Given the many online articles on male fertility and diet that advocate an elimination of alcohol, it may seem strange that Dr. Groll hasn't included it in his list. However, Dr. Perloe agrees with its omission, stating that excessive alcohol consumption may cause problems with sperm production, but that the toxic effects are not clearly identifiable. Alcohol may not be as harmful to male fertility as cigarettes or recreational drugs, but it certainly won't hurt guys to reduce or eliminate it.
Sperm-Friendly Foods and Supplements
The data for substances that improve male potency isn't as consistent or significant as the data for what to avoid. Nevertheless, a few of the vitamins, minerals, and compounds that figure most prominently in male fertility studies are mentioned below, along with a list of foods and supplements that contain significant amounts of them.
- Vitamins C and E. Vitamin C's antioxidant properties can protect the sperm's DNA, according to Dr. Perloe. However, both Fern Reiss and Dr. Groll suggest not to exceed the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamin C, as large doses of it have been implicated in fertility problems for both men and women. Examples of foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, potatoes (with skin), strawberries, and liver; foods high in vitamin E include wheat germ oil and almonds.
- Selenium. Reiss cites studies in support of selenium's effect on male fertility, but Dr. Groll cautions that a comprehensive view of the research on selenium is conflicting. He recommends not taking supplements; according to Reiss, enough selenium can be found in whole grains and broccoli.
- Zinc. High levels of zinc are found in the testes and prostate, and providing infertile men with zinc has been shown to improve their sperm count and motility, according to research cited by both Reiss and Dr. Groll. Oysters have large quantities of zinc, and zinc is also found in red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, and seeds.
- Arginine: Reiss states that arginine has been shown to help increase sperm count and motility. It is found in most nuts.
- L-Carnitine. This amino acid is found highly concentrated in the epididymis, where sperm reach full maturation, and it is found at lower levels in infertile men. Dr. Groll explains that oral carnitine supplements have repeatedly yielded an improvement in total motile sperm counts. Dr. Perloe agrees that carnitine can have positive effects on male infertility, but he warns that the carnitine should be pharmaceutical-quality, since that effectiveness found in many health-food supplement formulas is often lost through contact with oxygen once the package is opened.
While these dietary factors provide guys with relatively simple and inexpensive alternatives to medical intervention, they are best approached with a "no-harm-in-trying" attitude. Diet is simply unable to correct many causes of male infertility, especially physiological problems that require surgical procedures. However, before guys get to that stage, eating broccoli, oysters, and whole grains—and swearing off smoking and drinking—is definitely worth a shot. As Fern Reiss says, the only side effect is improved overall health.