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Many couples struggle with getting pregnant. Up to half of fertility issues are due to issues with a male partner’s reproductive health (Ambiye, 2013).
There are several approaches to increase male fertility, and herbs may be one. For centuries, traditional medicine has used herbs and plants to increase fertility. Here are eight herbs that may help with male fertility and what the research says about them.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a medicinal herb that has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine. The root is the part most commonly used as that is where the majority of the pharmacological ashwagandha benefits are found.
Ashwagandha is said to have health benefits like more energy, less stress, increased physical strength, improved metabolism, and better sex drive. Some research also suggests ashwagandha may help boost male fertility and sperm health (Ambiye, 2013).
One study found that ashwagandha may increase sperm count and motility (movement), and increase levels of reproductive hormones. Since ashwagandha acts as an antioxidant, it may protect sperm cells from damage caused by oxidative stress (Sengupta, 2018).
2. Maca root
Maca root (Lepidium meyenil) is a type of cruciferous vegetable used in traditional medicine to boost fertility and sex drive. Maca has gained popularity as a supplement and can be added to smoothies, baked goods, and more.
Maca is packed with iron, iodine, calcium, and other nutrients. Research suggests maca root extract may support male fertility by improving sperm motility and overall semen quality. That said, more studies are needed to truly understand the effects of maca on fertility (Lee, 2016).
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a herb that tastes similar to maple syrup and is used in cooking and as herbal medicine. Fenugreek is said to have health benefits like weight loss, reduced risk of diabetes, lowering inflammation, and supporting reproductive health.
One small study that assessed the effects of fenugreek extract on testosterone levels found free testosterone increased by 46% in a large number of participants. Some of the participants experienced improved sperm morphology (shape) and production (Maheshwari, 2017).
A research review also found that fenugreek extract may be effective in increasing total testosterone levels in the blood (Mansoori, 2020).
Is sauna use bad for sperm health and male fertility?
Shilajit is a natural substance that develops from the breakdown of plants and organic material. It’s a blackish-brown, tar-like substance that’s primarily found in the Himalayas. Shilajit is used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine to promote overall health and wellness.
Researchers have studied shilajit as a possible way to improve infertility and boost male hormone levels. One study found that middle-aged men who took Shilajit supplements for 90 days saw an increase in total testosterone levels (Pandit, 2016).
An older study assessed the impacts of Shilajit on men with a low sperm count. It suggests the supplements help increase testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), sperm count, and sperm motility (Biswas, 2010).
5. Tribulus terrestris
Tribulus terrestris is a fruit-producing vine plant that has been used in traditional Ayurveda and Chinese medicine as an aphrodisiac. It’s also called puncture vine and goat’s head.
Other uses for Tribulus terrestris within herbal medicine include stimulating appetite, relieving pain, acting as a diuretic, and increasing male fertility (Zhu, 2017). A small lab study found that Tribulus terrestris extract increased sperm motility (Khaleghi, 2017).
A recent review of studies suggests that Tribulus terrestris may be useful in sperm health parameters like count, motility, and morphology. However, one study in the review saw no improvement in sperm quality among people taking Tribulus terrestris (Sanagoo, 2019).
6. Tongkat ali
Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) is a medicinal herb that comes from a tree in South Asia. It’s used to improve sexual dysfunction, indigestion, and certain medical conditions. It may also boost reproductive health.
A small review of research concluded that there is evidence Tongkat ali benefits male sexual health. That said, what impact the herb has is still uncertain; four of 11 studies reviewed didn’t show Tongkat ali had any impact on male health (Thu, 2017).
More research in humans is needed, but an animal study found that Tongkat ali extract helped increase sperm concentration, motility, vitality, along with testosterone levels (Solomon, 2014).
Fertility preservation: options for future fertility
Ginseng is a popular herbal supplement used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. Ginseng possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, which may help strengthen the immune system, enhance brain function, and improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction (ED).
One study found that taking Korean red ginseng improved sperm count, motility, morphology, and amount of viable semen (Park, 2016). It’s suggested ginseng also supports reproductive health in people with or without fertility challenges (Leung, 2013).
However, not all research supports these findings. A recent review found that while a few clinical trials supported the benefits of ginseng for male reproductive health, overall, there isn’t enough evidence to support these health claims (Lee, 2020).
8. Saw palmetto
Saw palmetto is a type of tree with thorn-shaped leaves that bears fruit used in herbal medicine. It’s said to support urinary tract functions, prostate health, testosterone levels, and decrease inflammation.
Despite its wide use, the evidence for the benefits of saw palmetto remains minimal. An animal study found the herbal extract maintained healthy sperm motility in rats with chronically inflamed prostates (Zhan, 2019).
The bottom line
It’s common for couples to experience challenges with fertility. And lots of infertility cases come from problems with the male partner’s reproductive health. Possible causes of male infertility may include:
- Hormone imbalances, like androgens (testosterone, DHEA) and estrogen
- Sperm disorders
- Unhealthy lifestyle
- Other health conditions
Male fertility: supplements, foods, tests to take
If you’re having challenges with fertility, there are therapies and treatment options to improve it. For some people, herbs help boost male fertility. Keep in mind, that most of the studies on herbal remedies are either small or animal studies.
More research is needed to truly understand the impacts of these herbal medicines on human function. It’s best to talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new dietary supplements to learn about how they can help or hinder your health.
- Ambiye, V. R., Langade, D., Dongre, S., et al. (2013). Clinical evaluation of the spermatogenic activity of the root extract of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) in oligospermic males: a pilot study. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. doi:10.1155/2013/571420. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3863556/
- Biswas, T. K., Pandit, S., Mondal, S., et al. (2010). Clinical evaluation of spermatogenic activity of processed Shilajit in oligospermia. Andrologia, 42(1), 48–56. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0272.2009.00956.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20078516/
- Khaleghi, S., Bakhtiari, M., Asadmobini, A., et al. (2017). Tribulus terrestris extract improves human sperm parameters in vitro. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, 22(3), 407–412. doi:10.1177/2156587216668110. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27694560/
- Lee, H. W., Kil, K. J., & Lee, M. S. (2020). Ginseng for improving semen quality parameters: a systematic review. The World Journal of Men’s Health, 38(3), 377–384. doi:10.5534/wjmh.190125. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7308228/
- Lee, M. S., Lee, H. W., You, S., et al. (2016). The use of maca (Lepidium meyenii) to improve semen quality: A systematic review. Maturitas, 92, 64–69. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2016.07.013. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27621241/
- Leung, K. W. & Wong, A. S. (2013). Ginseng and male reproductive function. Spermatogenesis, 3(3), e26391. doi:10.4161/spmg.26391. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3861174/
- Maheshwari, A., Verma, N., Swaroop, A., et al. (2017). Efficacy of FurosapTM, a novel Trigonella foenum-graecum seed extract, in Enhancing Testosterone Level and Improving Sperm Profile in Male Volunteers. International Journal of Medical Sciences, 14(1), 58–66. doi:10.7150/ijms.17256. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5278660/
- Mansoori, A., Hosseini, S., Zilaee, M., et al. (2020). Effect of fenugreek extract supplement on testosterone levels in male: A meta-analysis of clinical trials. Phytotherapy Research, 34(7), 1550–1555. doi:10.1002/ptr.6627. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32048383/
- Pandit, S., Biswas, S., Jana, U., et al. (2016). Clinical evaluation of purified Shilajit on testosterone levels in healthy volunteers. Andrologia, 48(5), 570–575. doi:10.1111/and.12482. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26395129/
- Park, H. J., Choe, S., & Park, N. C. (2016). Effects of Korean red ginseng on semen parameters in male infertility patients: A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical study. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, 22(7), 490–495. doi:10.1007/s11655-015-2139-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25967606/
- Sanagoo, S., Sadeghzadeh Oskouei, B., Gassab Abdollahi, N., et al. (2019). Effect of Tribulus terrestris L. on sperm parameters in men with idiopathic infertility: A systematic review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 42, 95–103. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2018.09.015. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30670288/
- Sengupta, P., Agarwal, A., Pogrebetskaya, M., et al. (2018). Role of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) in the management of male infertility. Reproductive Biomedicine Online, 36(3), 311–326. doi:10.1016/j.rbmo.2017.11.007. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29277366/
- Solomon, M. C., Erasmus, N., & Henkel, R. R. (2014). In vivo effects of Eurycoma longifolia Jack (Tongkat Ali) extract on reproductive functions in the rat. Andrologia, 46(4), 339–348. doi:10.1111/and.12082. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23464350/
- Thu, H. E., Mohamed, I. N., Hussain, Z., et al. (2017). Eurycoma Longifolia as a potential adoptogen of male sexual health: a systematic review on clinical studies. Chinese Journal of Natural Medicines, 15(1), 71–80. doi:10.1016/S1875-5364(17)30010-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28259255/
- Yun, J. M., Lee, M., Kim, D., et al. (2021). Standardized saw palmetto extract directly and indirectly affects testosterone biosynthesis and spermatogenesis. Journal of Medicinal Food, 24(6), 617–625. doi:10.1089/jmf.2021.K.0021. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34161166/
- Zhan, X. X., Mo, D. S., Cai, H. C., et al. (2019). Effect of saw palmetto extract on the reproductive function of male rats with chronic prostatitis. National Journal of Andrology, 25(5), 399–402. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32216223/
- Zhu, W., Du, Y., Meng, H., et al. (2017). A review of traditional pharmacological uses, phytochemistry, and pharmacological activities of Tribulus terrestris. Chemistry Central Journal, 11(1), 60. doi:10.1186/s13065-017-0289-x. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5503856/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.