Zinc and selenium are metallic elements that are essential for good health. Your body only needs small amounts of these nutrients. They are considered microminerals or trace elements by nutritionists, but significant health problems can arise in association with deficiencies of either zinc or selenium. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, both zinc and selenium participate in a variety of important processes in your cells. Both are instrumental in preventing oxidative tissue damage and both are important in spermatogenesis and male fertility. Ask your doctor if mineral supplements are appropriate for you.
Spermatogenesis is the process of sperm cell development. It involves the division and maturation of primitive testicular cells called spermatogonia, with the ultimate production of active spermatozoa that are capable of fertilizing an egg, or ovum. During this process, the number of chromosomes in your sperm cells must be reduced by half, as both the sperm and ovum contribute one-half of the total complement of chromosomes following fertilization. During spermatogenesis, your sperm cells are susceptible to oxidative damage, which reduces their viability.
Dr. Elson Haas, author of “Staying Healthy With Nutrition,” reports that zinc is a constituent of superoxide dismutase, an enzyme that protects your cells from damage caused by free radicals. Similarly, selenium serves in a group of antioxidant compounds called selenoproteins, many of which prevent the oxidative degradation of your cells' membranes and other important components. Sperm cells are metabolically active and generate large numbers of free radicals during their development. Zinc- and selenium-dependent enzyme systems help neutralize these free radicals.
Both zinc and selenium have been shown to reduce oxidative stress in developing sperm, thereby improving sperm quality. A study published in the February 2009 issue of “Nutrition Research” showed that low zinc levels in semen correlated with lower sperm counts and a higher degree of abnormal sperm morphology – size, shape, tail length and other characteristics. Likewise, the January 2011 edition of the “International Journal of General Medicine” reported that selenium in a daily dose of 200 mcg improved sperm morphology and motility and boosted spontaneous pregnancy rates among partners of infertile men.
Zinc and selenium exert beneficial effects on spermatogenesis. Supplementation with these two nutrients has been shown to improve sperm quality in clinical studies. Supplementation should be undertaken with care, however; large doses of selenium can be toxic, and overuse of zinc can lead to malabsorption of other nutrients, such as copper. Dr. Haas recommends at least 15 to 30 mg of zinc daily for maintenance needs, and up to 150 mg daily for treating zinc deficiency. Selenium doses of 200 to 400 mcg daily are sufficient for most purposes. Vitamin E in doses of 400 to 800 IU daily improves selenium’s functions. Ask your doctor about the best dosages for you.
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Zinc
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Selenium
- “Staying Healthy with Nutrition”; Elson M. Haas, M.D.; 2006
- “Nutrition Research”; Zinc Levels in Seminal Plasma Are Associated Infertile in Infertile Men; A.H. Colagar, et al.; February 2009
- “International Journal of General Medicine”; Selenium-Vitamin E Supplementation in Infertile Men: Effects on Semen Parameters and Pregnancy Rate; M.K. Moslemi, S. Tavanbakhsh; January 2011