Here’s a common scenario in my practice. A woman comes in for an appointment with a laundry list of health related issues she would like to address. These range from losing weight, to gaining energy, to figuring out how to fit more vegetables and exercise into her life. Every once in a while, the reason we’re talking is because she can’t get pregnant. When that’s the topic of discussion, it takes on a seriousness that trumps all other health maladies. I’ll often ask about her partner, and that’s sometimes where the conversations ends.
That’s a shame. Because in many cases, that’s where the conversation needs to begin.
The World Health Organization recently revealed that 13-17 percent of couples are affected by fertility disorders. When it comes to infertility, women aren’t the only ones that should be concerned. Many studies have shown that lifestyle and dietary habits can impact the fertility of both women and men. Yet all too often, the guys are left out of the conversation. While they won’t be carrying the baby, they do carry 50 percent of the weight of creating him or her. So guys, let’s get beyond the boxers vs. briefs debate (science says that boxers are better, by the way) and focus instead on a diet that will help you to make the kind of sperm that makes babies.
Here are my Top 7 tips to make your sperm something to brag about.
- Love the right fats
Most of us know that limiting trans fats and some saturated fats can go a long way towards reducing the risk for certain chronic diseases, but few know that fatty food can impact their sperm, too. A 2014 study showed that as the intake of trans fats increased in male participants, their total sperm count decreased. Trans fats occur naturally in small quantities in high fat animal products, like red meat and dairy, but are largely found in processed foods, such as cakes, cookies, chips, crackers, frozen pizza, and creamy gummies. Another study in 2012 demonstrated similar findings; sperm concentration was found to be lower in men who eat more saturated fat. The study also revealed a positive relationship between the intake of omega-3 fats and sperm morphology (the size and shape of sperm). So what should you eat to bolster your sperm? Opt for lean protein sources, such as turkey or chicken, and consume more unsaturated fat sources, especially from omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild fish, lake trout, chia seed, flax seed and walnuts.
- Say goodbye to bacon (sorry)
Processed meats (think hot dogs, bacon, sausage and deli meat) get a bad rap – and it’s much deserved. After all, they’ve been linked to an increased chance of developing several types of cancers. Here’s another reason to avoid them. A 2014 study demonstrated that a high intake of processed meat lowers total sperm count and decreases sperm quality. However, participants that ate fish instead of processed meats had higher total sperm counts and boasted normal sperm morphology. The take away: if you want to enhance your chances of making a baby, you should eat fewer four-legged animals that roam the earth and get processed to death before they hit your plate and instead, opt for wild animals that swim the sea.
- Pump up the antioxidants
Antioxidants, generally speaking, are found in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole-grains. They play an important role in protecting the body against free radicals, which can cause oxidative stress resulting in diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Besides protecting your body against disease, antioxidants have also been shown to improve sperm quality. A study in 2012 showed that the several specific antioxidants, like vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopene and cryptoxanthin, were associated with increased total sperm count and better sperm motility and morphology.
Foods rich in vitamin C include cantaloupe, broccoli, citrus fruits, kiwi, bell peppers, and leafy greens. Beta-carotene is responsible for the yellow and orange pigments in fruits and vegetables. Foods high in beta-carotene include carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe. Lycopene gives foods their red color, and some of the best sources include tomatoes, grapefruits, sweet red peppers and papaya. Foods high in cryptoxanthins include oranges, papayas, peaches and tangerines. Consuming more foods containing these antioxidants is not only protective against many diseases, but may improve your fertility.
- Embrace zinc
Zinc is truly a critical mineral for the male reproductive system. It’s found in high amounts in the testis, and a deficiency can lead to low testosterone levels, which in turn leads to impaired sperm production. Zinc superstar foods include oysters, fortified cereals, whole grains, crab, lobster, legumes and dairy products.
- Take Folic Acid Seriously
When it comes to fertility, women aren’t the only ones that benefit from folic acid supplementation. One study showed men experienced an increase in total sperm count after supplementation of both folic acid and zinc. Folic acid is important for DNA synthesis and for the creation of healthy sperm. Since several of my patients are confused surrounding the difference between folate and folic acid, a brief summary is worth explaining. Folate, or vitamin B-9, is found naturally in foods, such as green leafy vegetable, beans and lentils, and folic acid is the synthetic form of folate and is found in supplements and fortified (“enriched”) grain food products. Folic acid and folate are absorbed differently; and the absorption from folate rich foods is limited whereas folic acid is highly absorbable. For example, the “bioavailability”, or the proportion that gets absorbed in the body, from folate rich foods is about 50% and the bioavailability of folic acid supplementation is between 85 and 100%. So if you’re not getting enough foods that can cover the folate you need, then it may make sense to take a folic acid supplement, or simply check for folic acid in your multivitamin.
- Lose the booze
Sorry guys, but even moderate alcohol consumption may impact the quality of your sperm. While studies on alcohol and its impact on fertility vary, a 2014 study in the British Medical Journal found that having just 5 drinks a week was found to lead to poor sperm quality, and the more the drink quantity went up, the greater the impact on the sperm. Men that displayed a habit of drinking fared the worst.
- Mind your weight
As it turns out, size really does matter. Studies have found that men, along with women, may reduce their chances of making a baby if they are overweight or obese. In a 2015 animal study, induced obesity in rats resulted in a decline in normal sperm functions and decreased testosterone levels. Body weight plays an active role in reproductive health and obesity has can surely impair the male partner’s ability to seal the deal. To increase your full reproductive potential, aim to achieve a healthy body weight.
Finally, live a healthy lifestyle. Besides eating right, make sure you are getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, not smoking, and managing stress. These factors can all go a long way to a truly amazing outcome in 9 months time as all of these practices have been shown to enhance fertility in men.
Now, you’re ready to procreate.