When we hear a conversation about infertility, we generally tend to think of it as a female issue. With the complexities of the female reproductive system, it’s easy to assume that there are more chances for something to go wrong. However, statistics show that the rates of infertility between men and women are very close to equal. The mechanism behind infertility differs between the sexes but one key factor is diet. So, let’s find out if taking omega-3 for male fertility actually works.
Male infertility cause #1: Idiopathic oligoasthenoteratozoospermia
It’s a tongue twister of a name, but thankfully it has a shorter version, OAT. The reason this name is so long is that it’s a combination of terms to distinguish three separate qualities of the disorder.
Oligozoospermia – A low sperm count. Not enough sperm is being produced and that lowers the chances of reproduction.
Asthenozoospermia – Poor sperm motility. The sperm doesn’t move, or ‘swim’, correctly so it’s not able to reach the egg.
Teratozoospermia – Abnormal sperm morphology. The sperm did not form correctly and does not have the proper shape so it is not usable for reproduction.
The ‘idiopathic’ part simply means that there is no known cause for why the disorder develops.
So, in non-nerdy terms, idiopathic oligoasthenoteratozoospermia means that for an unknown reason, the male body is producing only small amounts of sperm and those sperm aren’t shaped correctly and can’t move very well.
Omega-3 fatty acids have shown some potential in alleviating the severity of OAT. There is even some evidence that a deficiency of omega-3 may contribute to the development of the disorder. Published in 2011, a study in Andrologia found that infertile men had a higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. In contrast, the sperm of fertile men contained higher levels of omega-3. This finding could be the result of the effect omega-3 has on male fertility and sperm formation.
An Oxford study, also published in 2011, concluded that higher omega-3 intake led to higher-quality sperm, mainly affecting the morphology and ensuring that the right shape was formed.
DHA, in particular, is important for the production of sperm because it helps Sertoli cells link up with sperm cells. Sertoli cells bind with and provide nourishment for the sperm cells as they are maturing so that link is extremely important for producing healthy sperm. A deficiency of omega-3 was seen to impair the ability of the Sertoli and sperm to link together, leading to lower sperm count and quality.
Male infertility cause #2: Varicocele
This is a condition where the spermatic cord becomes enlarged, usually above the left testicle inside the scrotum. The symptoms are fairly mild and limited to a dull ache and discoloration around the blood vessels. Varicocele doesn’t always cause infertility but in a number of cases, it can lead to damage to the sperm cells because it is believed to raise the temperature in the scrotum and cause a back-up of blood. It can be treated through surgical methods, but omega-3 may offer a less invasive approach.
A 2014 case-control study involving fertile men, infertile men without varicocele, and infertile men with varicocele found that the condition was more severe in the men with lower omega-3 levels. More DNA damage to the sperm was observed in the men with a higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Omega-6s lead to higher levels of inflammation while omega-3s are anti-inflammatory.
So, does taking omega-3 for male fertility actually help?
Omega-3 has been seen to be beneficial in dealing with the two most common causes of male infertility. However, due to the effects of healthy omega-3 intake on sperm production and quality, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think it could have the potential to aid in the treatment of other known causes as well. Even in those that may not experience infertility, the benefits of taking a good omega-3 supplement may still give a boost to reproductive endeavors, and therefore omega-3 fish oil is a great male fertility supplement.
Attaman, J., Toth, T., Furtado, J., Campos, H., Hauser, R., & Chavarro, J. (2012). Dietary fat and semen quality among men attending a fertility clinic. Human Reproduction, 1466-1474. doi:10.1093/humrep/des065 Male Infertility: MedlinePlus. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015. Safarinejad, M. (2010). Effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on semen profile and enzymatic anti-oxidant capacity of seminal plasma in infertile men with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratospermia: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised study. Andrologia, 43(1), 38-47. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0272.2009.01013.x Safarinejad, M., Hosseini, S., Dadkhah, F., & Asgari, M. (2010). Relationship of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids with semen characteristics, and anti-oxidant status of seminal plasma: A comparison between fertile and infertile men. Clinical Nutrition, 29(1), 100-105. Tang, L., Yuan, D., Wang, Q., Jiang, F., Guo, J., Tang, Y., . . . Kang, J. (2014). Association of decreased spermatozoa omega-3 fatty acid levels and increased oxidative DNA damage with varicocele in infertile men: A case control study. Reprod. Fertil. Dev. Reproduction, Fertility and Development. http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/RD14276