Male and female fertility levels are at historic lows and continue to fall. This has made conceiving a child a daunting process for many couples.
Whether you are planning to conceive or already trying, thanks to ongoing research we now know that you can improve your odds of becoming pregnant with just a few simple nutrition and lifestyle changes.
Less or no alcohol and cigarettes (which improves sperm morphology, motility and semen fluid quality respectively1) is a great start, but you can do more:
How long it takes the average couple to conceive
The definition of infertility
Why male fertility rates are at historic lows
How to read a human male semen analysis and the various types of sperm deficiencies
What you can do to improve your own sperm reading
How long does it usually take to get pregnant?
In general, a fertile couple has a good chance of getting pregnant within a year, as out of 100 couples trying to conceive naturally:
- 20% will conceive within one month
- 70% will conceive within six months
- 85% will conceive within one year
- 90% will conceive within 18 months
- 95% will conceive within two years
What is Infertiliy?
The World Health Organisation defines infertility as “the inability of a sexually active, non-contracepting couple to achieve pregnancy in one year.”
How many couples are struggling?
Male fertility rates are now less than half of what they were at the time of WWII, and sperm quality is continuing to fall, according to a study by Carlsen et al in 19922. These alarming figures have been reflected in the fortunes of many.
In light of the above statistics, around one in seven couples (15%) is classified as infertile.
Who is more likely to be at fault?
First of all, please don’t blame your other half. He or she wants the pregnancy as much as you do and it is important that you work together as a team – especially once the child comes!
It is now understood that up to 40% of infertility problems is estimated to be caused solely by men, 40% by women alone and up approximately 20% are a combination of poor sperm quality and female infertility.
This means that suboptimal sperm could be the reason of infertility in up to 60% of cases. Statistically speaking, the probability that the female could be the reason, is identical.
What can you do to increase your chances?
First of all, of you have not been trying to conceive for 12 months, do not panic. Enjoy this time alone with your partner. Once a child comes into your life, your life will dramatically change – and practice lots of well-timed BMS (Baby-Making Sex). You can both immediately start taking natural fertility-enhancing supplements.
Certain herbs, roots and leaves have been claimed for centuries to alleviate so-called suboptimal fertility. However, none of these have ever been conclusively shown to increase fertility in clinical research studies.
On the other hand, several common micronutrients such as vitamins, amino acids and trace elements have been shown to dramatically improve sperm quality effectively, naturally and without side effects in double-blinded, randomised and peer-reviewed studies3. We have reviewed the most popular natural male fertility supplements available in the UK.
Once you have tried unsuccessfully for 12 months, go to get your fertility professionally assessed. We do not advise using over-the-counter tests such as the Spermcheck test sold at Boots or on amazon/eBay.
Instead, go and visit a fertility clinic for a professionally conducted semen analysis, which will cost approximately £100.
Semen Analysis: Making Male Fertility Measurable
Science can determine the quality of a man’s sperm relatively well by using a Semen Analysis (SA) test. A snapshot sample is produced, analysed in a laboratory and compared to the WHO’s (World Health Organisation) standard values for sperm cells in semen.
How to read Semen Analysis results
A semen analysis measures the amount of semen a man produces and determines the number and quality of sperm in the semen sample.
|Reading||Updated MINIMUM benchmarks, 2010||Original benchmark, 1999|
|Semen volume||≥ 1.5 ml||≥ 2.0 ml|
|Sperm count / ml||≥ 15 million / ml||≥ 20 million / ml|
|Total sperm count||≥ 39 million||≥ 40 million|
|Motility||≥ 32 % (A+B progressive movement)||≥ 50 % (A+B progressive movement)|
|Total Motility||≥ 40 %||≥ 50 %|
|Morphology||≥ 4%||≥ 14%|
|Leukocytes||< 1 million / ml||< 1 million / ml|
|MAR Test||< 50%||< 50%|
The WHO’s standard values have been revised downwards since 1999. To be classed as normal only 1.5ml of ejaculate is expected in samples instead of 2ml, only 15 million sperm cells per milliliter of ejaculate and a normal appearance is expected of just 4% of sperm cells.
As a consequence of this normal sperm sample guideline revision, more samples now lie within normal ranges. However, this change in categorisation of sperm samples clearly does not make the quality of the samples any better.
As a general rule, even men whose sperm samples are lower than these reference levels can still get women pregnant. However, the lower the density of sperm in the samples is, the fewer healthy and fast-moving sperm cells are available.
Put simply, fewer good sperm cells in semen means that there is a lower chance of a healthy sperm cell finding its way to an egg and fertilising it.
Keep in mind, however, that men with high counts may also struggle due to poor motility, or morphology.
We have also written a dedicated article on how to read a semen analysis. You can read this article here.
Reasons for low male fertility
There is no simple answer to the question of which factors have the greatest influence on the quality of male sperm. Scientists are in agreement that the following factors influence sperm production and health negatively:
- Poor nutrition: too few vitamins and antioxidants
- Exposure to female hormones: increased estrogen levels in drinking water and some processed meats, even soy4
- Lifestyle choices: smoking, alcohol and stress, both at home and work[/box]
A man’s fertility is more often restricted (oligospermia or asthenospermia) than entirely absent. Azoospermia, is the medical condition of a man not having any sperm in his semen, which affects about 1% of the male population. Aspermia, the complete lack of semen is much rarer.
Oligospermia, also oligiozoospermia refers to semen with a low concentration of sperm (fewer than 20 million cells per millilitre), and asthenospermia, or oligozoospermia is the medical term for reduced sperm motility, i.e. movement. Micronutrients can have astounding results on these restrictive fertility conditions, which has been shown in dozens of different studies.
Improving male fertility with micronutrients
Several micronutrients such as vitamins, vitaminoids, amino acids and trace elements have proven themselves effective in improving sperm quantity, mobility and shape. This directly translates into better overall sperm quality and therefore a higher chance of pregnancy.
- Relatively inexpensive
- Effective after three to six months
- Able to increase sperm motility by up to 23%, ejaculate volume by up to 33% and sperm count by up to 215%5
- Without side effects
For those reasons, male fertility food supplements are most definitely recommended as the first step in the treatment of oligospermia and asthenospermia.
Also men who have not yet taken a semen analysis test will benefit from supplementing micronutrients to ensure they are able to deliver high-quality semen. There are no contraindications or side effects to this form of natural ‘sperm boosting’.
An excellent and detailed overview of many studies can be found in Steven Sinclair’s Male Infertility: Nutritional and Environmental Considerations.
A considerable range of male fertility supplements available on the UK market. The products differ widely in price and composition. Menfertility.org has compared 10 of them in terms of value for money and the nutrients they provide.
What are the most effective male fertility nutrients?
A multitude of studies has shown that highly dosed nutrients have potentially significant impact on overall sperm quality.
Vitamin D has been shown to improve sperm count, motility and morphology10.
Vitamin B9, better known as folic acid has been shown to increase count, motility and morphology11.
Zinc improves the immune system and significantly improves sperm count in combination with folic acid12.
Sperm cells take 11 weeks to mature in the testicles. Only then they are ready for ejaculation.
If you adjust your diet today it will thus take three months for the better sperm to be ready for fertilisation.
You must therefore keep the diet or supplement on an ongoing basis – ideally until your partner is pregnant or you decide for a different treatment.
All of the male fertility supplements in our great test include several of these nutrients at once, albeit at a lower dose. This is a cost-effective and convenient way making this type of fertility therapy affordable and requiring taking only one all-in-one supplement instead of many.
To find out more about the effects of the individual nutrients and how the various supplements compare, please read menfertility.org’s male fertility supplement review.
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20090219” ↩
- “http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/12/02/humrep.des415.abstract” ↩
- “http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/5/1/28.pdf” ↩
- “http://www.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/32/Risks_and_Benefits_of_Soy.aspx” ↩
- “Imhof, Martin et al., “Improvement of sperm quality after micronutritient supplementation”, e-SPEN, the European e-Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, Epub published ahead of print.” ↩
- “http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/5/1/28.pdf” ↩
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7701414” ↩
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12568837” ↩
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8085668” ↩
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21427118” ↩
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20978181” ↩
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11872201” ↩
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21403799” ↩
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12623744” ↩
- “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8862739” ↩