Investigation usually begins with the woman when it comes to fertility or trouble conceiving. There is a real focus on women’s reproductive health, with the men’s side of things playing second fiddle.
Remember, it takes two people to make a baby, whether this is with your partner or via a sperm donor, you need a healthy egg and sperm in order to conceive and have a successful pregnancy. This is why it’s so crucial that both parties work towards health goals together, and for men there is a lot you can do to improve your chances via nutrition and lifestyle adjustments.
There are a number of factors that play into sperm health. Common causes of sub optimal fertility include low sperm count (the number per ejaculate), low motility (slow movement) and high morphology (mis-shapen sperm cells).
Lifestyle and diet factors that can be damaging to sperm include:
A diet rich in processed foods, including added sugars, and excessive saturated and trans fats
High alcohol consumption
Extreme exercising (body building & taking growth steroids), and regular cycling
Regular hot baths and saunas
Frequently working with a laptop on your lap
Tight clothing and briefs
Like with women, the most effective fertility diet for men is the Mediterranean diet. The focus is on healthy fats, low GI carbohydrates, plenty of fish providing essential omega-3’s and plant based proteins from legumes and beans. Alcohol is consumed in moderation and processed foods and added sugars are avoided.
In addition to making the above changes there are some specific nutrients that have been shown to have beneficial effects on sperm health and should be included in a healthy balanced diet.
Zinc Men have a much higher requirement for Zinc as it is one of the most crucial nutrients needed for sperm production. It is essential for keeping the DNA within the sperm intact, meaning it can improve pregnancy outcomes. Research has shown men who suffer from sub-optimal fertility can often be depleted in zinc levels, with supplementation being shown to improve both concentration and motility.
Top food sources of Zinc include: oysters, beef, pork, chicken, fish and eggs. It can also be found in plant based foods such as beans, chickpeas, nuts & seeds.
CoQ10 Co-enzyme Q10 is a potent antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage and is crucial in energy production. This is particularly important for the production of sperm and its ability to survive, swim to the egg and fertilise it. There is some research to suggest that increased levels of CoQ10 can improve overall sperm count.
Top food sources of CoQ10 include: organ meats, pork, beef, chicken, oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), vegetables especially leafy green ones like spinach and broccoli, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Lycopene Lycopene is another antioxidant compound which tends to be lower in infertile men and can also have positive effects on sperm. Lycopene is fat soluble, meaning it needs to be consumed with a small amount of fat in order for our bodies to properly absorb and utilise it.
Lycopene can be found in a number of fruits and vegetables, however the best sources are tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, carrots and red peppers. The more concentrated the tomatoes the better, so tomato puree is one of the best options.
Folate Just like women, folate is also an important nutrient for men when it comes to fertility. Folate is crucial for keeping cells healthy and improving their internal DNA. 50% of a baby's genetic makeup will come from the male sperm, so it’s essential this is as healthy as possible.
Key food sources of folate include: green leafy vegetables, wholegrains and fortified cereals. Food sources of folate tend to be more readily absorbed by our bodies than the synthetic supplement form of folic acid, making it even more important to bulk up on leafy greens throughout the day to ensure you are getting enough.
Selenium Selenium is needed for normal sperm function. It can contribute to both the morphology and mobility of sperm, allowing it to grow to a good size and shape as well as helping them be better swimmers. Selenium is also an antioxidant, which protects the sperm from oxidative damage during their maturation stage.
It can be quite difficult to get adequate levels of selenium via foods, as it depends on the soil quality of where the food was grown. The best way to get enough selenium into the diet is by consuming 2 brazil nuts per day, which are a very dense source.
Vitamin E Vitamin E is another useful antioxidant that has been shown to protect the sperm’s membrane from damage and improve both count and motility. Food sources include: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, spinach, kale, avocado, broccoli, extra virgin olive oil and tahini.
Need some more tips on male fertility? Why not book in to speak to our fertility specialist Gail for a free 20 minute consultation to discuss how a bespoke nutrition and lifestyle plan can improve your chances of conception.
Registered Nutritional Therapist
Gail Madalena is a registered nutritional therapist specialising in fertility, pregnancy and women’s health. Her expertise lies in hormonal imbalances, such as irregular cycles, debilitating PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, thyroid issues and sub-optimal fertility. Her goal is to reduce hormonal side effects and symptoms by addressing the root cause of the issue. Gail helps couples optimise your nutrition and lifestyle choices, supporting you on your journey to achieving a healthy pregnancy.