Herbs and Nutrients to Boost Sperm Counts and Motility
Research is confirming that male fertility, and more specifically, sperm counts can be increased with particular herbs and nutrients. They can also increase sperm motility according to the research.
Sperm counts dropping around the world
Sperm counts are dropping throughout the world. A French study found, for example, that sperm concentrations dropped continuously over a 17 year period. In this study of 26,000 French men, the average 35 year old man had a 32% lower sperm count in 2005 compared to 1989.
And a recent study from Finland found that sperm counts had gone down between 1970 and 1980.
While infertility trends are inconsistent among different countries and the reasons for decreased fertility are not well understood, there are a number of natural strategies that have been proven to increase sperm count, motility and morphology.
Causes for men’s infertility
Sperm motility relates to how well the sperm move towards the ovum or egg to be fertilized. Low motility means the sperm are not moving fast enough to survive the journey to fertilize the egg and have the ability to penetrate the layers surrounding the egg.
Sperm morphology relates to the sperm’s shape. A normal sperm will be rounded at the head with a healthy single tail. Having an abnormally-shaped head or tail – or a double tail – equates to low morphology.
Having a sperm count below 20 million sperm per milliliter is called Oligozoospermia. Above this level is considered normal.
Sperm counts and motility – and even morphology – typically decline as a man ages. However, this has been shown to increase with increased stress, a poor diet, increased radiation exposure and poor immune system status.
Luckily, nature provides a number of compounds and elements that human clinical research has shown will improve fertility. Here are a few notable products found in recent research:
Another herb has also been found to increase sperm count, motility and morphology. Ginseng and ginseng extracts have been studied with infertility, starting with animals, since the 1970s. Increased motility, morphology and sperm counts have been seen in most of these studies.
Among human clinical trials, Italian researchers gave a combination of ginseng together with carnitine, acetyl carnitine and L-arginine – or a placebo – to 180 patients with low sperm counts and lot motility levels. The combination significantly increased both the sperm counts and motility of the group taking the ginseng-amino acid combination.
Pine bark extract
In a 2009 study from Bulgaria’s Medical University Sofia, researchers tested 50 infertile men. For one month they treated half the men with Pine bark extract – Pycnogenol – together with l-arginine aspartate. The other half they gave a placebo.
The Pycnogenol group improved among all the semen qualities after the 30 days, but after four weeks of discontinuing the treatment, their infertility parameters went back down.
The researchers concluded that Pycnogenol, “seems to be a promising alternative to treat patients with mild infertility.”
Mucuna pruriens seeds
Indian researchers tested Mucuna pruriens seeds – also called velvet bean – with 60 men who had symptoms of infertility.
The researchers found that M. pruriens treatment resulted in greater sperm counts and motility among those with low sperm counts, but the better motility was not found among those who had lower sperm motility (asthenozoospermia) before the treatment.
UCLA researchers found that eating 75 grams of walnuts a day for three months increases sperm count, motility and morphology.
The researchers tested 117 healthy young men. They gave 59 of the men 75 grams of walnuts per day for twelve weeks and the other 58 did not eat walnuts or any other tree nut.
Those who ate the walnuts had a significant improvement in their sperm motility and morphology. Sperm aneuploidy – problems with chromosome quality – was also significantly reduced among those eating the walnuts.
Researchers from Belgium’s Ghent University studied 30 infertile men. They gave them either 16 milligrams per day of Astaxanthin or a placebo for 90 days. They found that the sperm motility and speed “linear velocity” significantly increased in the group taking Astaxanthin group while the placebo group saw no improvement.
Nigella sativa L. seed oil – Black Seed oil
In a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, researchers from Iran’s Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences have determined that an oil from a traditional middle eastern herb significantly boosts semen quality, volume and motility.
The researchers tested 34 men who were considered infertile – as they had sperm counts below 20 million per milliliter, or had less than 30% morphology or less than 25%-50% sperm motility. This condition is also called oligo-asthenoteratospermia.
The researchers also tested pH of the semen because pH often determines the level of motility of the sperm – giving the sperm a better shot at penetrating the egg.
The researchers supplemented each of the 34 infertile men with either 2.5 milliliters of Nigella sativa L. seed oil or a placebo – liquid paraffin – each day.
After two months, the researchers again tested the motility, morphology and sperm counts for each of the men. They found that the group supplementing with the Nigella sativa L. seed oil had significantly higher sperm count, better motility and morphology and improved pH levels compared to the placebo group and compared to the beginning of the study.
The researchers wrote:
“It is concluded that daily intake of 5ml N. sativa oil for two months improves abnormal semen quality in infertile men without any adverse effects.”
Selenium and/or or N-acetyl-cysteine
The researchers at Shahid Beheshti University conducted another study in 2009 and found that two natural compounds, selenium and N-acetyl-cysteine also increased fertility among men.
For six months, the researchers tested 468 men with infertility with one of the four protocols:
- 200 micrograms of selenium per day
- 600 milligrams of N-acetyl-cysteine per day
- 200 microg selenium plus 600 mg N-acetyl-cysteine
After the six months, the patients were given a washout period (no treatment) for an additional 7 months.
The researchers tested for all the sperm parameters plus levels of testosterone, estradiol, follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, prolactin, inhibin B, selenium and N-acetyl-cysteine.
The research found that sperm counts and quality improved among the selenium and the N-acetyl-cysteine supplementation groups.
Sperm counts and quality increased further among those given both selenium and N-acetyl-cysteine.
The selenium and N-acetyl-cysteine groups also had higher levels of testosterone.
“These results indicate that supplemental selenium and N-acetyl-cysteine improve semen quality. We advocate their use for male infertility treatment.”
Researchers also determined that Coenzyme Q10 can significantly improve sperm motility, morphology and sperm count among infertile men.
The researchers tested 212 infertile men, giving them either 300 milligrams of coenzyme Q10 and placebo for six months, followed by seven months washout. The researchers found significant increases in motility, morphology and volume among those taking the coenzyme Q10.
Vitamin E and selenium
For three months, researchers from France’s Histological laboratory in Tunisie gave 54 men – some healthy and some infertile – either 400 milligrams of vitamin E and 225 micrograms of selenium, or 4.5 grams per day of B vitamins. They also measured lipid peroxidation marker and malondialdehyde (MDA) levels among the subjects.
The researchers found that the vitamin E and selenium group had significantly lower levels of MDA and higher sperm volume and sperm motility compared with the vitamin B group.
“The results confirm the protective and beneficial effects of vitamin E and selenium on semen quality and advocate their use in male infertility treatment.”
In 2007, researchers from Peking University found that L-carnitine and/or L-acetyl-carnitine also increase motility and morphology among infertile men. The researchers examined nine clinical studies that tested either of these supplements for infertility. They found that L-carnitine and/or L-acetyl-carnitine increased sperm motility, forward sperm motility, morphology and pregnancy rate among those taking either L-carnitine or L-acetyl-carnitine. They found no difference in sperm volume, however.
Meanwhile, some human studies have also shown improvement in sperm motility by taking other antioxidants (besides vitamin E and selenium). These studies have not been as conclusive as the ones mentioned above, but the general concept is that free radicals can damage sperm viability.
Illustrating this is a 2012 study from Span’s University of Mercia School of Medicine that tested 212 students. They found that those with greater consumption of cryptoxanthins, lycopene and beta-carotene had greater sperm concentration, better sperm motility, sperm morphology and sperm count.
Others studied in animals
A number of products have been studied in animals, but to date not in humans. These include Lepidium meyenii, (Maca), the formula of Rubus coreanus and Cuscuta chinensis, and a few other Chinese and Japanese herbal formulations.
Stress and EMFs
Additionally, as illustrated by the research, a number of herbs, nutrients and superfoods can increase sperm quality and motility. There is reason to believe this relates to the extreme antioxidant capacity of some of these such as astaxanthin and pine bark extract (Pycnogenol) – as both are known for their free radical scavenging abilities.
Other studies illustrate that men can increase by consuming bioavailable amino acids (evidenced by carnitine), fatty acids (evidenced by walnuts) and vitamins (evidenced by vitamins E and C) in our diets.
Rolland M, Le Moal J, Wagner V, Royère D, De Mouzon J. Decline in semen concentration and morphology in a sample of 26,609 men close to general population between 1989 and 2005 in France. Hum Reprod. 2013 Feb;28(2):462-70. doi: 10.1093/humrep/des415.
Jørgensen N, Vierula M, Jacobsen R, Pukkala E, Perheentupa A, Virtanen HE, Skakkebaek NE, Toppari J. Recent adverse trends in semen quality and testis cancer incidence among Finnish men. Int J Androl. 2011 Aug;34(4 Pt 2):e37-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2605.2010.01133.x.
Robbins WA, Xun L, Fitzgerald LZ, Esguerra S, Henning SM, Carpenter CL. Walnuts Improve Semen Quality in Men Consuming a Western-Style Diet: Randomized Control Dietary Intervention Trial. Biol Reprod. 2012 Aug 15.
Comhaire FH, El Garem Y, Mahmoud A, Eertmans F, Schoonjans F. Combined conventional/antioxidant “Astaxanthin” treatment for male infertility: a double blind, randomized trial. Asian J Androl. 2005 Sep;7(3):257-62.
Ahmad MK, Mahdi AA, Shukla KK, Islam N, Jaiswar SP, Ahmad S. Effect of Mucuna pruriens on semen profile and biochemical parameters in seminal plasma of infertile men. Fertil Steril. 2008 Sep;90(3):627-35.
Stanislavov R, Nikolova V, Rohdewald P. Improvement of seminal parameters with Prelox: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. Phytother Res. 2009 Mar;23(3):297-302. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2592.
Morgante G, Scolaro V, Tosti C, Di Sabatino A, Piomboni P, De Leo V. Treatment with carnitine, acetyl carnitine, L-arginine and ginseng improves sperm motility and sexual health in men with asthenopermia. Minerva Urol Nefrol. 2010 Sep;62(3):213-8.
Safarinejad MR, Safarinejad S. Efficacy of selenium and/or N-acetyl-cysteine for improving semen parameters in infertile men: a double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized study. J Urol. 2009 Feb;181(2):741-51. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2008.10.015.
Kolahdooz M, Nasri S, Modarres SZ, Kianbakht S, Huseini HF. Effects of Nigella sativa L. seed oil on abnormal semen quality in infertile men: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytomedicine. 2014 Mar 25. pii: S0944-7113(14)00108-1. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2014.02.006.
Safarinejad MR. Efficacy of coenzyme Q10 on semen parameters, sperm function and reproductive hormones in infertile men. J Urol. 2009 Jul;182(1):237-48. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2009.02.121.
Keskes-Ammar L, Feki-Chakroun N, Rebai T, Sahnoun Z, Ghozzi H, Hammami S, Zghal K, Fki H, Damak J, Bahloul A. Sperm oxidative stress and the effect of an oral vitamin E and selenium supplement on semen quality in infertile men. Arch Androl. 2003 Mar-Apr;49(2):83-94.
Zhou X, Liu F, Zhai S. Effect of L-carnitine and/or L-acetyl-carnitine in nutrition treatment for male infertility: a systematic review. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007;16 Suppl 1:383-90.
Kim SJ, Kim MR, Hwang SY, Bae WJ, Kim S, Hong SH, Lee JY, Hwang TK, Wang Z, Kim SW. Preliminary report on the safety of a new herbal formula and its effect on sperm quality. World J Mens Health. 2013 Dec;31(3):254-61. doi: 10.5534/wjmh.2013.31.3.254.
Agarwal A, Nallella KP, Allamaneni SS, Said TM. Role of antioxidants in treatment of male infertility: an overview of the literature. Reprod Biomed Online. 2004 Jun;8(6):616-27.
Mínguez-Alarcón L, Mendiola J, López-Espín JJ, Sarabia-Cos L, Vivero-Salmerón G, Vioque J, Navarrete-Muñoz EM, Torres-Cantero AM. Dietary intake of antioxidant nutrients is associated with semen quality in young university students. Hum Reprod. 2012 Sep;27(9):2807-14. doi: 10.1093/humrep/des247.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.