Nutrition’s role in fueling male fertility

Most of us assume that conceiving a baby will be easy. We generally take for granted we are fertile and able to reproduce. Yet, the rate of infertility has steadily climbed over the past 10 years and is estimated to affect one in every eight couples of reproductive age.

Infertility, as defined by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, is “the inability to conceive after one year of regular, unprotected intercourse.” For women over the age of 35, the diagnostic time frame is shortened to six months. Infertility is often viewed as more of a “woman’s problem” but up to one-third of infertility issues can be related back to a man’s infertility complications.

Nutrition’s role in fertility

Causes of infertility are numerous. For women, the inability to conceive may be related to ovulation problems, uterine or cervical abnormalities, fallopian tube blockage or endometriosis. Causes of male infertility include abnormal sperm production or function, blockage in the testicles, overexposure to certain environmental factors, or treatment for cancer that can impair sperm production.

Semen quality has been on the decline over the past several decades. Total sperm count in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand dropped by up to 60% in the 38 years between 1973 and 2011 – an acceleration of a trend that began in the 1940s.

Besides the usual suspects of male infertility, one other factor is a man’s food choices. For some men, their diet could be influencing their ability to reproduce. Food choices matter. The typical American diet for men tends to be high in total calories, fat, and refined carbohydrates. Foods in these categories include processed meat, pizza, cheese, added fats, refined grains like white flour and white rice, and added sugars from sweets and soft drinks.

Men who make positive changes in choosing healthier foods to fuel their body, are also setting the stage for a more successful likelihood of fathering a baby.

Foods that help

Women who plan ahead will often “clean up” their eating habits before becoming pregnant to improve the chances of delivering a healthy baby.  Men need to follow suit.  Just because a man doesn’t carry a baby inside of him, doesn’t let him off the hook.  He is the one delivering the “goods” to make conception happen and he needs to do his share of healthy eating as well.

When a man improves his eating habits, this can help improve his fertility increasing the odds of conceiving a baby.  There is an emerging body of research suggesting food choices may play a role in the number of sperm a man produces, their shape and how fast they are or how well they move.

Here are foods improving male fertility:

Foods high in antioxidants

These can reduce free radicals that can damage the reproductive system by decreasing sperm motility, sperm number and cause DNA damage in sperm.  Foods rich in antioxidants are also rich in vitamins A, C, E and folic acid.  Choose from the following:

  • Fruits – apricots, blackberries, red currants, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, pineapple, plums, and pomegranates.
  • Vegetables – Red and green peppers, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, asparagus, arugula, beets, artichokes, carrots, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
  • Beverages – Pomegranate, grape, prune, and cranberry juices. Green and black tea and coffee also contain antioxidants but should be consumed in moderation.
  • Nuts, seeds and grains – Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, buckwheat, millet and barley.

Foods rich in zinc

The mineral zinc helps protect sperm against bacteria.  Zinc also acts as an antioxidant shielding sperm from free radicals threatening to damage cells.  When a man has high zinc levels, he will produce more sperm and the healthier it is.  Choose these foods rich in zinc:

  • Oysters, crab, red meat, veal liver and poultry
  • Peanuts, chickpeas, cashews and almonds
  • Dark chocolate
  • Oatmeal, fortified breakfast cereals
  • Eggs

Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to boost healthy sperm production.  Include more:

  • Salmon, tuna, cod, halibut, mackerel, and trout
  • Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, walnuts
  • Olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil

Foods that harm

The foods listed below not only pose a threat to male fertility but also are associated with increasing conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  Whether you’re trying to make a baby or not, make wise food choices so you’ll be around to watch your children grow up.

  • Processed meat – This includes hot dogs, bacon, sausage, salami, and bologna.  According to a 2014 Harvard Study, men consuming a steady diet of processed meats had a 23% reduction of their sperm count. This is believed to be due to higher hormonal residue in processed meat than red meat.
  • Full-fat dairy – If a man is drinking whole milk at least twice a day, his sperm may not be as speedy or mobile.  Men can still eat dairy a couple of times a day but should switch to low-fat dairy products such as skim, 1% or 2% milk.
  • Non-organic produce – Pesticide residue on conventionally grown produce probably doesn’t help as more exposure to it may reduce sperm count and cause less motile sperm over time.  It can also lead to a hormonal imbalance affecting the body’s production of sperm.  Eating produce is still important but choosing organic fruits and vegetables will be a better investment.
  • Alcohol – An occasional beer or drinking in moderation is fine but high intakes of alcohol can affect sperm negatively by reducing the concentration and motility.  Choose instead beverages rich in antioxidants such as pomegranate juice which can lead to improved sperm quality.
  • Sugary beverages – Put down that sugar-sweetened beverage – it’s causing reduced sperm motility that won’t help with fertility.  Whether soda, sweet tea, or sports drinks, a high consumption can also lead to insulin resistance causing oxidative stress that can damage sperm.

A man’s weight can affect his fertility

The increase in obesity over the years has also coincided with the trend of male infertility.  There is strong research showing that body weight appears linked to low semen quality.

As a man gains weight, this can decrease testosterone while increasing estrogen reducing male fertility. Men with a body mass index greater than 35 will likely have a lower sperm count and with more DNA damage of the sperm that is produced.  Sleep apnea, more common in obese men, can also cause a decrease in testosterone levels.   Another factor to consider is obese men will have an increased scrotal temperature due to excess fat in the inner thighs and pubic areas which can decrease sperm production.

 It would be advised for a man carrying around excess weight to lose weight to help improve the odds of conceiving a baby.

Final words on fueling male fertility

The food a man chooses to eat does impact his fertility and is one of the strongest factors in improving sperm quality.  This can be a powerful motivator for a man getting himself in shape and improving his health as much as possible before starting a family.  When both the woman and man are eating a healthy diet along with maintaining a healthy body weight and regular exercise, the odds of conceiving and delivering a healthy baby are in their favor.

Nutrition’s role in fueling male fertility
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi