Is there an easier way to make healthy sperm than growing them from stem cells?

My experience is that when individuals hear the word ‘infertility’, they often think of the female variety of this condition. However, I remember being taught at medical school that only about a third of infertility were solely due to problems with the prospective mother. About a third of cases are a combination of female and male infertility, and the final third come from exclusively male problems. What this means is that male infertility is an underlying factor in two-thirds of all cases of infertility ” which is perhaps higher than we generally imagine.

This might have been worth bearing in mind when news reports surfaced last week telling us that sperm had been cultivated from ‘stem cells’ ” immature cells found in bone marrow that can, in theory, convert into any cell type within the body. With male infertility being a significant problem, this technology may turn out to have considerable value both now and in the future: sperm counts appear to have declined considerably in the last few decades.

Obviously, this development is not available to the man (and women) in the street as yet. For this reason, I thought today I would provide a brief guide to improving male fertility. There is quite a lot of evidence now that has found that lifestyle factors, including nutrition, have a bearing on the making of healthy sperm. I had previously condensed some of what seem the most important factors into a 10-point guide, and present them here. In practice, I have had the experience of couples seemingly resolving an infertility issue using one or more of these approaches.

10 tips for improving male fertility

1. Eat brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, a mineral that seems to help boost sperm production and improve their swimming ability. Brazil nuts, it seems, are good for nuts of an entirely different kind.

2. Eat tomatoes

Research suggests that lycopene, a nutrient found in tomatoes, helps in the production of healthy, agile sperm.

3. Take vitamin C
Studies show that supplementing with vitamin C can assist in the making of properly-functioning sperm, and reduce their tendency to clump together (agglutinate). 1000 mg of vitamin C each day should be enough to help men make top seed.

4. Take zinc
High doses of zinc appear to help boost testosterone levels in men with low levels of this hormone, and may bring substantial improvements in sperm numbers. 50 – 100 mg of zinc should be taken each day (balanced with 3 – 6 mg of copper per day to prevent copper deficiency) for three months.

5. Take Korean ginseng
Like zinc, Korean ginseng appears to have the ability to enhance both testosterone and sperm levels. About 500 mg of standardised extract should be taken each day for three months.

6. Eat plenty of healthy fats

Healthy fats, known as essential fatty acids (EFAs), appear to be important ingredients in the manufacture of sperm. Essential fats can be found abundantly in foods such as nuts, seeds and oily fish.

7. Go organic
Declining sperm counts may be related to hormone-like chemical pollutants known as xenoestrogens that come from a variety of sources including agrochemical residues. A shift towards more organic foods in the diet will help to reduce exposure to these fertility-sapping chemicals.

8. Avoid hot pants

Yes, it’s true – research shows that the wearing of tight underwear or trousers is associated with lower sperm counts. A less restrained, and therefore cooler, scrotum makes for better sperm formation in the testes.

9. Avoid smoking
Cigarette smoking has been associated with an increased risk of infertility in men, and is a habit worth getting out of for men seeking to maximise their fertility.

10. Go easy on the exercise
Prolonged, strenuous exercise has been associated with reduced fertility. Exercise fanatics whose fertility firepower is on the low side might consider easing up a bit.

5 Responses to Is there an easier way to make healthy sperm than growing them from stem cells?

  1. coracle 17 April 2007 at 7:20 am #


    How confident are you on the zinc/selenium aspects. Not too long ago I took a brief look at this subject on pubmed and the evidence seemed, well, inconsistent at best.

  2. Dr John Briffa 17 April 2007 at 5:11 pm #

    The evidence in this area is ‘inconsistent’, as you say – but that is an adjective one could use to describe the results of practically any research field one cares to mention.
    There is at least some positive evidence to support these approaches, however.
    My opinion is that the potential benefit of enhanced nutrient status (successful conception and pregnancy) means that such approaches are, generally speaking, worth a try in cases of male infertility.

  3. lou 16 July 2007 at 10:22 pm #

    me and my husband have been trying for a baby for several months. H e came home one night and told me he went to get his sperm counted after seeing the results which was only 30% we have been looking to see how we can make his sperm more healthier.The only problem with this is that he had a problem with one of his testicals a few years back and we were told that could be the problem, if so is there more ways to help raise the percentage of his sperm count?

  4. Dr Nicholas DiNubile 24 August 2010 at 12:00 am #

    Although zinc is an essential requirement for good health, excess zinc can be harmful.
    The U.S. National Research Council the Tolerable upper intake to 40mg/day, which is significantly lower than the doses suggested in this article.
    Some symptoms of zinc overdose: “Chest pain; dizziness; fainting; shortness of breath; vomiting; yellow eyes or skin”

    Personally I would say that 25-40mg/day seems more reasonable (kept that the body wont absorb zinc if there is calcium in the stomach, hence supplements like “ZMA” usually is taken at night on empty stomach).

  5. John 30 September 2011 at 1:22 am #

    Any suggestions for men over 50 who want to start a family? Are these “rules” or supplements germane for older men as well? Obviously heat, bicycle riding and too much exercise are to be avoided but since there is a higher risk for autism and birth defects are there any ways to help reduce those risks?

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