Sperm counts among men living in Western countries have decreased by about 60% over the last 40 years, according to a major review of recent fertility studies. More couples than ever are dealing with male factor infertility. Could taurine be the answer to declining sperm quality?
If you’ve given any thought to taurine, chances are that it was while you were reading the ingredients on the side of an energy drink can. If so, you’re not alone. Many people don’t realize that taurine is a naturally occurring substance that our body synthesizes on a regular basis. Researchers have known for a while that there is a relationship between taurine and male reproductive health but a recent study has given us new insights into just how important that relationship is. So what does that mean for you as you try to conceive? Learn more about taurine and the effects it has on your male factor infertility below.
What is taurine?
Taurine is an amino acid that can be found naturally in your muscles, certain organs, blood platelets, and nervous system. It plays an important role in hormone metabolism as well as the development of the brain and eyes. Taurine is an antioxidant, meaning that it helps liver function and promotes body detoxification. Some of taurine’s other major functions include:
- Aiding digestion by creating bile salts
- Protecting cell walls and essential fatty acids from oxidation
- Supporting eye function and the central nervous system
- Regulating minerals within cells
Unaided, the human body is able to produce the minimal amount of taurine needed for these vital functions. The liver can also produce a limited amount of taurine from the L-methionine and L-cysteine found in many protein-rich foods. However, some people may require a higher amount of taurine than their bodies can naturally produce. Fortunately for many people, eating foods with high taurine levels may be enough to counteract this deficiency.
How does taurine affect sperm?
Sperm cells are specially adapted to survive their trip through the vagina, cervix, and uterus to reach and fertilize an egg. Their shape and structure allow them to survive the difficult journey to make it to their goal. We knew that the sperm cell’s specialized design helps keep it alive throughout the environmental changes that it experiences, though the mechanisms behind that design were only partially understood.
The idea of a relationship between taurine and sperm quality is nothing new. Taurine is present in the sperm and seminal fluid of many species. It has long been thought to play an important role in sperm motility and morphology for both natural and assisted reproduction. Sperm motility is the ability of sperm cells to move through the female reproductive tract. Morphology refers to the size and shape of the sperm. Furthermore, low taurine rates in sperm have been found to be accurate indicators of male factor infertility.
So how do sperm cells get their taurine content? Mature sperm cells can’t create proteins on their own, so the cells must absorb taurine as they pass through the male genital tract. The 2018 study made a breakthrough in determining the importance of taurine in the ability of sperm to survive the fertilization process. This discovery helped researchers understand how sperm are able to maintain their shape and function throughout the fertilization process. The next step was to look further into why taurine plays such an active role in sperm cell health and male factor infertility.
The research found a significant relationship between fertile sperm movement and the concentration of taurine found in semen. A higher taurine concentration was an accurate indicator of higher sperm motility. Taurine was also associated with an increase in sperm vitality and concentration. The researchers attributed this to the taurine’s ability to help sperm cells hold their shape while traveling through changing environments.
Cells are able to sense and compensate for changes in their environment, such as changes in oxygen levels and pressure. The membrane of a cell isn’t watertight, so this means that cells can take in and release small amounts of water through a process called osmosis. Cells are made up of mostly water, so a change in water volume due to osmosis can change the overall shape of a cell. The study found that taurine levels in sperm cells were able to change with the environment to balance the changes in cell volume caused by osmosis.
The taurine that sperm cells absorb while passing through the male genital tract helps them maintain their shape and vitality. The study found that sperm cells with a taurine deficiency were nearly twice as likely to have morphology problems leading to male factor infertility , such as wrongly-angled tails, when placed in an environment similar to that of a uterus. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that increased taurine levels in sperm actually served to correct many defects in sperm shape.
Taurine and Age-Related Infertility
These findings can be especially beneficial for men over the age of 35 that are trying to conceive. As you age, your sperm count—the concentration of sperm cells found in your semen—will start to drop. There are steps that you can take, including diet and lifestyle changes, to increase your sperm count and quality. According to this new research, increasing the amount of taurine in your diet is one way to increase fertility by improving overall sperm health. The study found that taurine production started to significantly decline with age. This means that adding taurine to your diet may be even more important, and beneficial, as you get older. Increased taurine intake was shown to effectively counteract any age-related decline in sperm quality.
Taurine and IVF
In a study on the effects of taurine on sperm characteristics during In vitro storage, researchers found that sperm that was treated with taurine displayed significantly higher sperm motility, viability, and overall survival rates than sperm with taurine deficiencies. This, again, is due to taurine’s ability to strengthen the integrity of the sperm membrane throughout environmental changes.
In addition, taurine helps protect sperm from damage caused by oxidation that could cause defects in sperm shape, motility, and fertilization potential. This is especially important during IVF when sperm cells are more susceptible to the harmful effects of oxidation.
How can you add taurine to your diet?
Taurine is most commonly found in foods that contain meat, fish, and dairy. An average diet with no restrictions can provide anywhere from 40-400 mg of taurine each day. Adding taurine-rich foods to your diet is an easy and effective way to raise your body’s taurine levels. Here’s a list of foods that contain high taurine content:
- Raw scallops, mussels, and clams
- Octopus and squid
- Turkey and chicken dark meat
- Whitefish and tuna
- Cured bologna and salami
- Pork loin and baked ham
If you are vegan or vegetarian, don’t let the above list discourage you. You may not get much taurine from the food that you eat, but there are synthetic taurine supplements available that are not derived from animals. Talk with your doctor before adding any supplements to your diet, especially when you’re trying to conceive.
While it is true that some energy drinks can contain up to 1,000 mg of taurine per 8-ounce serving, don’t rush off to buy a case of energy drinks just yet. Yes, taurine is great for you, but there are many other ingredients present in energy drinks that may cause more harm than good. Some of these include herbal stimulants and high amounts of caffeine and sugar.
Can adding taurine to your diet actually help you conceive?
Taurine has been shown to have a positive impact on sperm health and male fertility. It functions to increase overall sperm quality, including sperm count, motility, and shape. If you’re trying to conceive, knowing more about your sperm health can be an important step in your fertility journey. If you and your partner are dealing with male factor infertility caused by sperm quality or count, adding taurine to your diet could help you conceive faster.