For LOW SPERM COUNT, the very safe and effective herb pygeum improves sperm longevity and activity by enhancing seminal fluid quality and boosting healthy prostate secretions, and thus improving male fertility. Low sperm count, also called oligozoospermia, has many potential causes including hormone deficiencies or imbalances. Pygeum can help to reduce the androgen breakdown product of testosterone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which impedes healthy sperm development.
Pygeum africanum is a large evergreen known as the African cherry tree, native to central and southern Africa, which grows to up to 150 feet. For thousands of years, traditional African healers have used the bark for its healing, aphrodisiac qualities and for male health. Historically, the powdered bark was made into a tea. In the 1960s, Europeans began using pygeum bark extract for a variety of men’s disorders. This ancient supplement then caught the attention of healthcare professionals and healers worldwide.
Studies have found that pygeum leads to an increase in the volume and viability of sperm in semen. The medically effective constituents of pygeum bark, according to modern research, are fatty acid molecules called phytosterols. The prime ones are beta-sitosterone, beta-sitosterol, beta-sitosterol-3-o-glucoside, docosan-1-ol, n-docosanol, which appear to boost sperm count. Other active ingredients in the bark of the pygeum tree include triterpenes, fatty acids, and ferulic acid esters of fatty acids.
Pygeum bark phytosterols inhibit the body’s production of the androgen dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a potent breakdown product of testosterone. One key study found that extracts of pygeum partially blocked the action of two enzymes, aromatase and 5-alpha-reductase, that stimulate production of estrogen and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) respectively. Sperm production is greater when these two hormones are lower. Pygeum alone showed much higher efficacy than did nettle root, but nettle root could magnify the benefits of pygeum for blocking the aromatase enzyme.1 Less aromatase means less estrogen in a man’s body, which supports more abundant sperm production.
In baby males, the level of sperm production is predetermined by the actions of androgens during what is termed the ‘masculinization programming window’ prenatally.2 The number of Sertoli cells in the testes is fixed in early development and is one of the main factors in determining sperm count. Sertoli cells are essential for spermatogenesis: They cause germ cells to progress to become spermatozoa, by direct contact and by controlling the environment within the seminiferous tubules. Sertoli cells secrete androgen-binding protein in the tubules, under the influence of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This is in contrast to testicular Leydig cells which produce testosterone in the presence of luteinizing hormone (LH).
Sperm count is a barometer of overall health for men, even beyond fertility. The other indicator of healthy testicular function – testosterone levels in blood – also correlates with a man’s total wellness. In recent decades, both sperm counts and testosterone levels have been declining in men, showing that male health and vitality might also be worsening.3 Therefore, irrespective of fertility concerns, healthy testicular function and high sperm counts are measures of overall health for male populations. There is great incentive to understand the factors that lower sperm counts in men, and to establish whether this trend can be reversed or prevented.
Pygeum bark extract can work in several ways to increase sperm count:
- Pygeum bark inhibits the enzyme 5-alpha reductase so that less DHT, or dihydrotestosterone, is made and it has hormone-balancing effects. DHT, a strong androgen breakdown product of testosterone, impedes sperm development. Less DHT activity allows for better sperm production. Research shows that extract of pygeum helps to block the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase which catalyzes (DHT) release. Sperm production is greater when DHT is lower.
- Pygeum reduces the number of receptor sites where DHT, if it is high in the body, can attach to cells. If DHT is unable to bind to receptors, it cannot act effectively. In a study of men with sexual dysfunction, 18 patients received pygeum extract (200mg daily for 60 days) either alone or with antibiotics. The men receiving pygeum bark extract experienced improved sexual function, and indirectly better sperm counts. Based on these findings, the researchers believe that pygeum can be beneficial to patients with low sperm counts and sexual or reproductive dysfunction.3
- Pygeum bark extract can also improve semen volume and viscosity, via its effect on DHT, and through its action on the development and function of the prostate and seminal vesicles.4 Healthy viscosity of semen allows more sperm to survive for longer.
- Pygeum improves prostate and seminal fluids. The prostate gland secretes fluids to maintain an optimal semen environment to support sperm health for reproduction.
In addition, pygeum supports optimal testosterone levels. A deficiency of testosterone results in low sperm count. Pygeum enhances ample testosterone output, and discourages DHT. Prolonged exposure to the strong androgen dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a breakdown product of testosterone, can damage sperm. Pygeum also reduces testicular inflammation, by inhibiting the types of prostaglandins which trigger inflammation and injure Leydig cells, allowing the testes to make testosterone more efficiently.
Most of the testosterone in men’s blood attaches to two proteins: albumin and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Some testosterone is free, or not attached to proteins. Free testosterone and albumin-bound testosterone are also referred to as bioavailable testosterone. This is the testosterone that is readily used by the body. Testosterone plays an important role in making sperm. The male brain makes special hormones, called gonadotropin-releasing hormones (GnRH) that signal the testes to make more testosterone, which in turn increases a healthy sperm count.
Clinically, we have found that using a blend of complementary herbs provides superior results. In addition to a high dose of pygeum at 650mg, we see with patients that stinging nettle, specifically the root, helps normalize sperm production by preventing sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) from attaching to cells, and by blocking dihydrotestosterone (DHT) from binding to SHBG. Saw palmetto increases both male and female fertility by affecting the balance of free testosterone in the body. Saw palmetto improves sperm count by impeding the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase which produces DHT, and by speeding the removal of DHT. Pollen concentrate has positive effects on the production of semen, by supporting the role of the prostate gland in sperm development. A review of clinical studies noted that “Several clinical experiments show that flower pollen extract preparations may allow for a durable and marked improvement in semen quality and symptom reduction in young men with chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS).”5
Pygeum Bark Extract 500 to 650mg daily total, standardized to at least 45% total sterols, best absorbed between meals, any time of day, or as directed by your healthcare provider.
1. Suter, Andreas, et al. “Improving BPH symptoms and sexual dysfunctions with a saw palmetto preparation? Results from a pilot trial.” Phytotherapy research 27.2 (2013): 218-226.
2. Macleod, D. J., et al. “Androgen action in the masculinization programming window and development of male reproductive organs.” International journal of andrology 33.2 (2010): 279-287.
3. Sharpe, Richard M. “Sperm counts and fertility in men: a rocky road ahead: Science & Society Series on Sex and Science.” EMBO reports 13.5 (2012): 398-403.
4. Cai, L. Q., et al. “Dihydrotestosterone regulation of semen in male pseudohermaphrodites with 5 alpha-reductase-2 deficiency.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 79.2 (1994): 409-414.
5. Cai, Tommaso, et al. “The role of flower pollen extract in managing patients affected by chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome: a comprehensive analysis of all published clinical trials.” BMC urology 17.1 (2017): 32.