Male Infertility - a huge problem that often has a simple solution

Infertility within couples is often seen as a “female problem”. Over 50 million couples worldwide are affected. Unfortunately, this situation worsens from year to year and is  becoming a severe problem in many industrialized areas of this world. But is this just a “female problem”? No! Recent studies have concluded that almost 50% of the reported infertility cases are due to male-infertility.[1]

In many cases male-infertility is caused by unhealthy, weak and immobile sperm, missing the energy to reach an oocyte (egg) and fertilize it.

To understand this problem, it may help to know that a sperm can be divided into three main areas (i) head, (ii) motor and (iii) tail.(see image)

In a healthy and strong sperm, the membrane in the head region is very rich in DHA omega-3 (almost 70%). DHA in this region is of utmost importance to ensure a successful fusion of the sperm with the oocyte (immature egg-cell).

The tail membrane region is also rich in DHA because this provides the flexibility and fluidity necessary for the tail to move easily and thus enable the sperm to swim towards the oocyte.

Finally, a healthy sperm is characterized by an accumulation of well-functioning mitochondria (“energy plants”) in the area where the tail is connected to the main body of the sperm (“motor region”). These “energy plants” provide the sperm with energy and ensure its mobility.

 A weak or even infertile sperm lacks the DHA  in the head region enabling a successful fertilization of the egg. If the head region misses DHA, so does the rest of the membrane, including the tail region. In this case the DHA is often substituted by saturated fatty acids. This makes the cell membrane rigid; it loses its flexibility, and the tail cannot swim to reach the eggs. This is easily understandable if you look at the constitution of butter (rich in saturated fats) and a vegetable oil (rich in unsaturated fats) at room-temperature. The saturated fatty acids can build a robust crystalline structure converting the butter into a solid state at room temperature. The vegetable or fish oil contains many polyunsaturated fatty acids. They got a very irregular shape and can not build a crystalline structure. The oil stays liquid at room-temperature. Transferring this observation into a cell-membrane (for example of a sperm) means that a membrane rich in saturated fatty acids will be rigid and stiff (cannot move), while a membrane rich in polyunsaturated fats, like DHA, will be flexible, elastic and enables in this way the swimming motion of the sperm.

The fatty acid composition depends on your diet! Eating a healthy diet rich in fish, seafood, vegetables and fruit will automatically improve the fatty acid composition of all your cell membranes (including your sperm).

Besides the important structural impact on the sperm membrane, DHA also increases the testosterone secretion, reduces the insulin resistance, and can even serves as “energy source” for the sperm.

Several studies in the past noted that infertile men often have a very low DHA serum level. Therefore, one of the first recommendations is usually that infertile men increase their daily uptake of DHA (more than 1000 mg DHA per day).  However, infertility in men is not only a consequence of a low DHA serum level. Other nutrients may also play an important role. Vitamin D3, vitamin B-12 and L-carnitine are known to increase the sperm motility and work hand-in-hand with DHA. L-carnitine also showed to have an essential protective role to avoid DNA damage. Coenzyme-Q10 is not only an important antioxidant (like vitamin E and C) and reduces effectively the damage caused by oxidative stress but is also essential for the sperm mitochondria to produce sufficient energy in form of ATP.

Therefore, a healthy diet rich in DHA, vitamins (B12, -C, -D3, -E ), coenzyme Q10 and L-carnitine is something to consider in case of male infertility. In addition, saturated fats, trans-fats, excessive stress, alcohol, and smoking should be avoided. A significant improvement in male fertility is often seen within for 4 – 6 months of ingesting the above-mentioned nutrients.

Please see here


[1] Agarwal, A.; Mulgund, A.; Hamada, A.; Chyatte, M.R. A unique view on male infertility around the globe. Reprod. Biol. Endocrinol. 2015, 13, 37

[2] Almujaydil MS. The Role of Dietary Nutrients in Male Infertility: A Review. Life (Basel). 2023 Feb 14;13(2):519. doi: 10.3390/life13020519.