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Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency linked to low sperm count, male infertility

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
DHA may be important for male fertility, found in mouse studies

Men who want their sperm to be healthy ‘super-swimmers’ might consider adding nutritional DHA to the diet that comes from fish including salmon and tuna. A new study shows the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) is essential for male fertility.

The finding comes from mouse studies that were unable to breed when they lacked DHA. According to the finding, deficiency the omega-3 fatty acid was linked to low sperm count. The finding suggests deficiency in the omega-3 fatty acid is linked to make infertility.

According to Manuel Roqueta-Rivera, a Univeristy of Illinois at Ubana-Champaign doctoral student who worked on the study, “…the mice lacking DHA simply were not able to breed." They also had sperm that didn’t move well with rounded, versus elongated tails needed for motility.

DHA is important for several bodily functions. Our bodies make small amounts, but the rest comes from diet or supplements. Fish oil contains DHA. Other dietary sources include algae and vegetable, soybean and canola oils.

When the researchers gave the mice DHA, fertility was completely restored. The researchers used a specially bred knock-out mouse model that lacks a gene as part of their efforts to study omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid deficiency and its impact on the body.

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“In the absence of DHA, male mice are basically infertile, producing few if any misshaped sperm that can't get where they need to go," said Manabu Nakamura, a U of I associate professor of food science and human nutrition.

The researchers plan to do more studies involving omega-3 fatty acids and why they’re important. Nakamura says “…we're still at the starting point in understanding the mechanisms that are involved, and we need to do more research at the cellular level."

The mouse study, published in the current issue of "Biology of Reproduction", links DHA deficiency with low quality and low sperm count that could translate to infertility in men. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to benefit heart health. The newest study suggests they might also be important for male fertility.

Biology of Reproduction: 10.1095/​biolreprod.110.089524
"Deficiency in the Omega-3 Fatty Acid Pathway Results in Failure of Acrosome Biogenesis in Mice"
Manabu T. Nakamura et al.
October, 2011

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