June is Men’s Health Month, and we’re dedicating this month’s post to discussing a little-known fact about male fertility; prenatal vitamins are a thing for men too!
It seems like every inch of the prenatal vitamin section at our local pharmacy is dedicated to classic “female” prenatal vitamins. And when you dig deeper in the vitamin section, you’ll see a ton of supplements, but few, if any, that are completely focused on improving the quality of sperm for men who are trying to conceive.
Part of the reason is that as a society, men do not routinely take a supplement when trying to conceive; at least not nearly as often as we hear of women taking prenatal vitamins sometimes before they want to conceive. It is also because there’s not a lot of high-quality reproducible data about the short-term, long-term, and downstream effects of vitamins on semen quality and pregnancy rates; let alone live birth data.
If we look at those supplements & vitamins that are targeted to the reproductively aged male population, we notice that the theme behind nearly all of them is a focus on reducing inflammation in the body and ultimately the testicle. The reason is that there is a ton of research that has demonstrated that abnormal sperm are typically produced in an inflammatory environment in the testicle. To add insult to injury, the most abnormal sperm, which are the ones that tend to not make it to the point of ejaculation, release reactive oxygen species (ROS) into their surrounding microenvironment, thereby making the millions of sperm surrounding these “bad” sperm highly susceptible to oxidative stress.
In short, these bad sperm poisons the surrounding testicular environment, which makes more bad sperm, which leads to an even worse environment. A truly vicious cycle! As a result, the sperm are already challenged before they are ever ejaculated, and ultimately, they are less likely to achieve their sole purpose/goal, which is to successfully fertilize an egg.
By taking a male prenatal vitamin that is completely focused on increasing the circulating levels of antioxidants in the body, the testicular microenvironment is “buffered” against having some bad sperm ruin it for all the other sperm being created.
When looking for a male fertility supplement, another name for a male prenatal vitamin, make sure they have some key ingredients:
- Folate, which is the backbone of most (female) prenatal vitamins, is critical for making healthy DNA
- Omega-3, which you can get from eating fish or “healthy fats,” but is also anti-inflammatory and the best source of “good cholesterol,” is needed for making testosterone and other male hormones
- CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant and vital to generating and transferring energy in cells (remember, sperm must swim)
- Selenium, also a well-studied potent antioxidant, has been shown to have significant protection against DNA damage (the result of a bad testicular microenvironment)
Taken together, yes, prenatal vitamins are a thing for men, and given that infertility occurs just as often because of male factors as female factors, men should be doing as much as they can to protect and preserve their swimmers! A vitamin is a super easy intervention and is also a subtle reminder to one’s partner, that they are doing everything that they can to improve their collective fertility.
But it’s important to know, it takes approximately 2 to 3 months to create a mature sperm (65 days to be exact). Therefore, any lifestyle modifications or vitamins that you take today, won’t have their maximal effect on sperm until nearly 3 months from now! So, get your vitamins!