Budgeting has never been in my nature, so it’s no wonder I was unable to subsist on a measly student grant while at medical school. However, my parents made sure I never went hungry, and occasional sessions behind the bar brought in enough extra cash to keep me in booze and cigarettes. I do recall, however, how a fair few of my male colleagues helped to make ends meet by selling their semen to one or more of the fertility clinics in London’s West End. At about £15 a pop, sperm donation remains a viable way for students to make some hard cash. Now that the Government is planning to add top-up fees to the financial burden already incumbent on many students, I suspect even more male scholars will be tempted to take matters into their own hands with a little top-up of their own.
At the root of the demand for semen is a very real and growing problem with male fertility: statistics show that sperm counts in the West have fallen by half in just 50 years, and continue to decline at the rate of about 2 per cent per annum. Whilst it is not known for certain what is causing the precipitous decline in male fertility, specific pollutants in the environment are the chief suspects. Under particular suspicion are chemical entities known as xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are believed to mimic female hormones and/or block the effect of male hormones in the body. Some scientists believe such hormone-disrupting effects are a major factor not just in declining sperm numbers, but in other male maladies that are on the rise including congenital abnormalities of the penis and testicular cancer. Xenoestrogens pervade our environment, but agrochemicals, plastic bottles and food wrappings, and tap water are believed to be particularly potent sources. Avoiding xenoestrogens altogether is probably unrealistic, though eating organically as much as possible and drinking mineral water from glass bottles are two big steps in the right direction for those wishing to minimise their exposure.
There is some evidence that sperm numbers and fertility can be boosted using a nutritional approach. One nutrient that seems to be of particular benefit in this respect is vitamin C. The testes contain especially high concentrations of vitamin C, and low levels of this nutrient in the body have been associated with low sperm counts, increased numbers of abnormal sperm, and a tendency for sperm to stick together (known as agglutination). Research suggests that supplementing with vitamin C can improve sperm counts, increase the percentage of viable sperm, and reduce a tendency to agglutination. From the studies, taking 1000 mg of vitamin C each day looks like a safe and economical fertility enhancer for many men.
Another nutrient that seems to be an essential ingredient in sperm development is zinc. This mineral is found most abundantly in oysters, though supplementation is probably a more practical way of getting useful quantities of it for most men. 50 ” 75 mg of zinc should be taken each day (with an additional 3- 5 mg of copper each day as zinc can cause copper deficiency). Other nutrients that have been found to help increase sperm counts quite naturally include vitamin E (200 IU per day) and selenium (100 mcg per day). The evidence suggests that for men wanting to boost their fertility, supplementing with a handful of specific nutrients is certainly worth a shot.