Diet and Nutrition to Optimise Male Fertility
September 28, 2021
Sarah Trimble, Nutritional Therapist, explains how male fertility is affected by what you eat, and what you can do to improve your reproductive hormone balance and healthy sperm production.
Did you know that your diet can impact your reproductive health? In fact, eating a diet that contains the right balance of healthy foods and is rich in the nutrients necessary for hormone balance and sperm production is a powerful way to support male reproductive health, even in the short term. The male reproductive organs are constantly producing new sperm and this process can take between 60 – 80 days. So making positive dietary changes, eating the right foods and getting the right nutrients in the 2-3 months prior to trying to conceive, can have a real positive impact on the quality and number of sperm produced, potentially boosting your chance of conceiving.
Good Food for Healthy Sperm
Dietary changes to promote male reproductive health should address both the overall balance of the diet, as well as the specific nutrients that the body needs for hormone balance and sperm production.
The Mediterranean diet is one dietary pattern that we know promotes good male reproductive health, being associated with improved sperm number, sperm quality and improved chances of conceiving. Even if you don’t live in Italy or Greece, the principles of a Mediterranean diet can be followed anywhere in the world. A Mediterranean-style diet focuses on eating an abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit (at least 7 servings daily), whole grains, beans, lentils, quality protein from meat, fish and seafood, and good fats from extra virgin olive oil and nuts.
On the other hand, eating a diet that is dominated by processed foods, processed meats, fast food and refined snacks is associated with lower sperm count. So making positive dietary changes and moving towards a more Mediterranean eating pattern is a key lifestyle change when preparing the body for conception and trying to boost sperm number and quality.
To make your diet more Mediterranean aim to:
Fill up half of your plate with vegetables at each main meal
Eat one serving of beans or lentils daily – keep a tub of hummus in the fridge for snacking
Drizzle 1 tablespoon of uncooked extra virgin olive oil over vegetables or a salad every day
Swap refined snacks for fresh fruit and nuts (have a handful of unsalted nuts every day)
Up your Antioxidants
One reason why the Mediterranean dietary pattern is so positive for male fertility is because it provides an abundance of a form of nutrients called antioxidants. Increasing dietary intake of antioxidants is possibly the single most important dietary change to promote male fertility. Antioxidants occur naturally in all plant foods, and our bodies can also produce antioxidants using certain nutrients, such as selenium and zinc. The reason that antioxidants are so crucially important in male fertility is because they protect the sperm cell from damage, ensuring quality of the sperm cell and the quality of the DNA within that sperm cell.
The role of sperm is to deliver the genetic material within DNA for conception and reproduction, and sperm cells are often described as DNA with a tail. Sperm cells, and the DNA inside them, are very vulnerable to damage by free radicals (unstable molecules that can damage our body’s cells). Damaged DNA within sperm is linked to reduced chances of conception and increased chances of miscarriage. The more antioxidants in your diet the better protected your cells (including sperm cells) will be from free radical damage.
Ways to up your antioxidant intake:
Eat a rainbow of colours of fruit and vegetables, the pigments that give fruit and vegetables their colour are antioxidants. Eating a variety of colours will ensure you consume a wider variety of antioxidants.
Spice it up: spices and herbs such as turmeric, ginger, cumin, rosemary and oregano are some of the most concentrated sources of dietary antioxidants. Try cooking with spices or herbs at least once a day.
Swap your usual chocolate bar or biscuit for a few squares of dark chocolate. Cocoa is actually one of the richest dietary sources of antioxidants (it comes from a bean after all) and eating dark chocolate is a great way to get more antioxidants into your diet.
Dress your vegetables and salads with either butter or extra virgin olive oil. Antioxidants are mostly fat soluble and we absorb them better when we eat them together with a fat source.
Include quality protein sources, such as grass-fed red meat, fish and shellfish at least 3 times a week to supply minerals essential for antioxidant production.
Mushrooms, especially shiitake mushrooms, are packed full of the antioxidant glutathione, aim to have at least 2 servings a week.
Get the right nutrients
Specific nutrients that the male body uses to produce hormones, sperm, and antioxidants are essential when trying to improve fertility. You want to ensure that you are getting enough of all of these key nutrients.
Vitamins & Minerals
Sperm cells are essentially a DNA head with a tail, and the quality of this DNA plays a crucial role in promoting successful conception and healthy pregnancy. Two nutrients that are needed for DNA synthesis are vitamin B12 and folate. Deficiency of either of these nutrients has been shown to negatively impact upon sperm DNA quality. Eating plenty of vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables will contribute to adequate folate levels. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products, so vegetarians and vegans are at risk of deficiency. A simple blood test can tell you if you have adequate B12 and folate levels.
Vitamin D deficiency is common in Northern Europe and men who are deficient in vitamin D have lower quality sperm compared to men who have better vitamin D stores. Checking for and treating vitamin D deficiency is an important way of promoting fertility and chances of conceiving.
The minerals zinc and selenium are used in the sperm production process (called spermatogenesis) and are also used by the body to produce antioxidants. Selenium is used to produce an antioxidant called glutathione, which is probably the most important antioxidant to protect sperm health. Glutathione is sometimes referred to as our body’s most important antioxidant, it ensures sperm quality and can protect sperm from damage during assisted conception processes such as IVF. Glutathione also plays a role in supporting the motility of sperm, essentially helping them move better to make it through the female reproductive tract for fertilisation and conception. The vitamins C and E are antioxidant nutrients that have been shown to improve sperm quality, so aim to increase your consumption of vitamin C and vitamin E rich foods.
The table below outlines the best food sources of these key nutrients, however, to ensure that you are getting enough of these key nutrients to optimise your sperm quality and quantity it may be advisable to use a high quality multivitamin supplement specifically designed to support male fertility.
Sugar isn’t so sweet for male fertility
If you love sugary treats and tend to choose white refined carbohydrates instead of whole-grain versions, your diet could be having a real detrimental effect on your reproductive health. Men with higher than normal blood sugar levels, who are not diabetic, are found to have lower sperm number and lower testosterone levels along with higher levels of DNA damage within sperm cells. So as harmless as sweet treats might seem, cutting them out and swapping white carbohydrates for whole-grains is an essential dietary change to improve chances of conceiving. Testing fasting blood glucose and HbA1c (a measure of average blood sugar levels over the previous 2-3 months) can be helpful in gaining an insight into whether your diet is contributing to high blood sugar levels that might be negatively impacting fertility.
Go nuts for nuts
Overall dietary balance and eating a variety of foods is important when trying to optimise reproductive health. However, one food group is proven time and again to have a really strong positive impact on male fertility: nuts. Eating more nuts has been shown to improve sperm number, quality and motility, even when no other dietary changes have been made. In one study men eating 75g of walnuts daily for 12 weeks saw real improvements in sperm number and quality even though they were eating a poor quality western processed diet.
Skip the soya
Soya in the form of tofu, soya milk and miso paste contain high levels of plant oestrogens, which can mimic the effects of oestrogen in our bodies and may negatively impact male hormone balance. Eating soya around 2 times a week has been linked to lower sperm number so it’s a good idea to give soya products a miss when trying to conceive.
Testing for male fertility and nutrition
Melio's 'His Fertility' is a good first step to check if your body condition is optimised to support the production of healthy sperms. You can book a blood test directly via Melio, at a time that suits you.
A trained health professional at one of our partner clinics will perform the blood draw, and send the sample to one of our UKAS accredited labs. All test results are individually checked by one of our in-house doctors, who will also write you a personal medical report with any further advice and guidance you may need.
Learn more and order your Melio blood test by clicking on a product below, or use the chat button if you’d like talk to one of our specially trained advisors for more information.
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