Talk to anyone who's been on this earth longer than 30 years or so and you might hear them occasionally say something along the lines of how "they just don't make 'em like they used to."
It's of course a statement about how things made today supposedly aren't made as well as they once were and it could be referring to cars, music, pizza, toaster ovens, underpants, cheese danishes, toilet seats, hell, just about anything you can imagine.
You don't, however, generally hear the phrase applied to human anatomy, but I'm profoundly sorry to tell you that it also seems to apply to your testicles.
Statistically, your balls aren't what they used to be. They're producing fewer sperm, less spunk, and less testosterone than your daddy's balls, your granddaddy's balls, and presumably his daddy's balls, too.
Consider first, your semen. In 1992, Carlsen et al. reported a global decline in semen quality (i.e., fertility) between 1938 and 1990 and there's no sign of abatement.
Other studies have likewise found that sperm counts in general are sinking and that the average levels of testosterone have also dropped precipitously, with one study (Travison et al.) finding that the average 60-year-old American man in 2004 had testosterone levels 17% lower than a 60-year-old man in 1987.
While there aren't as many studies pertaining to the topic of testicle shrinkage, a 2006 paper (Main et al.) described how Danes in particular had much smaller testicles than those of nearby Finns, possibly because of some unknown environmental factor or factors, as well as lifestyle or behavioral changes.
Maybe all of it's related to environment and the health of our balls parallels the current health of our planet. Arctic sea ice is diminishing and so are our sperm, semen, and testosterone levels. The glaciers are shrinking and so are our balls.
If so, it begs the question, where's our testicular Greta Thunberg to save us, huh? Where's our elfin Swedish gonad activist?
Ah, maybe we don't need one because we already have something to help us, something in the form of a clear, amber capsule: fish oil.
Where No Man Has Gone Before, Testicle-Wise
Many of us routinely use fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids in general to reduce inflammation, which is insidiously and intimately connected with at least 100 of the greatest plagues of mankind, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's, and any rotten autoimmune disorder known to science.
However, it seems no one has studied the association of omega-3 fatty acids with semen quality and reproductive hormone levels in healthy young men... until now.
Danish scientists, perhaps still smarting from that other study that found that their male population had smaller testicles than their Finnish counterparts, undertook a study of 1679 young Danish men and found some pretty startling associations between fish oil intake and various male reproductive metrics.
What They Did
All 1679 men in the study were between 18.7 and 19.4 years old. Ninety-eight of them (5.8%) reported using fish oil supplements in the preceding three months, of whom 53 (54.1%) reported taking it for 60 or more consecutive days.
All were required to complete an extensive questionnaire on health, lifestyle, and diet. All were asked to list whatever vitamins or supplements they were taking.
Technicians measured the subjects' testis using ultrasound. Waist and hip circumference were measured, as were height and weight, which were used to establish BMI. Semen samples were obtained the humiliating old fashioned way and were subjected to sperm quality and quantity assessment.
Lastly, fasting blood samples were taken to assess levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), and free testosterone levels.
What They Found
The men who used fish oil supplements had larger testicles, greater semen volume, and higher sperm counts compared to those that didn't use fish oil supplements.
The fish oil group also had lower LH levels, higher free testosterone (8%), and a lower free testosterone to LH ratio than non-users.
The results were also dose-dependent, with those having used fish oil supplements for longer than 60 days showing greater improvement than those who took omega-3 supplementation for fewer than 60 days.
How it all works, they're not exactly sure. Part of the effects probably had to do with how fish oil might be associated with increased FSH sensitivity of the Sertoli cells, which are the "nurse cells" of the testicles that aid in the production of sperm.
They also theorized that the "lower LH levels and higher free testosterone to LH ratio indicates a better Leydig cell capacity in line with a positive association with fish oil supplement intake."
Another benefit is apparently just structural, but nonetheless important. The sperm membrane is made up of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) but primarily DHA, one of the two main omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. By adding more DHA, courtesy of the fish oils, you're like a stonemason slapping on mortar to thicken the wall they're building.
As a result, you get increased sperm motility and concentration, along with a lot more sperm that aren't gimpy (which is a major cause of male infertility).
While reading these results, I couldn't help wonder about fish consumption in Denmark. Were it not for one, short, shared border with Germany, Denmark would be an island. It's got over 4,500 miles of coastline. Compare that with California, which has only 840 miles.
Given all that water, water, everywhere, you'd think Danes would be consuming a lot of fish and have big, Viking balls that weigh down their eventual ascent to Valhalla.
But if that were true, why would a little extra fish oil have such a dramatic effect on their reproductive health? Aren't they getting all the omega-3s they need through fish?
So I did a little extra sleuthing. You know that study I mentioned in the beginning of this article, the one where Finns were reported to have bigger testicles than Danes? Well, I checked out the per capita fish consumption of both countries. Finland is one of the top fish-consuming nations in the world with an average consumption of 36.1 kilograms per person.
Denmark's consumption was far below that – just 22.1 kilograms per person. The Danes seem to prefer eating pork, whether it's in the form of ham, bacon, meatballs, pork chops, or sausage. There are, after all, a lot of pigs in Denmark (2.5 for every person).
So add that confirmational bit of data to the apparent link between fish oils and testicular health. (If this were a TV lawyer show, right about now is when I, the simple country lawyer, slipped my fingers beneath my suspenders, snuck a wink at the jury, and sauntered back to the counsel table, confident that I'd won the case of the diminishing testicles.)
How to Use This Info
The association between fish oil or, more specifically, omega-3 fatty acids, seems clear: Supplementing with fish oil capsules can lead to better reproductive health – higher testosterone levels, bigger, more robust testicles, and an increase in quantity and quality of sperm, not to mention all the other good things associated with fish oil.
You can always go the whole-food route, but bear in mind it's hard to get an adequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids from whole fish. Consider that you'd have to eat about 6 ounces of wild salmon to approximate the amount of EFA's in one serving of Biotest's Flameout® (3,000 mg.)
That's fine, but it might be challenging to your taste buds and to your wallet to eat that much wild salmon every day, if you can even find it on a regular basis.
Alternately, you could go the chunk light tuna route, but then you'd really have to work at it; you'd have to eat almost 19 three-ounce cans to equal the amount in one serving of Flameout.
Lastly, you could take the fish oil supplements you find from the local pharmacy or big box store, but they're almost always plagued with shortcomings. For one, they're terribly under-dosed; you'd need to take several of them to equal just one capsule of Flameout®. Two, they're generally not manufactured under the best of circumstances.
Flameout, however, has been purified by molecular distillation and stringently tested for PCBs, dioxins, mercury, and other heavy metal contaminants. The capsules also include a self-emulsifying delivery system so they're virtually odorless, better absorbed, and don't result in a fishy aftertaste or "fish burps."
Maybe you're already using Flameout or some other, hopefully up-to-par fish oil – most people are. But, if you're not, add reproductive health to the already-long list of reasons to take supplemental omega-3 fatty acids.
Related: Beyond Fish Oil
Related: Stop Using Fish Oil Made for Women
- Tina Kold Jensen, et al. "Associations of Fish Oil Supplement Use With Testicular Function in Young Men," JAMA Netw Open, 2020.