation.
Treatment depends upon the cause. Varicoceles, enlarged veins in a man’s scrotum, can affect sperm count. They can be removed surgically. Cancer treatment, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, certain types of autoimmune disorders, genetic disorders, and some infections may affect the testes.
Some men have hormonal issues from damage to the hypothalamus or pituitary glands, which can be caused by tumors, Cushing’s syndrome, and chronic use of a group of drugs called glucocorticoids.
May 15, 2020
Janet O'Dell, RN