A University of Illinois (UI) study published in the Journal of Lipid Research offers hope that omega-3 fatty acids can help many infertile men.
UI scientists came up with this discovery while investigating docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 the body can make from alpha-linolenic acids found in vegetable oils, including soybean and canola oils. DHA is already known to be important for the development of the body’s brain & nervous system. But it turns out DHA also may correct two major causes of male infertility — low sperm counts and abnormally shaped sperm.
“In our experiment, we used ‘knockout’ mice that lacked the gene responsible for an enzyme important in making DHA. 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,” Manabu Nakamura, a UI associate professor of food science and human nutrition, explained in a press statement.
When the research team analyzed the amount, shape, and motility of the animals’ sperm, the mice lacking DHA simply were not able to reproduce. In fact, in the DHA-deficient mice, sperm counts were not only extremely low but the sperm the animals produced were abnormally shaped. Instead of being elongated and able to move quickly, their sperm were round and sluggish.
However, when DHA was introduced into the animals’ diet, the previously infertile mice soon had completely normal sperm and their fertility was totally restored. Bottom line: DHA restored all observed impairment in male reproduction.
“It was very striking. When we fed the mice DHA, all these abnormalities were prevented,” Nakamura said.
While the new research involves animals and not people, it is the first to show a direct link between DHA and male fertility levels. And this association could offer an explanation for previous studies that found male fertility patients with low sperm counts and slow moving sperm tend to have low levels of DHA.
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