When a couple is struggling to conceive, many women (and more than likely many men) are quick to put the blame on the female half of the duo. She is obviously the problem, because she is the one that has the egg that needs to be fertilized, the uterus in which the fertilized egg implants into, and the body that then nourishes that child into being. Right??? Wrong.
According to Resolve, the National Infertility Association, “it may be surprising to some to know that 30% of infertility cases are related to male factor issues. Yet, a recent study showed that only 41% of Ob/Gyn physicians even considered a urological evaluation of the male partner and only 24% would routinely refer men to the urologist before ordering a semen analysis.”
So what can you do from home that can help improve your chances of conceiving and to increase the sperm quality? Taking a look at the diet and lifestyle of the male partner would be a good starting place.
Diet and lifestyle can affect both erections and sperm health. Certain diets, including those high in fat and animal protein, have been shown to hurt sperm health. High-sugar diets can lead to diabetes, a condition that is bad for sperm health and erections. For some men, getting diabetes at an early age from poor eating habits can lead to long-term health consequences.
Sperm production is dependent on normal testosterone levels. Testosterone can also affect a man’s heart, bones and blood sugar. Helping men focus on getting their testosterone levels back to normal can help improve many health factors, including fertility.
Few people know that the average man’s sperm count has dropped steadily over the past 40 years. This fact should scare everyone, especially men. However, sperm health is the last thing on the minds of most men. How nutrition impacts sperm is even farther away from our collective consciousness.
Male Diet and Fertility
Researchers from the Human Nutrition Unit of the University of Rovira i Virgili (URV) and the Health Research Institute Pere i Virgili (IISPV), which are part of the CiberObn Network of the Carlos III Institute, carried out the first systematic review of all the observational studies in the scientific literature that associate the different diet components to male fertility and fecundability, which is the probability of conception in a menstrual cycle.
The results show that a healthy diet rich in some nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, some antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C, β-carotene, selenium, zinc, cryptoxanthin and lycopene) and other vitamins (vitamin D and folate) , and a low intake of saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids are associated with an improvement in sperm quality. In addition, fish and shellfish, chicken, cereals, vegetables and fruit, or low-fat dairy products are also associated with better semen quality or sperm activity.
In contrast, excessive consumption of red and processed meats, soy-rich foods, sweetened and sweetened drinks, certain whole dairy products, and alcohol and caffeine intake are associated in some studies with a decrease in sperm quality.
Regarding fecundability, a high consumption of alcohol, caffeine and red and processed meats in men was negatively related to the probabilities of pregnancy and the fertilization rates of the couples.
According to the researchers, the work published in Human Reproduction Update has served to provide a global view on the relationship between diet, as well as the consumption of different foods and nutrients, with male fertility and fecundability so that, in the future, safe and effective dietary recommendations based on scientific evidence can be made.
The authors conclude that the adherence of men to a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean, could significantly improve sperm quality and increase the fecundability rate of the couple.
Five foods that decrease sperm health
Before I discuss foods that can affect sperm health, it’s worth noting that most studies dealing with nutrition aren’t set up to show that eating particular foods cause disease; most studies are only set up to show associations, not causes.
1. Processed meats
This is not surprising—recent studies link processed meats to all sorts of illnesses. Processed meats include hot dogs, salami, beef jerky, bacon, etc. I get it; they’re delicious. Yes, bacon can make anything taste better. In the case of sperm, several studies connect eating processed red meat with decreased sperm counts and altered sperm motility. It’s not clear how these foods affect sperm, but it appears the effect isn’t a positive one. Of note, these same studies did not find an association between eating chicken and reduced sperm health.
2. Trans fats
Researchers are primarily concerned about trans fats increasing the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, the concerns don’t stop there. A 2011 Spanish study linked the increased intake of trans fats with decreased sperm counts. Check out this post from the American Heart Association for more info on trans fats.
3. Soy products
Soy products contain phytoestrogens—estrogen-like compounds that come from plants. A study of 99 men from fertility clinics in Boston concluded that excessive soy intake might decrease sperm concentration.
4. Pesticides and bisphenol a (BPA)
Honestly, these are probably the scariest on the list because they are not foods, but they still end up in what we eat. Plus, they’re everywhere. Obviously, pesticides end up on vegetables and fruits. They also end up in meat and fish due to tainted water supplies. BPA is no better—it’s in most food packaging and cans. It slowly leeches into the foods we eat. Both BPA and chemicals within pesticides act as xenoestrogens—chemicals that mimic estrogen. Just like the phytoestrogens in soy, xenoestrogens can wreak havoc on sperm concentration. On a side note, some of the same chemicals in pesticides can come from non-stick cookware.
5. High fat dairy products
Milk may “do a body good,” if you don’t include sperm as part of the body. The Rochester Young Men’s Study, an analysis of sperm and diet from 189 men between the ages of 18-22, showed that high-fat dairy products (whole milk, cream and cheese) were associated with decreased sperm motility and abnormal sperm shape. Some of this could be due to sex steroids given to cows.
Three foods that may improve sperm health
One small study associated higher amounts of fish consumption with better sperm motility. Other studies were inconclusive. The benefits associated with fish for sperm health are likely due to their high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, but the role of fish in sperm health is unclear overall. Eating fish probably helps if it is an alternative to red and/or processed meats.
2. Fruits and veggies
A study of 250 men who had sperm analyzed at a fertility clinic showed that men who ate higher amounts of fruits and veggies, particularly green leafy vegetables and beans (legumes), had higher sperm concentrations and better sperm motility compared to men who ate less of these foods. This is not surprising since plant-based whole foods are high in anti-oxidants such as co-enzyme Q10, vitamin C, and lycopene. These micronutrients have been linked to higher sperm concentrations. Several studies have shown that co-enzyme q supplements may have a positive impact on sperm health, but ultimately we need more studies to make definitive recommendations.
A research led by Patricia Martin-DeLeon of the University of Delaware in the United States, found significant improvements in the quality of sperm of laboratory mice who ate a diet rich in nuts.
In the study , published in the journal Heliyon, the researchers included in the diet of animals a proportion of calories of about 19.6% in walnuts (equivalent to 70 grams). According to the study, improvements in sperm quality were significant compared to results in the control group that did not consume this nut-based diet. The sperm of mice with the nut-based diet had greater mobility and morphology.
According to the investigation, nuts promote the reduction of lipid peroxidation, a process that damages sperm membranes, which are primarily made up of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in the nut repair cell damage in the sperm.
The researchers believe that two and a half ounces of the nut should be eaten daily for the best effect.
In 2012, in another small study, researchers assigned 117 men ages 21 to 35 to eat or not eat approximately 18 walnuts daily for 12 weeks. The researchers analyzed sperm parameters before and after the study period. They found significant improvements in sperm vitality only in the nut group.
What’s the bottom line for improving sperm health?
- Eat your veggies. Try organic veggies or at least make sure you wash your veggies thoroughly. If you don’t want to spend all of your money on organic vegetables, check out the environmental working group’s dirty dozen for the worst offenders.
- Cut back on processed meat; try fish instead.
- Be careful with trans fats (eat less fried junk food).
- Minimize soy.
- Watch out for BPA in canned goods. Look for BPA-free cans. Try to avoid plastics where possible.
- Don’t overindulge in high-fat dairy items (ice cream, whole milk, etc.).
- Don’t smoke cigarettes.
- Eat walnuts (if you don’t have a nut allergy of course).
- Lose weight if you are overweight
Moderation is the key. It’s better to stick to a balanced, nutritious diet than to get involved in fad or fasting diets that promise quick or unrealistic results. Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t only good for sperm health, it’s also good for preventing diabetes and heart disease.
It’s important to maintain your overall health through moderate exercise and healthy eating — both to help improve your fertility and to ensure that you have a long, healthy life with your children!
Make sure you grab a copy of my FREE guide 5 Steps To Increase Your Fertile Cervical Mucus & my FREE Self-Care Mini Course. You can access either one by clicking on the title. These are packed full of information that you can begin implementing today to put yourself one step closer to getting pregnant, naturally.
If you’re looking for a group of like-minded women with which to share your fertility wellness journey, be sure to check out my Whole Body Fertility & Wellness Facebook group today!
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