Thinking back to that super-uncomfortable “birds and the bees” conversation you likely had when you were younger, it was very clear that it takes a sperm and an egg to create a baby. Yet when couples are trying to conceive unsuccessfully, often the “cause” is assumed to be due to the female partner. The assumption is magnified if the woman is considered to be in the category of advanced maternal age. If we all know that “it takes two to tango”, then why is there so much focus on woman’s nutrition and lifestyle when trying to conceive and not the man’s?
Depending on the source, between 1/3 and 1/2 of all infertility cases are due to male-factor infertility.1, 2 Evidence is also increasing that the integrity of sperm DNA may also be related to recurrent miscarriage in women. Yes, a woman’s chances of conception decreases as she ages, but men are not off the hook when it comes to aging! In fact, one recent study evaluating 3,124 men suggested that there is a relationship between aging and semen volume, motility, viscosity, and sperm damage.3 In other words, aging has a significant impact on male fertility, too.
In my dietetic private practice coaching couples how to eat to enhance their fertility, I find that my female clients are coming to me after getting poked by needles daily, cleaning up their diets, and taking supplements by the fist-full. It is rare that I see a couple where the male partner is following suit. Factors affecting male fertility are often not discussed and not as well understood. Most “fertility” resources and books are geared toward the female, and male-factor fertility-related books and guides are unfortunately far and few between. However, after digging into the research, it is exciting to find well-designed clinical trials highlighting dietary and lifestyle factors that have been shown to either enhance or hinder male fertility.
Making small changes in the man’s diet and lifestyle may be the missing link to success for many couples. The good news is there are some easy steps a man can take to make sure his body is baby-making ready!
Below are some tips that have been shown to support male fertility.
- Maintain a healthy weight
Obese men tend to have a more difficult time conceiving. If you have a little more to love, it is a good idea to slowly make some changes to take that extra weight off. In general, if you are considered obese you are at a higher risk of having fertility challenges. If your body mass index, or BMI, is 30 or higher, you are considered obese. To determine your BMI, click here.
- Follow a Mediterranean diet
Following a Mediterranean-style diet has been linked to improved fertility in men. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with higher sperm concentration, total sperm count and sperm motility.4
What is the Mediterranean diet?
A Mediterranean diet is a general term for the diet followed by many people who live near the Mediterranean Sea. The basic principles of the Mediterranean diet are as follows:
- High consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, beans, nuts and seeds
- Olive oil is predominantly used (an important monounsaturated fat source)
- Fish and seafood are consumed at least two times a week
- Dairy products and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts
- Eggs are consumed zero to four times a week
- Wine is consumed in low/moderate amounts
- Red meat and sweets are rarely eaten
- Take Antioxidants
Antioxidants are found naturally in many foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and legumes. They help protect the body from damage. Studies have shown that consuming antioxidants may improve the sperm quality and male fertility by reducing oxidative stress.5 Eating foods rich in antioxidants (fruits, berries, veggies, whole grains, nuts, beans) is a great way to support male fertility.
- Avoid tobacco and marijuana
Intake of tobacco and marijuana is not going to increase chances of a successful pregnancy. Although studies show differing results, no studies encourage tobacco and marijuana use as a way to improve fertility. It is best to cut back, or better yet quit, while trying to conceive.
- Get some sleep
Sleep is one of those precious things that many of us don’t get enough of. Getting adequate shut-eye should be made a priority to enhance male fertility. Data suggests that when a man gets between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, his sperm count is improved.6
- Be aware of hormone and endocrine disruptors
One hormone that a man’s endocrine system is responsible for is testosterone. If testosterone levels are negatively affected, certain consequences, like decreased sperm production, may occur. There are also chemicals that are considered endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), or hormone disruptors, that may disturb the endocrine system, and therefore may affect fertility. If your endocrine system is disturbed, your fertility may be negatively affected. Cutting out items that contain endocrine disruptors is one excellent step towards supporting fertility in men.
Some simple steps to eliminate hormone-disruptors:
- Avoid heavily fragranced body sprays, lotions, and deodorants unless they are scented with essential oils.
- Do not heat any food in a plastic container or covered with plastic wrap. Store hot food in glass containers.
- Choose fresh, frozen, or dried foods instead of canned foods.
- Cook using stainless steel or cast-iron pans instead of non-stick pans.
This is a small sampling of the many changes that a man can incorporate into his life that have been shown to enhance fertility even if a couple is undergoing assisted reproduction like IUI and IVF and if his semen analysis is normal. Small changes can lead to big results when it comes to conception. Making simple changes, like the ones listed above, may give you the boost you need to earn to your coveted “dad” title.
Purchase Lauren’s book, Fueling Male Fertility!
- National Institute of Health. How common is male infertility, and what are its causes? Reviewed 12/1/2016. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/m enshealth/conditioninfo/infertility. Accessed April 16, 2019
- Smits RM, Mackenzie-Proctor R, Yazdani A, Stankiewicz MT, Jordan V, Showell MG. Antioxidants for male subfertility. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2019 Mar 14;3:CD007411. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007411.pub4.
- Colasante A,Minasi MG,Scarselli F, Casciani V, Zazzaro V, Ruberti A, Greco P, Varricchio MT, Greco E. The aging male: Relationship between male age, sperm quality and sperm DNA damage in an unselected population of 3124 men attending the fertility centre for the first time. Arch Ital Urol Androl. 2019 Jan 18;90(4):254-259. doi: 10.4081/aiua.2018.4.254.
- Karayiannis D,Kontogianni MD,Mendorou C, Douka L, Mastrominas M, Yiannakouris N. Association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and semen quality parameters in male partners of couples attempting fertility. Hum Reprod. 2017 Jan;32(1):215-222. Epub 2016 Nov 14.
- Martin-Hidalgo D,Bragado MJ,Batista AR, Oliveira PF, Alves MG. Antioxidants and Male Fertility: from Molecular Studies to Clinical Evidence. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019 Apr 5;8(4). pii: E89. doi: 10.3390/antiox8040089.
- Liu MM, Liu L, Chen L, Yin XJ, Liu H, Zhang YH, Li PL, Wang S, Li XX, Yu CH. Sleep Deprivation and Late Bedtime Impair Sperm Health Through Increasing Antisperm Antibody Production: A Prospective Study of 981 Healthy Men. Med Sci Monit. 2017 Apr 16;23:1842-1848.