If you follow the news, you may have heard about a study published in 2017 that found sperm counts seem to be dropping at an alarming rate in the Western world. As reported by NPR, researchers looking at data from almost 43,000 men in dozens of industrialized countries discovered that sperm counts plummeted by nearly 50% in around four decades. Shanna Swan, a reproductive epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York who helped conduct the study, told NPR she was very concerned by the findings because not only is low sperm count a potential cause of infertility, it has also been linked to premature death. A GQ piece actually referred to sperm production as the canary in the coal mine of men’s health since those with poor semen quality are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Scientists aren’t exactly sure why sperm counts are dropping, although they suspect exposure to chemicals and stress are factors. Luckily, you can take steps to counteract these factors. Here are five natural supplements to increase sperm count.
Research indicates that zinc may play an important role in sperm production, and zinc deficiency has been linked to infertility. One review found that the zinc level in the seminal plasma of infertile males was significantly lower than that of normal males and that zinc supplementation has the potential to increase sperm quality in men struggling with infertility.
When taken with zinc, folic acid appears to have a profoundly positive effect on sperm count. A prominent Dutch study published in 2002 found that “subfertile” men who took 5 mg of folic acid a day along with 66 mg of zinc sulfate for 26 weeks experienced a whopping 74% increase in total normal sperm count.
Maca is an herb with a history of use dating back to the Incas. Traditionally favored for its ability to enhance endurance and boost libido, this hearty plant that thrives in the extreme growing conditions of the Andes is also thought to improve fertility. Indeed, animal studies have found maca improves sperm quantity and quality. It can also act as an aphrodisiac, which is why I include it on my list of supplements to increase sex drive.
You may think of fenugreek as a culinary herb, but it also has a wide variety of medicinal uses—including boosting sperm count. In 2017, a study looking at the effects of a patent-pending fenugreek extract called Furosap® found that sperm counts were significantly improved in those who were given 500 mg per day of the product for 12 weeks. Subjects also experienced a statistically significant increase in free testosterone levels.
Ashwagandha is another potent medicinal herb that has been shown to improve sperm count (and fertility in general) by bumping up testosterone levels. In a study where men with low sperm counts took 675 mg of ashwagandha every day for three months, sperm counts increased by 167% while sperm motility (the movement or swimming ability of sperm) went up by 53%. Those study participants who took a placebo showed little to no improvement in their fertility.
Ashwagandha also ranks on my list of supplements everyone should take because it’s an adaptogen, meaning it possesses a unique ability to help the body adapt to stress. Adaptogens like ashwagandha increase our ability to cope with and respond to whatever comes our way, which is something we can probably all use more of in these tumultuous times.
While this list is a good place to start, supplements aren’t the only way to naturally increase sperm count. Medical News Today lists exercising, getting enough rest, reducing stress, and quitting smoking as lifestyle changes that can have a positive effect on sperm quantity and quality.
Wondering what areas of your health could use your attention? Consider taking my Optimal Men’s Health quiz. It’s designed to help you determine your next best step to getting healthier and closer to winning.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of the top Integrative Medical Center in the U.S., he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has been a consultant with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on national television, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He is National Director and V.P. of Medical Services for AndHealth, a digital health company utilizing lifestyle medicine approaches to reverse chronic illness. He is available on a limited basis to consult with individual patients interested in a personalized approach to optimal performance and health.