You have probably heard of the many benefits of taking omega-3 supplements. These benefits range from enhancing heart, brain, and bone health, to reducing inflammation. Now, researchers are suggesting yet another potential benefit of omega-3s on health—the impact of omega-3 supplements on male infertility. Specifically, a recent discovery (1) suggests that taking omega-3 supplements can boost the male reproductive system.
The Impact of Infertility
Infertility is a widespread issue. In fact, 186 million individuals experience infertility globally. (2) Every year in the U.S. alone, 1 in 8 couples has trouble conceiving a child. A major contributor to infertility issues is a decrease in male sperm count. (3, 4)
Causes of Decreased Sperm Count
Sperm count in men has been decreasing for quite a long time. One study found that there was a significant decrease in sperm count in men from 1940 to 1990. (5)
Additionally, a meta-analysis reported that in men from Western cultures, there was a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration from 1973 to 2011. A similar trend was found in the total sperm count with an overall decrease of 59.3 percent. (6)
There are numerous causes of infertility including medical conditions like diabetes, cancer treatment, medications, trauma to the testes, varicoceles, and hormonal and genetic disorders. (3) However, most causes of male infertility result from abnormal spermatogenesis and irregular sperm function. (7)
These disruptions in sperm are most likely caused by certain lifestyle choices and environmental factors (8, 9) such as:
- Smoking (cigarettes and/or cannabis)
- Steroid use
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- High levels of stress
- Constant exposure to high temperatures
- Inactive lifestyle
- Overweight and obesity
- Exposure to pesticides and toxins
- Exposure to radiation
- Exposure to heavy metals
- Western diet
These environmental factors drive high levels of oxidative stress leaving sperm vulnerable to damage caused by reactive oxygen species. This damage can cause low sperm count, poor sperm function, decreased motility, and abnormal sperm structure, DNA, and function. An estimated 25% of men who experience infertility have higher levels of reactive oxygen species and lower levels of antioxidants in their semen. (7)
from Skoracka et al. 2020
The Link between Omega-3s and Infertility
Omega-3 fatty acids impact sperm because they play an important role in maintaining the function of all cell membranes, including sperm cells. In the case of sperm, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are crucial for viability by supporting sperm cell growth and function. Additionally, the PUFAs in sperm cells ultimately promote successful fertilization as many key fertilization processes involve the cell membrane.
Danish researchers have taken the lead in discovering the link between omega-3s and male fertility. In their 2020 study, the researchers collected data on 1,697 young, healthy Danish men for 5 years. The researchers accumulated self-reported omega-3 supplement intake by the participants. The study found that men who had higher intakes of omega-3 supplements had larger testes, more semen, and a higher sperm count in comparison with men who did not use omega-3 supplements. (1)
Literature on the research between sperm and omega-3 fatty acids (10) has also shown:
- Men with lower sperm motility and sperm count had lower levels of DHA in their sperm compared to men who had normal sperm production.
- Fertile men have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood and sperm compared to infertile men.
- Infertile men had higher omega-6/omega-3 ratios than fertile counterparts.
- Omega-3 indices were lower in infertile men.
For You and Your Future Family
While some causes of infertility are beyond our control, there are ways to decrease the potential for future fertility problems simply through behavioral changes. By eating well, exercising sufficiently, avoiding drug and alcohol use, reducing exposure to environmental pollution and toxins, limiting exposure to high temperatures, and adding in omega-3 fatty acids to your daily regimen, you are not only taking care of yourself, but you may be taking care of your future, as well. Unsure about your omega-3 fatty acid levels? You can find out if you’re deficient in the comfort of your own home with an at-home test kit.
- Jensen, T. K., et al. 2020. Associations of fish oil supplement use with testicular function in young men. JAMA Network Open 3(1):e1919462.
- WHO (World Health Organization). 2020. Infertility. WHO website newsroom factsheet. Accessed February 2022.
- CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). 2021. Infertility FAQs. CDC website reproductive health. Accessed February 2022.
- NIH (National Institutes of Health). 2018. How common is infertility? NIH website health A to Z list. Accessed February 2022.
- Carlsen, E., et al. 1992. Evidence for decreasing quality of semen during past 50 years. BMJ 305(6854):609-613.
- Levine, H., et al. 2017. Temporal trends in sperm count: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update 23(6):646-659.
- Walczak-Jedrzejowska, R., et al. 2013. The role of oxidative stress and antioxidants in male fertility. Central European Journal of Urology 66(1):60-67.
- Skoracka, K., et al. 2020. Diet and nutritional factors in male (in)fertility: Underestimated factors. Journal of Clinical Medicine 9(5):1400.
- Haeri, F., et al. 2021. The relationship between major dietary patterns and fertility status in Iranian men: A case-control study. Scientific Reports 11:18861.
- Safarinejad, M. R., et al. 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.