When trying to conceive, most attention is on the health of the woman while the men’s health tends to be ignored until problems arise. Men contribute 50% of the DNA to create a baby, so it is important for men to contribute healthy sperm. It takes over 70 days for sperm to develop from immature to mature. This is an important time for men to be taking charge of their health and lifestyle to give their baby the best start possible.
The place to start is to abstain from alcohol and quit smoking. Male alcohol consumption, especially one month before conception, increases the risk miscarriage and not achieving a live birth.[i] Alcohol effects sperm quality possibly due to a lowering of testosterone.[ii] The effects of alcohol on sperm begin to reverse when intake is ceased which is why it is important to stop a few months before conceiving. It is also very important to quit smoking a few months before conception as smoking reduces sperm production and motility and increases DNA damage.[iii]
Being overweight can have a significant effect on fertility. Being overweight is associated with infertility, decreased sperm concentration, decreased sperm motility and increased DNA damage. There is also a very strong relationship between obesity and erectile dysfunction. [iv]
Of course I can’t forget to mention exercise. Moderate physical activity for one hour at least three times a week shows significant benefits on sperm morphology.[iv]
There are also several supplements that have been shown to improve male fertility. A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids is correlated with decreased sperm motility.[v] Sperm quantity can be increased with increased fish oil intake.[vi] To ensure sufficient intake eat more fatty coldwater fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, or trout or take a good quality fish oil supplement. Avoid king mackerel, shark, swordfish and tuna due to their high mercury content. High blood mercury levels are associated with abnormal semen.[vii]
Zinc is essential for male hormone metabolism, sperm formation and sperm motility. Zinc deficiency can lead to decreased testosterone and low sperm count levels. Zinc supplementation has been found to improve these factors.[viii] Vitamin C also improves semen quality while vitamin E reduces oxidative damage and improves motility.[iv] Sperm motility and morphology are improved with coenzyme Q10 supplementation.[ix]
A diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with improved semen quality. This may be due to an increased antioxidant intake.[iv] A pre-conception “Mediterranean” type diet by couples has been associated with increased conception success.[x]
There are many factors that effect male fertility. If you are planning on conceiving, talk to your local naturopath to get personalized advice. Start getting healthy at least three months before conceiving. This will give you the highest chance of success and give your baby the best start.
[i] Klonoff-Cohen H, Lam-Kruglick P, Gonzalez C. Effects of maternal and paternal alcohol consumption on the success rates of in vitro fertilization and gamete intrafallopian transfer. Fertility and Sterility. 2003 Feb; 79(2): 330-339.
[ii] La Vignera S, Condorelli RA, Balercia G, Vicari E, Calogero AE. Does alcohol have any effect on male reproductive function? A review of literature. Asian J. Androl. 2013 Mar; 15(2):221-5.
[iii] Mostafa T. Cigarette smoking and male infertility. Journal of Advanced Research. 2010 July; 1(3):179-186.
[iv] Sharma R, Biedenharn KR, Fedor JM, Agarwal A. Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2013 July 16; 11: 66.
[v] Comhaire FH, Mahmoud A. The role of food supplements in the treatment of the infertile man. Reprod. Biomed. Online 2003 Oct-Nov; 7(4):385-91.
[vi] Safarinejad MR. Effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on semen profile and enzymatic anti-oxidant capacity of seminal plasma in infertile men with idiopathic oligoasthenoteratospermia: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised study. Andrologia 2011 Feb; 43(1):38-47.
[vii] Choy CM, Lam CW, Cheung LT, Briton-Jones CM, Cheung LP, Haines CJ. Infertility, blood mercury concentrations and dietary seafood consumption: a case-control study. BJOG. 2002 Oct;109(10):1121-5.
[viii] Hunter P. Health Benefits of Zinc. Bioceuticals Advanced Clinical Insights, 2004; 5.
[ix] Safarinejad MR. Efficacy of Coenzyme Q10 on Semen Parameters, Sperm Function and Reproductive Hormones in Infertile Men. The Journal of Urology. 2009 July; 182(1):237-248.
[x] Vujkovic M, de Vries JH, Lindemans J, Macklon NS, van der Spek PJ, Steegers EA, Steegers-Theunissen RP. The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the chance of pregnancy. Fertil. Steril. 2010 Nov; 94(6):2096-101.