Filling In The Nutritional Gaps

One in every six couples will have trouble conceiving. By definition, this means they've been trying for at least a year, but have failed to conceive.

Sometimes the problem is a physical barrier to conception such as a blockage of the fallopian tube or a varicocele (varicose vein situated in a testicle). In such cases, surgery can often accomplish the repairs necessary to make conception possible.

But other times, the solution to the fertility problem is not so easy to identify. In such a situation, a physician may rule that there is some type of metabolic or hormonal imbalance. In the absence of a concrete direction, it makes sense to examine lifestyle habits and to correct possible issues by cutting out cigarettes and alcoholic drinks, start on a diet packed dense with nutrients, get enough sleep, and drink more water. While you're at it, it can't hurt to take a multivitamin, either.

Why Vitamins?

Why take vitamins? Research shows that vitamin deficiencies can cause some of the more subtle fertility issues. Take a look at vitamin C deficiency, for instance. When a man doesn't get enough of the stuff, his sperm sticks together in clumps. This is called agglutination.

Think about it—the goal of the sperm is to be the fastest swimmer around and get to the egg, first. But in agglutination, the sperm get bogged down in traffic and the result is a huge traffic jam in which no one sperm can be the winner.

Earl Dawson M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Galveston-based University of Texas Medical School along with a team of colleagues, discovered that when they gave men supplements of 500 milligrams of vitamin C twice daily, the number of sperm that clumped together fell from over 20% to under 11%. "We've also found that supplemental vitamin C improves sperm count, motility and viability in male smokers and reduces the number of abnormally formed sperm," adds Dawson, who explained that the toxins from cigarette smoke are found in semen but that vitamin C can neutralize these toxins and prevent damage to sperm. 

C Magic!

Dawson says that in order for vitamin C to do its magic, a man should take more than 200 milligrams daily. He observed the best results in the men who took 1,000 milligrams of C for around a month.

But vitamin C isn't the only nutrient you need to make babies. Another important mineral for male fertility is zinc. Men and women both need zinc, but its main importance is found in the role it plays in aiding the production of the male hormone testosterone.

Professor of medicine Ananda Prasad, M.D., Ph.D., from Detroit's Wayne State University School of Medicine leads the way in researching zinc. Prasad and his team found that when men were kept on a diet low in zinc, there were significant decreases in their levels of testosterone and in their sperm counts. Once their levels of zinc were restored to 15 milligrams, or the recommended daily requirement for zinc, sperm counts and testosterone levels returned to normal levels within half a year to a year's time.

Little Swimmers

But according to Fouad Habib, Ph.D., from Scotland's University of Edinburgh Medical School where he is a cell biologist, zinc also has an impact on sperm motility. Low levels of zinc make it hard for sperm to move and swim. Once zinc levels are restored to normal, the sperm regain their ability to swim through the woman's reproductive tract toward an egg.

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