Infertile Men May Get Help from Omega-3


Omega-3 fatty acids are often touted as helping reduce cholesterol, relieve symptoms of arthritis, lower the risk of macular degeneration, treat symptoms of depression, and other benefits. Now it is possible that infertile men may get a boost from omega-3s.

Investigators at the University of Illinois identified the omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as playing a role in male fertility. They arrived at this conclusion by conducting an experiment in which they used mice that lacked the gene necessary for an enzyme (delta-6-desaturase) needed to make DHA. Without DHA, the mice produced a few sperm, but they were abnormal and ineffective, rendering the mice unable to breed.

When the scientists added DHA to the diet, however, fertility was restored in the previously DHA-deficient mice. This study was the first to show the importance of DHA to male fertility in such a direct manner. Some previous studies have indicated that men who have low sperm counts and less active sperm also have low levels of omega-3.


Causes of male infertility include an absence of sperm in the seminal fluid, which can be caused by a blockage or an inability to form sperm; low sperm motility, which means the sperm do not “swim” properly to reach an egg; low sperm count; and presence of abnormal sperm. Although all men have abnormal sperm—as much as 70 percent of sperm may be affected--when the percentage is higher infertility is more likely.

Manabu Nakamura, associate professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, noted that the body makes DHA from dietary alpha-linolenic acids. Dietary sources of alpha-linolenic acid include vegetables oils, such as soybean, flaxseed, and canola oils, as well as English walnuts. DHA is also available from certain coldwater fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, and sardines.

Nakamura emphasized that he and his team plan to continue research into this omega-3’s effects on male fertility. “We’re still at the starting point in understanding the mechanisms that are involved,” he said, “and we need to do more research at the cellular level.”

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign