Sunlight may be good for male as well as female fertility according to new research. Vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin - may be one of the most under-rated male fertility vitamins and one of the most deficient in men trying to conceive.
In a 2006 study (1) vitamin D receptors were first discovered in the head, nucleus and mid-pieces of human sperm pin-pointing vitamin Dís integral role in sperm health.
In the light of multiple studies confirming that most of us are vitamin D deficient - and that vitamin D receptors are replete in sperm - restoring optimal vitamin D levels could have a profound effect upon male-factor infertility.
An Australian study (2) led by Dr. Ann Clark assessed the vitamin D levels of 794 men visiting an infertility clinic in Sydney, and showed that over one third were deficient. The men with vitamin D deficiency were also found to be more likely to be deficient in folic acid - also important for male fertility - and to have higher levels of homocysteine.
Vitamin D is produced within the body in response to sunlight - providing that you are not coated in sun-screen - and has previously been shown to be important for female fertility, IVF success and a healthy full-term pregnancy.
Dietary sources are limited and are predominantly from oily fish, eggs - if the chickens were outside - butter, hard cheeses and milk. Sunshine - without sunscreen - is the most reliable source.
A group of 123 of the vitamin D deficient men in the Australian study were followed for 3 months as they took vitamin D containing multivitamin supplements, antioxidants and lost weight. Follow-up tests showed improvements in sperm morphology and a 75% drop in sperm DNA fragmentation. In a quarter of these men (31) pregnancy was successful.
Over 40 pregnancies were achieved in total - over half were conceived naturally or using low-tech reproductive medicine such as IUI, and miscarriage rates were unusually low (6%) pointing to a possible role for vitamin D in miscarriage prevention.
Dr Ann Clark, who led the study remarked that:
"Vitamin D and folate deficiency are known to be associated with infertility in women, but the outcomes of the screening among men in our study group came as a complete surprise. Men in the study group who agreed to make lifestyle changes and take dietary supplements had surprisingly good fertility outcomes."
A study (3) seeking to clarify to role of vitamin D in human sperm confirmed the presence of vitamin D receptors (VDR) in sperm and concluded that:
"Our data extended the role of 1,25(OH)2D3 beyond its conventional physiological actions, paving the way for novel therapeutic opportunities in the treatment of the male reproduction disorders."
A further Italian study (4) has shown that vitamin D status may be an important determinant of sperm capacitation - necessary for the sperm to penetrate the egg - and how well sperm freezes, the study concluded that vitamin D concentrations may have an:
"...important role in sperm survival and the acquisition of fertilizing ability."
Vitamin D is best replaced with a vitamin D3 supplement. Ask to have your levels checked with a 25-hydroxy-vitamin D test also called a 25 OHD test to see if you need a vitamin D boost to speed conception. The vitamin D reference range is very wide and it is thought to be ideal to have your levels be in mid-range rather that in the lower part. Vitamin D3 supplements are thought to be very safe and although the RDA for many years has been 400 IU a day recent studies have given pregnant women 4,000 IU a day with no side-effects of safety concerns.
This article is purely for informational and educational purposes only and is NOT intended to substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment for which you should consult a physician.
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2. Fertility Society of Australia conference in Brisbane - paper presented by D. Clark - research was part of a doctoral study by University of Sydney student Laura Thomson. News.com.au Oct 19 2008
1. Urology 2006 Dec;68(6):1345-9. Vitamin D receptor found in human sperm. Corbett ST, Hill O, Nangia AK.
3. Reprod Biol Endocrinol 2009 Nov 30;7:140. Human male gamete endocrinology: 1alpha, 25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25(OH)2D3) regulates different aspects of 4. human sperm biology and metabolism. Aquila S. et al.
J Anat 2008 Nov;213(5):555-64. Human sperm anatomy: ultrastructural localization of 1alpha,25-dihydroxyvitamin D receptor and its possible role in the human male gamete. Aquila S et al.