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Last updated: Mar 29, 2022
11 min read

Male fertility supplements: do they work?

Male fertility supplements are made using vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids to help boost sperm quality and improve fertility. Research suggests some of the ingredients in male fertility supplements may increase sperm count, motility, and appearance. Some of the ingredients commonly used include vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, folate, vitamin B12, coenzyme Q10, and maca root.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

If you and your partner are struggling to conceive, you may be wondering if there are any male fertility supplements on the market that can give your fertility a boost. 

While the US Food and Drug Administration does not closely regulate supplements, some research shows certain ingredients in male fertility supplements may help promote sperm quality and fertility.

Let’s learn more about these ingredients and how they may play a role in your fertility.

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What are male fertility supplements?

Male fertility supplements are dietary supplements that contain vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and other compounds meant to help men who may be struggling with infertility. 

These products claim to help:

  • Increase sperm count
  • Boost sperm motility
  • Improve the health of DNA
  • Improve sperm morphology (the shape, size, and appearance of sperm)
  • Support overall male fertility

It’s important to note that if an ingredient has been shown to help these sperm qualities, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the ingredient helps improve fertility. Testing the health of sperm is easily done in a lab. Many different factors can affect fertility, though, and there isn’t a lot of research evaluating whether these ingredients help improve a couple’s ability to conceive.

The most common micronutrients and compounds found in male fertility supplements are:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc
  • Folate
  • Vitamin B12
  • Selenium
  • Lycopene
  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
  • L-carnitine
  • Ashwagandha
  • Inositol
  • Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)
  • Alpha lipoic acid (ALA)
  • D-aspartic acid
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • Tribulus terrestris
  • Fenugreek
  • Maca root

Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients found in male fertility supplements to see if they have a role to play in boosting male fertility.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that may play a significant role in sperm health. 

In fact, vitamin C is one of the few supplements that consistently shows benefits to sperm quality (Ahmadi, 2016; Kuchakulla, 2020).

These benefits may be due to the fact that antioxidants like vitamin C are your body’s defenses against oxidative stress—one of the main causes of low-quality sperm. 

Oxidative stress occurs when your body has an imbalance between molecules called free radicals (“oxidants”) and antioxidant defenses. This imbalance can cause damage to any of your cells, including the health and DNA stability of your sperm (Aitken, 2013). Consuming vitamin C may help armor your body’s defenses against oxidative stress.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an important micronutrient for overall health and wellbeing that some believe may play a role in hormone levels and semen quality. 

Some research shows an association between low vitamin D levels and low circulating testosterone (D’Andrea, 2021). However, most of this evidence is found in observational studies that show a relationship, not in clinical trials that can show a cause. Ultimately, we need more research on whether vitamin D deficiency can cause low testosterone (de Angelis, 2017). 

With that said, there is some promise that vitamin D may help certain aspects of male fertility. The results of a 2017 study show that vitamin D supplements help improve sperm motility and the appearance of sperm cells (de Angelis, 2017).

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is another antioxidant found in some oils, seeds, and nuts. Like vitamin C, vitamin E can protect sperm from oxidative stress (Ghafarizadeh, 2021). 

A systematic review of research found that vitamin E was one of the few ingredients in male fertility supplements with evidence to support its benefits on sperm quality (Kuchakulla, 2020).

Zinc

Zinc is an important mineral found in meat, fish, eggs, and shellfish. It’s an essential nutrient for male reproductive health. 

A 2016 meta-analysis found that men with low fertility had significantly lower zinc levels in their semen. The review of research suggested zinc supplements might significantly increase (Zhao, 2016):

  • Semen volume
  • Sperm motility
  • Number of healthy sperm based on size and shape

Folate

Folate is a B vitamin best known for its role in pregnancy and infant health. But it’s also an important vitamin for male fertility, which is why some male fertility supplements contain folic acid, the synthetic form of folate.

Folate plays a role in the development of DNA growth and repair, and low folate levels may impact the stability of the DNA in sperm (Boxmeer, 2009). 

However, some research shows that supplementing with folic acid may not improve semen quality. In a 2019 study, researchers assessed the impact of a combined zinc and folic acid supplement on male fertility. They found no improvements in semen quality or live birth rates between people taking the supplement and the control group (Schisterman, 2020).

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, is an essential nutrient that plays a role in metabolism and DNA synthesis. 

A 2017 review of research found vitamin B12 increases sperm health by (Banihani, 2017):

  • Increasing sperm count
  • Promoting motility
  • Reducing damage to DNA

However, the review did note that some studies found vitamin B12 to have harmful effects on sperm. For example, some studies found an association between high levels of vitamin B12 and an increase in oxidative stress in semen (Banihani, 2017).

Selenium

Selenium is a trace mineral found in certain foods that may play an important role in male reproductive health and tissue growth in testicles. 

A 2014 research review found that a selenium deficiency increases the risk for abnormal sperm cells and poor motility. The study’s researchers suggest that getting enough selenium in your diet promotes reproductive health, sex drive, and may lower the risk of infertility in men (Ahsan, 2014).

Lycopene

Lycopene is a type of antioxidant and a carotenoid. It’s found in tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and papaya. 

In a 2020 randomized controlled trial, researchers found that taking daily lycopene supplements helps improve sperm motility, shape, size, and appearance (Williams, 2020).

Coenzyme (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant that your body naturally makes. You can also get it through certain foods. It helps your cells generate energy and protects them from oxidative stress.

Researchers believe CoQ10 may also play a powerful role in male fertility and sperm health. 

A meta-analysis found CoQ10 significantly improves sperm motility when taken for three months or longer. The review’s authors suggest that CoQ10 may help treat male infertility caused by low sperm motility (Vishvkarma, 2020).  

Carnitine

L-carnitine, often called carnitine, comes from amino acids. It’s used in energy production, transporting nutrients around cells, and may play a role in male fertility. 

A 2019 clinical trial assessed the effects of an L-carnitine supplement on males with fertility problems. The study found three months of taking carnitine supplements increased sperm concentration, motility, and sperm’s ability to fertilize the egg (Sun, 2018).  

Ashwagandha

For centuries, people have used ashwagandha to manage various health conditions like chronic stress, insomnia, and anxiety (Tandon, 2020)

Research suggests that ashwagandha may also help with male infertility by improving sperm count and motility and regulating reproductive hormones (Sengupta, 2018). 

These improvements to sperm health were seen in a small 2013 study that had participants take ashwagandha root extract for 90 days. At the end of the experiment, the participants’ sperm count and motility had increased (Ambiye, 2013).

Inositol

Inositol, also called myo-inositol, is a type of sugar that your body makes to provide structure to your cells and influence your cells’ signals. It is also found in some foods.  

In addition to the benefits it provides to the cells in your body, a small 2019 study found that inositol may also help boost male fertility. Study participants took a myo-inositol supplement and showed improved sperm motility and pregnancy rates (Ghasemi, 2019). 

This is one of the rare instances in which a male fertility supplement ingredient has been shown to directly improve the ability to conceive.

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ)

Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) is an antioxidant that helps support energy metabolism and nerve health. Research suggests PQQ supplements help maintain sperm motility because of its antioxidant properties (Zhu, 2019).

Alpha-lipoic acid

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), also called lipoic acid, is an antioxidant made by the body and used in metabolism. 

Its antioxidant properties help to reduce cell damage and lower inflammation. Researchers believe ALA could play an important role in fertility. For example, one systematic review found that supplementing with ALA helps improve sperm quality (Di Tucci, 2021).

Another controlled trial found that taking an ALA supplement improved sperm motility and prevented DNA damage after surgery on the male reproductive system (Abbasi, 2020).

D-aspartic acid

D-aspartic acid, also called aspartic acid, is an amino acid involved in testosterone production. A small 2012 study found taking a supplement with D-aspartic acid improved the amount of sperm and motility (D’Aniello, 2012). 

Fish oil

Fish oil supplements, or omega-3 fatty acid supplements, provide several health benefits. Omega-3s help reduce inflammation, promote heart health, and may benefit brain health. 

And according to a 2019 systematic review on omega-3 supplements, they may also improve semen quality (Falsig, 2019).

Tribulus terrestris

Tribulus terrestris is an herbal plant that some argue can increase libido and male fertility. 

Some believe it does this by increasing testosterone levels. However, research has conflicting results. There isn’t enough evidence to support any changes in testosterone when taking this herb (Qureshi, 2014). 

However, a review of studies on tribulus terrestris shows that consuming the herb may help improve sperm quality (Sanagoo, 2019).

Fenugreek

Fenugreek seeds are a herbal supplement believed to promote male fertility and testosterone levels.

A clinical trial found fenugreek supplements may improve libido, sperm quantity, and the size, shape, and appearance of sperm (Maheshwari, 2017). Another study found fenugreek extract supplements may help improve testosterone levels (Mansoori, 2020). 

Maca root

Maca root is a popular herbal supplement that people use for various possible health benefits, like increased energy levels, sex drive, and fertility. 

A systematic review found maca may be effective at improving semen quality (Lee, 2016). And a 2014 review showed black maca might be the most effective type of maca at improving sperm production (Gonzales, 2014).

Do male fertility supplements work?

Some types of male fertility supplements may help promote sperm quality. 

However, not all research supports the effectiveness of all of these ingredients, and most of them have not been clearly shown to improve a couple’s chances of getting pregnant. 

A 2020 review suggested there was more evidence to support the benefits of L-carnitine, vitamin E, vitamin C, CoQ10, and zinc (Kuchakulla, 2020). 

But we still need more research to fully understand how each of the 19 ingredients on this list impacts male fertility. 

There is also no standard dosing for most of these ingredients, as dietary supplements aren’t closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). So, the safety and effectiveness of these ingredients for improving fertility aren’t known.

That’s why it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new dietary supplements. 

Who should take male fertility supplements?

If you and your partner are struggling with infertility, a male fertility supplement may help. But it’s best to talk with your healthcare provider and have your fertility tested before taking a supplement. 

Male infertility has a handful of causes, and not all will respond to the nutrients and compounds listed above. It can be due to (Babakhanzadeh, 2020):

  • Hormonal problems
  • Damage to the testicles
  • Infections
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Lifestyle
  • Diet
  • Genetics
  • Pollution
  • Environmental exposures

The different ingredients in male fertility supplements can also have different effects, so the type of supplement best for you may depend on the reason behind your fertility struggles. 

For example, male fertility supplements may be beneficial for people with low sperm count, low motility, and unstable DNA in sperm. 

If you start taking a fertility supplement, consider starting it at least 90 days before conceiving. Most research studies looked at improvements in sperm 80–90 days after starting to take the supplement (Abbasi, 2020; Ahmadi, 2016). 

Other ways to boost male fertility

Other health and lifestyle changes may help boost male fertility, such as (Leslie, 2022):

  • Eating a nutritious diet
  • Exercising more
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Stopping smoking
  • Managing stress levels
  • Limiting exposures to chemicals and heavy metals 

Infertility and trouble conceiving are common problems that many couples experience. 

If you’re looking to improve your sperm quality and fertility, you could consider adding a dietary supplement to your routine. But it’s always smart to talk with your healthcare provider first before starting any new supplements or medications to make sure it’s the right choice for you. 

References

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