December 28, 2021
I've always said that “a fertile person is a healthy person,” meaning generally that if you're fertile with an optimized endocrine system, virility, and libido, it's pretty likely that you're also doing the right things to optimize your healthspan and lifespan.
And while I'll admit that fertility isn't a perfect gauge per se for health and that there are of course other health metrics to take into account, such as HRV, calcium scan scores, or the type of blood tests I list here, there’s definitely a lot to be said for the relationship between overall health and fertility.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, the loss of your ability to reproduce is generally a strong indicator of other health issues, and many clues can be found from infertility and underlying health issues (or vice versa). Infertility can be a warning (for example, poor semen quality has been shown to link to other health problems in men, and hypothyroidism and low thyroid hormone levels can affect many different aspects of menstruation and ovulation). Given this link between reproductive capability and health, there are some concerning trends, not the least of which being plummeting fertility rates and data indicating that natural testosterone levels in men have been dramatically decreasing for nearly 3 decades across the USA and the world at large (with a Hebrew University Study even going on record to say that males will be completely infertile by 2050).
While I have covered many closely related topics including male virility, sex drive, and testosterone, I have yet to devote an entire article to fertility as it relates to both males and females. Fertility is a complex issue, involving both partners and many factors, with the male partner accounting for about half of all infertility cases. In a recent podcast and article with Lauren Berlingeri and Katie Kaps of HigherDOSE, we discussed a number of topics including the clear gender bias in medical research, with only 6% of studies including female-only participant groups and only 12% of animal studies including females at all. For too long, women have carried much of the responsibility (and stigma) when it comes to fertility challenges.
As my intense curiosity continues to lead me to look at things through the lens of body, mind, and spirit optimization, I am interested in spending time focusing on the very beginning (or before the beginning) of life. Recently, I featured Dr. Amin Herati—who specializes in male fertility—as a guest on the podcast, and we had a fascinating conversation. You can listen to that episode here.
In this article, you’ll discover up-to-date research relating to fertility, as well as my top suggestions for ways you can optimize and enhance fertility—including three more widely-accepted practices and three fringe fertility biohacks. Regardless of whether you are actively trying to make babies, maintaining your ability to do so is an important factor in your overall health.
5 Fascinating New Fertility Research Studies
Given the significance, the importance of, and general interest in fertility amongst humans (after all it's how we propagate our own race!), there is a constantly growing body of compelling research to delve into.
The research you’re about to be introduced to represents a glimpse of the latest that science is able to show us when it comes to fertility issues and treatments.
1. Alternative medicine and herbal remedies in the treatment of erectile dysfunction: A systematic review.
Improving and treating erectile function is a topic that has been raised (heh) throughout history, and one I myself have gone to shocking lengths to research. In addition to common methods such as Viagra and Cialis, alternative medicines and herbal remedies have been used and recommended with bold claims and promises but ultimately limited research or evidence.
This specific study was a systematic review of placebo-controlled clinical trials that investigated the use of alternative medicines and herbal remedies in the management of erectile dysfunction (ED). Although after the review, mechanisms of action still remained unclear, the results found that Panax ginseng, Pycnogenol, Prelox, and Tribulus Terrestris have promising evidence as herbal products, alongside L-Arginine as a nutritional supplement for ED.
2. A meta-analysis of erectile dysfunction and alcohol consumption.
The association between alcohol consumption and ED is commonly discussed, and alcohol is often assumed to have negative effects on sexual performance. This particular study looked to further explore that association.
Ultimately, the meta-analysis of 46 studies (including 216,461 participants) indicated that there was a significant association between regular alcohol consumption and ED. The findings suggest alcohol should be taken in moderate quantities, and if taken chronically, could provoke vascular damages.
3. Vitamin E + selenium for improving sperm health in men with asthenozoospermia.
The results showed a statistically significant decrease in sperm apoptosis (cell death), as well as an increase in sperm motility and viability in the non-placebo group. Ultimately, the results suggest that administration of vitamin E and selenium for three months may improve sperm motility and viability in asthenoteratozoospermic infertile men.
4. Do physical activity, sitting time, and body mass index affect fertility over a 15-year period in women? Data from a large population-based cohort study.
This study of Australian women over a 15-year period aimed to identify whether physical activity, sitting time, and body mass index (BMI) affected fertility. A higher BMI had already been known to be positively associated with fertility issues, but this study looked deeper into the less-understood effects physical activity and sitting time have on fertility.
The results from the study indicate that high levels of physical activity were associated with reduced risk of problems with fertility, and higher BMI was positively associated with fertility problems. Overall, sitting time was not associated with fertility problems. Fertility problems are inversely associated with physical activity levels and positively associated with BMI.
5. Association of preconception serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations with live birth and pregnancy loss: A prospective cohort study.
Although vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy is known to be associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes, this particular study aimed to assess the previously unknown association between preconception vitamin D and pregnancy outcomes among women with one to two previous pregnancy losses.
The results of the study showed that increased vitamin D concentrations before conception, but not in early pregnancy, were associated with reduced pregnancy loss. Women who had sufficient preconception vitamin D concentrations were 10 percent more likely to become pregnant and 15 percent more likely to have a live birth, compared to those with insufficient concentrations of the vitamin.
3 Easy, Natural Ways To Increase Fertility
It can be helpful to think of long-term health and vitality through the lens of remaining reproductively useful.
The Kirkwood and Holliday model describes mortality as increasing in direct correlation to decreasing fertility (a drop in hormones, childbearing, and frequency of sex).
According to this model, the more an organism invests in the maintenance of its own biology (such as feeding and physical activity) compared to the propagation of its species (such as mating rituals and reproduction), then the faster aging may actually occur.
It makes logical sense—the more consistently you can send your body and brain the message that you are still a valuable, contributing member of society, particularly when it comes to propagation of your species, the longer nature seems to want to keep you around. Additionally, according to an analysis from the Copenhagen Sperm Analysis Laboratory on the link between semen quality and survival, men with the highest sperm count enjoy a mortality rate 43% lower than men with the lowest counts.
Like any important health topic, there is plenty of potentially conflicting information regarding fertility. When trying to conceive, especially if you are a hard-charging individual, it can be difficult to determine if bike rides or ice baths are hurting your “swimmers, ”or if endurance sports are destroying fertility. In order to be proactive, the three important categories you should carefully consider are supplementation, reduction of exposure to plastics and electronics, and sleep/stress.
Easy Way To Increase Fertility #1: Supplement Wisely
Perhaps the most frequent question I get in regards to fertility and virility is…
….what supplements do you recommend to improve fertility?
And for good reason, since one of the best things that men and women can do to optimize fertility is to eat mindfully. A big factor contributing to infertility is a lack of essential fats as well as a low intake of whole amino acids in the diet.
To optimize fertility, I would start by increasing healthy fat intake. Recommendations I’ve previously made related to nutrition and fertility include:
- Fish oil (6-8g/day): The high omega-3 fatty acid content will help reduce inflammation, as well as help to boost proper hormone production. It will also give you a lot of essential fatty acids that your body needs.
- Vitamin D (2000IU/day): As I highlighted in one of the above recent studies, inadequate vitamin D blood levels have been linked with infertility and with miscarriage
- Whole foods vitamin C (2g/day): Promoting iron absorption and progesterone production, Vitamin C is also really good for fertility.
I would also recommend any of the following to be used regularly:
- Red raspberry leaf: Red raspberry leaf is a well-known fertility herb that has been proven to be a uterine tonic, strengthening the pelvic area, and can also be good for morning sickness.
- Nettle leaf: You'll often find nettle leaf in testosterone-enhancing supplements for men.
- Dandelion: Dandelion is also great for cleansing your body and for detoxing your liver.
- Red clover: Red clover balances hormones and can help to restore fertility.
- Vitex/chaste tree berry: Found in a lot of testosterone boosting supplements for men, vitex/chaste tree berry helps optimize your pituitary gland. In women, it helps to lengthen the luteal phase, as well as lower prolactin and increase progesterone.
- Folate (2000-5000mcg/day): Folate helps with cell division, as well as helps promote ovulation in women, and can help with sperm formation in men. (An important note: not folic acid, but folate.)
- Many of the nutrients above are in Fertility Blend for Men and Fertility Blend for Women, with the exception of ascorbic acid for the vitamin C rather than a whole food source, I’m a fan of the range of ingredients in these blends. If you’re looking for a good way to get a lot of the nutrients described above in one place, these would be a great start.
- Kion Aminos: Leucine, which is an ingredient found in Kion Aminos (and not present in many other amino acid supplements) has been found to increase sperm mobility and may also increase maternal antioxidant capacity and immune function.
- Shellfish or a good zinc supplement, best when combined with a B-vitamin complex.
- Brazil nuts in the shell: This is an important one, particularly for males trying to increase fertility, In addition to selenium, Brazil nuts have very high levels of other minerals such as copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc, which all have roles in fertility.
In summary, poor nutrition plays a huge role when it comes to infertility. Like fertility, nutrition is a highly complex topic and one I’ve spent a lot of time exploring as it’s arguably one of the most influential aspects of your overall health. Supplementing a healthy whole food diet with high-quality vitamins, minerals, and herbs is an important practice when trying to conceive.
Easy Way To Increase Fertility #2: Be Careful With Plastics & Electronics
A key lifestyle factor that is often underestimated when discussing fertility is the nastiness of plastic.
In my podcast entitled “Estrogeneration: How Estrogenics Are Making You Fat, Sick And Infertile,” I talk about how deleterious exposure to endocrine disruptors in plastics, food, and water truly can be for your body—including fertility.
In optimizing for fertility, and health in general, avoid these substances, period:
- BPA (Bisphenol A)
- Found in plastics; can lower testosterone levels significantly and cause erectile dysfunction
- BPS (Bisphenol S)
- Marketed as a ”safer” alternative to BPA found in thermal receipts, plastics, and household dust.
- Has the same negative endocrine effects as BPA
- Found in plastics and cosmetics
- Men having high phthalates in the urine have lower testosterone levels
- Found especially in sun lotions, moisturizers, shampoos, toothpaste, and in other cosmetics as a preservative
- Function as a xenoestrogen in the body elevating estrogen levels in men (and women)
- Triclosan & triclocarban
- Found in antibacterial dilutants, soaps, and hand sanitizers
- Can lower testosterone levels in men by disrupting the biosynthesis of testosterone in Leydig cells
- Benzophenones (BP-1, BP-2 & BP-3)
- Found mainly in sunscreens functioning as UV filters
- Can possibly lower testosterone by antagonizing androgen receptors (in English, blocking the receptor sites) and blocking enzymes converting other androgens to testosterone
One other suggestion from a lifestyle standpoint is to be very cautious when it comes to your everyday electronic devices, such as phones and laptops, which emit high levels of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Research has shown that using a laptop directly in the lap, especially in conjunction with WiFi, is associated with a decrease in sperm count and motility while causing sperm DNA damage. In addition to being disastrous for your fertility and virility, there is an overwhelming amount of independent scientific evidence linking EMFs s with increased risks of cancer, insomnia, depression, and more. I'm not going to get into everything EMF here, but you can listen to this podcast and this podcast, and read this article and this article, to learn more about the effects of EMFs and how you can protect yourself at home and at work.
Easy Way To Increase Fertility #3: Improve Sleep & Reduce Stress
Sleep is yet another critical factor to keep in mind when considering fertility issues.
Deficiency or imbalance when it comes to sleep is one of the top causes for a whole host of problems beyond cognitive function and focus—everything from inflammation to food cravings to depression through to fertility.
I’ve written about sleep extensively in the past, talking about how depriving the body of sleep is synonymous with speeding up the aging process. Sleep, or lack of it, plays a big part in reproductive capacity. For example, what studies have shown is that in women, when you have low melatonin levels and low serotonin levels, you have a shorter luteal phase (time between ovulation and menstruation)—and when you have a shorter luteal phase you’ve got a lower chance of conceiving.
Hand-in-hand with getting quality sleep is limiting the amount of stress in your life. Stress indicates to your body that it is not in a situation where it should be producing offspring because when you're in a state akin to running from a lion, the body wants to down-regulate fertility (your body is not built to bring children into the world in a time of stress).
I know it’s one thing to encourage you to “limit the amount of stress,” but I acknowledge that fertility challenges are a highly stress-inducing issue, even without the added stress many people are currently experiencing. Stress seems to be at an all-time high, and because of its importance, stress management is something I’ve covered thoroughly in the following podcasts and articles, including:
- Why We’re All Chronically Stressed (And How You Can Combat Stress With Food And Supplementation)
- The Single Biggest Contributor To Poor Health And How To Combat It With Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Training.
- The Ultimate Breathwork Ninja Guide: How To Banish Stress & Kiss High Cortisol Goodbye
- Cortisol Decoded: The Myths & Truths About A Hormone Crucial To Your Health & Survival.
- 7 Signs Your Cortisol And Adrenals Are Broken.
- Forest Bathing, Sleep Hacking, Cell Phones & Water: The Underground Guide To Lowering Cortisol When Nothing Else Seems To Be Working.
- Banish Stress and Kiss High Cortisol Goodbye
- Natural Stress Management Techniques You Can Use Today
- The 7 Best Stress-Fighting Weapons That Will Make Your Mind-Body Connection 100% Bulletproof
3 Fringe Biohacks For Increasing Fertility
Now, I acknowledge that the tactics above are probably not anything new to you. However, going back to basics should never be overlooked when you're seeking to improve any specific aspect of your health. This recent article covers what I consider to be the twelve primary principles that I recommend implementing to look good, feel good, have an optimized combination of lifespan and healthspan, and be happy. They include fundamentals such as walking, breathing clean air, eating well, and caring for your spirit and soul, and if you can work those practices into your daily life, you'll reap both general health benefits and improved fertility and virility.
That being said, it wouldn't be an article of mine without a look at fringe virility and fertility biohacks that are worth trying, right? In this podcast with Adam Wenguer—health coach, plant medicine expert, and the founder of Element Health—we talk about how Adam and his wife overcame their fertility challenges, namely, Adam's low sperm count, with unconventional treatments including visualization and CBD. The following three fertility biohacks are three of the top fringe therapies that I recommend if you want to optimize your fertility and virility.
Fringe Fertility Biohack #1: Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca has fairly recently shifted from a fringe biohack to a rather widely practiced protocol in the health industry.
However, as a treatment to improve fertility, ayahuasca is still pretty darn fringe.
So, what is ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew made from the leaves of the Psychotria viridis plant and the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine. It may also contain other ingredients. The word “ayahuasca” originates from the Quechua language, with aya meaning soul or ancestors, and wasca (huasca) meaning vine or rope. Most people translate ayahuasca as “vine of the soul.” The brew has been used for medical and spiritual healing in regions of the Amazon for thousands of years. It induces what has been described as “introspective dream-like experience” that includes visions and memories. Often, ingesting ayahuasca will lead to vomiting which is considered a cleansing type of purge. Today, people from all over the world travel to the Amazon to participate in ayahuasca rituals.
Ayahuasca may have beneficial effects on mood, with reduced anxiety, depression, and psychiatric symptoms found in initial studies such as this one from the journal Psychiatry. The effects may even be lasting—while more research is needed, studies have found that the reduction in depressive and psychopathological symptoms was still present six months after participating in an ayahuasca ceremony.
Considering the potential of ayahuasca to improve general health and mood, it stands to reason that the brew could have beneficial effects on fertility and virility. In that podcast with Adam Wenguer that I referenced above, we also get into the specifics of the relationship between ayahuasca and fertility. Preliminary studies have found that rats chronically exposed to ayahuasca had a higher testosterone level compared to controls. There are also many personal accounts by individuals who say that ayahuasca led to conception, though those stories remain anecdotal (you can read plenty online if you Google “ayahuasca fertility blog”).
What Adam also points out during the podcast is that ayahuasca may improve fertility by strengthening the spiritual connection. Stress reduction, as I've already covered, is an important component of healthy fertility. Ayahuasca may reduce stress and allow for greater faith in the universe or a higher power, which may result in improved psychological and physical well-being on many levels.
To learn more about ayahuasca, check out my podcast Ayahuasca 101: Everything You Need To Know About This Potent Adaptogenic Drink. Adam also told me about the book Ayahuasca Wisdom by Jules Henry Richards, which I highly recommend if you want to understand plant medicine and spiritual healing from a scientific approach.
Fringe Fertility Biohack #2: Icing Your Balls
Yep, you read that correctly.
Now, this fertility biohack only applies to you menfolk out there, of course. But if you are a woman trying to conceive with a male partner, this information is worth passing on.
You probably already know that I'm an avid cold plunger—and for good reason. Cryotherapy is one of the most effective biohacks out there for improving your health. When you are subject to dramatic cold, there's a flood of norepinephrine (the hormone and neurotransmitter that affects alertness, mood, etc.) released into the bloodstream. Cold therapy also reduces inflammation, boosts immunity, improves performance, can help with fat loss, anti-aging, and more. Convinced yet that you should crank that shower dial down? The benefits of cold therapy also appear to extend to fertility and virility, and there are specific benefits to applying the cold right to those male parts. (You can learn more about cryotherapy in this article and on this podcast, learn how to make your own ice bath here, and search here for plenty more.)
Icing your balls can help improve male fertility and also counteract previously heat-damaged sperm and can improve function, according to research. That's why, if you're a man with balls, you should avoid tight-fitting pants and any sort of heat to the genital area at all costs (more on that in the next section on infrared light). Keeping your testes nice and cool and away from the body is the best plan of action to help produce healthy sperm.
Icing the area for anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes a day can further help with increasing sperm count by up to approximately 100 percent—yes, 100 freaking percent. This is because sperm thrive in lower temperatures, so this can help basically totally reverse any previous damage done to the testes area and get your fertility back up where it should be for healthy sperm production.
I've actually talked about this oft-forgotten fertility biohack quite a bit, in this recent article and also in this recent podcast with Dr. Amin Herati where we go super in-depth on male fertility and his ultimate guide to increasing it. There's even a video in the article that shows you how to ice effectively (don't worry, it's still at most a PG-13 rating). Bottom line, creating an optimal environment for sperm production—in this case, a very cool environment—is a quick, convenient, inexpensive (even free), and painless (you can handle it a little chill, right?) fertility biohack.
If you're interested in getting your hands (or balls) on some top-shelf products, you can try Snowballs Cooling and Fertility Underwear for men which is definitely one of—if not the best—underwear out there with a built-in cooling underwear. If you want to keep wearing your own favorite underwear, check out the Underdog Male Fertility Cooling Kit. You literally just sit on it and it keeps your balls nice and cool while working, watching the game, or doing anything else. Lastly, to hear me in-depth about cold therapy and how it effectively works, you'll want to check out my podcast with Jason Stauffer and Adrienne Jezick, who are the masterminds behind Morozko Forge—the only ice bath in the world that can maintain freezing cold temperatures lower than any ice bath that exists. Pretty “cool,” huh?
Fringe Fertility Biohack #3: Infrared Light
Infrared light therapy is a biohack that I have been avidly practicing for years now…
…and while I personally have not needed to use infrared light as a fertility biohack, I rely on it for optimal virility.
I go in deep on my personal red light therapy routine in this recent article. Males are actually the cause of around 30 percent of infertile couples, with a combination of male and female factors accounting for another 20 percent on top of that. That's quite a bit! So with that being said, light therapy has been actively studied in regards to sperm health and fertility in males to try and combat that aforementioned 30 percent.
Studies have shown that after just one infrared light therapy session, sperm motility (swim speed) improved significantly. This is important due to the fact that without sufficient swim speed, there's no way the swimmer will even make it to the female's egg and fertilize it. Additionally, not only does an infrared light therapy session help the swim speed, but it also produces more of them.
It's also worth noting that every cell in our body has mitochondria, which is the main target for infrared light, and that includes Sertoli cells. The Sertoli cells are the sperm-producing cells of the testes, so the proper functioning of these cells is essential for male fertility, including sperm counts. Also, fair warning, avoid heat at all costs during infrared light therapy. Any source of prolonged heat on the testes area causes the sperm to die off, so if you're going to use infrared light therapy on that area, make sure there's absolutely no heat involved.
And, lastly, if you're interested in going the red light therapy route, I highly recommend Joovv, which has been my go-to brand for the absolute best infrared therapy. There's seriously nothing better than just letting the red light rays rain all over you (as seen in this photo here—I'm clearly enjoying myself) and I've also found there to be significant, ahem, performance benefits in the bedroom with red light application targeted to my nether region.
Although there are many pieces to the fertility puzzle…
..taking a comprehensive approach that considers both general quality-of-life improvements and the latest science and alternative treatments will yield the most effective results.
And, as research on fertility and virility is constantly evolving, keeping yourself educated on what's new may offer answers to infertility that were not available prior to the latest findings. Here's a recap of the five new studies outlined in this article:
- Alternative medicine and herbal remedies in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Panax ginseng, Pycnogenol, Prelox, and Tribulus Terrestris have promising evidence as herbal products, alongside L-arginine as a nutritional supplement, for ED.
- Erectile dysfunction and alcohol consumption. Alcohol should be taken in moderate quantities—if taken chronically, it could provoke vascular damage.
- Vitamin E + selenium for improving sperm health. Administration of vitamin E and selenium for three months may improve sperm motility and viability.
- Do physical activity, sitting time, and body mass index affect fertility over a 15-year period in women? Fertility problems are inversely associated with physical activity levels and positively associated with BMI—improving physical activity levels could be an affordable strategy to reduce problems with fertility in women who are trying to conceive.
- Association of preconception serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations with live birth and pregnancy loss. Sufficient preconception 25-hydroxyvitamin D (≥75 nmol/L) was associated with an increased likelihood of pregnancy and live birth. Increased vitamin D concentrations before conception, but not in early pregnancy, were associated with reduced pregnancy loss.
Infertility is a widespread problem that is unfortunately on the rise. However, there are plenty of ways that you can improve your fertility and your virility if you are trying to conceive. And keep in mind that even if you're not trying to conceive, considering your general health in the context of your reproductive health may be a helpful framework. Here, again, are the six fertility-optimizing practices and hacks that I covered earlier:
- Supplement wisely. There are a number of vitamins, minerals, and herbs that have been proven to improve fertility and virility, including fish oil, aminos, vitamin D, and more, that can be taken in conjunction with a healthy diet.
- Be careful with plastics and electronics. Avoid or reduce exposure to toxic substances (such as BPA, phthalates, and parabens) and EMFs.
- Improve sleep and reduce stress. Prioritize good quality sleep and do what you can to minimize stress in your life.
- Try ayahuasca. If you're interested in plant medicine, and trying to conceive, it's definitely worth looking into attending an ayahuasca ceremony. Just be sure to find a legitimate ayahuasca retreat led by a doctor or an indigenous shaman.
- Ice your balls. For you menfolk, a simple application of ice to the nether regions may have highly beneficial effects to your virility and fertility.
- Do infrared therapy. Full-body infrared sessions along with therapies targeted to your reproductive anatomy have been shown to improve virility and sperm counts. I recommend Joovv devices.
If you are actively trying to get pregnant, it can be an overwhelming and stressful time. In addition to the basic factors we discussed here, equip yourself with research-backed information and look into a good fertility doctor who can help you and your partner implement the information. And keep in mind that even if you're not looking to conceive, your fertility and virility are a measure of your general health, so thinking in terms of your reproductive prowess is a good strategy for optimizing your healthspan and lifespan.
Finally, I'll leave you with two more recommendations for improving your fertility. The Dadi Kit by Dr. Amin Herati is the leading at-home male fertility services company for sperm testing and storage, which I highly recommend. I also suggest taking a look at Legacy fertility tests, which provide you with both a personal and clinical fertility report. Legacy also has male fertility supplements that may help fill the gaps in healthy sperm production and overall male fertility, in addition to providing world-class cryostorage.
Where are you on your fertility journey? Is a family in your future, or have you been there/done that? If you've faced fertility challenges, what did and did not work? I'd also like to hear your thoughts on virility, because, let's be honest, that's a pretty interesting topic. Leave your questions and comments below. I read them all.