Quest Vitamins LTD,
Male Reproductive System
The purpose of the sex organs is the reproduction of the human race and for this to be possible the male’s reproductive system must be able to make sex cells (sperm) and place them inside the female. The reproductive organs of the male allow it to do this effectively if good health is maintained (1).
The testes are the site of sperm and androgen production and are contained within the scrotum (2). The scrotum is outside the body which means that the testes are kept a few degrees cooler than normal body temperature; this is needed for proper sperm development. The sperm are not quite fully developed when they leave the testes, they move into long tubes called the epididymus where they mature. When a male is sexually aroused muscle contractions propel the sperm down a tube (the vas deferens) through ejaculatory ducts into the urethra. Along the way protein-rich secretions are added to the sperm: the result is a thick liquid called semen which is expelled from the penis (3).
During puberty energy requirements are high, and it is a good idea to try and take in a lot of energy dense foods, as well as a balanced diet containing all of the nutrients required for growth and development. Teenagers can be notoriously apathetic at the thought of a healthy diet and it may therefore be beneficial to take a multinutrient supplement to safeguard against any serious shortfall in the diet. While a supplement will not take the place of a good diet it is worth thinking about taking a multinutrient supplement as a type of insurance at this important time.
Infertility can be a deeply upsetting and worrying condition. It refers to the inability to reproduce i.e. the sperm are unable to fertilise the egg. Reasons for this may be psychological or physical but nutritional factors can also influence fertility and in particular sperm health and quality.
To maintain fertility it may be a good idea to make sure enough Vitamin C and other antioxidant nutrients are consumed. Sperm are particularly susceptable to oxidative damage, and it has been noted that high levels of free radicals are present in around 40% of infertile men (4). It can be particularly important for smokers to think about increasing their intake of Antioxidants because cigarette Smoking is often associated with low sperm counts and low sperm motility (5).
Vitamin C is also thought to be helpful because it has a role in reducing the process of sperm agglutination (clumping together). As sperm agglutinate a man can become less able to impregnate a woman. Several studies have compared the role of vitamin C in the treatment of male infertility very favourably with drug treatments (6).
Certain types of fat are thought to have a role in sperm agglutination. It is advisable for men who have infertility problems to take particular care to avoid saturated fats in the diet and it may be beneficial to increase levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids. These oils are thought to have a function in all aspects of sexual function, including the formation of sperm (4).
Perhaps one of the most important nutritional factors that men who wish to maintain their fertility should consider, is Zinc (7). Zinc is found in whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. It is thought that because zinc is found at such high levels in the testes a deficiency can lead to a depletion of testosterone and inhibit sperm formation. Zinc is also thought to extend the life-span of ejaculated sperm (8). Zinc supplements of up to 15mg per day may be worth considering.
A deficiency of the amino acid arginine may have an adverse effect on the health of sperm. This is due to the fact that arginine is essential for cell replication making it very important in the formation of sperm (4). One study found that supplementation with L-arginine improved the sperm counts of three quarters of 178 men with low numbers of active sperm (6). Other nutrients which are involved in cell replication may also be useful for some men who have fertility problems; one such nutrient which has been studied is vitamin B12. It has been suggested that a B12 deficiency could lead to reduced sperm counts and reduced sperm motility (4).
Another dietary factor which can influence fertility is alcohol consumption. High alcohol intakes or prolonged abuse can lead to impaired fertility and also lead to a loss of libido (9).
All of the nutrients already mentioned can be useful, especially Zinc and L-arginine, but other supplements can also be helpful. It is thought that Impotence is sometimes due to poor blood flow to erectile tissue and therefore attempting to improve circulation through supplementation can be a good idea. Studies have shown that the herb Ginkgo biloba, which has traditionally been taken in circulatory disorders, may help some men to regain potency (10).
A Male Menopause?
1. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, G.J. Tortora, S.R. Grabowski, Harper Collins, 8th edn. 1996