Infertility has been an issue throughout the ages and remains a significant clinical problem today; it affects at least 15% of couples in western countries , and in 50% of all cases, male infertility is a main contributing factor to the issue. Traditionally, most investigations into the causes of infertility have concentrated on the maternal experience of conception and pregnancy; maternal fitness, maternal infertility and the physiology of pregnancy. The male contribution to pregnancy, on the other hand, has received much less attention—until now.
One of the most important factors for people to consider when preparing for a child is both sperm quantity and quality for fertilization of the ovum. Fortunately, new sperm are produced every 42 to 76 days, which provides a real window of opportunity to improve sperm quality before conception.
Whether you are trying to get pregnant through sperm donation or through having sex with someone who produces sperm, there are certain foods that can improve sperm health.
What impacts sperm health?
Various modifiable factors can impact sperm quality including environmental toxins, stress and lifestyle factors such as poor diet, obesity, smoking and/or excess alcohol intake. One of the common themes underlying these factors is increased oxidative stress. Oxidative stress plays arguably the biggest role in male (and female) infertility; oxidation impacts cell survival, ovum maturation, aging of eggs, along with sperm quantity and quality and is a significant contributing factor in 30-80% of infertility cases.
Are their foods, vitamins or nutrients that can improve sperm health?
Because oxidative stress plays such a key role in infertility for both partners, the most studied ingredients that show benefits include antioxidant vitamins and nutrients including:
- Zinc: Studies show that adding zinc supplementation significantly increased semen volume, sperm motility and the percentage of normal sperm morphology. Foods rich in zinc include red meat, poultry, beans, whole grains and certain types of seafood (crab and lobster).
- Folate: Folate helps in DNA methylation and studies indicate being low on folate can impair semen quality including sperm DNA damage. Natural folate food sources, which usually are not very bioavailable, include dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, beans, eggs, meat and grains. Fortified cereals and bread are good sources of folic acid.
- Selenium: This essential element helps with normal testicular development , spermatogenesis and spermatozoa motility and function. Selenium in our diet is found in seafood, meat, poultry, cereals and other grains.
- Vitamin E: This vitamin has been shown to improve sperm motility in those who had low sperm count or poor sperm motility. It is also shown to prevent ovulation decline and reduce oxidative stress. Vitamin E is naturally found in vegetable oils such as wheat germ, safflower and sunflower oils along with nuts such as almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts.
- L-carnitine (both acetyl and L-tartrate): This helps sperm maintain quality and vitality throughout their lifecycle. Has been shown to regulate the oxidative and metabolic status of the female reproductive system by preventing free radical-induced DNA damage and stabilizing the storage of energy for reproductive cells. Carnitine is found in red meat (the redder the better in level), fish, poultry and milk.
- Other strong antioxidant nutrients include Lycopene found in red fruits like tomatoes along with Vitamin C found in citrus fruits.
These key nutrients should be increased in the diet to help overcome the oxidative state, to account for poor dietary intake and to replete suboptimal serum and cellular levels in order for the nutrients to perform their reproductive physiological roles.
Unfortunately, these nutrients are often lacking in adequate quantities in today's modern diet, which is why it can be helpful to add a supplement to their preconception routine. That's why adding a quality prenatal or preconception vitamin and other supplements to your diet at least 90 days before conception can help cover gaps in your diet and help optimize DNA methylation by ensuring your body has the right components to build new cells; boosting your preconception health and optimizing the male and female body for conception.
Although preconception nutrition is a new and expanding category for men, supplements can deliver key nutrients at the amounts shown in clinical studies to be adequate for optimal sperm quality to combat the high oxidative stress associated with male infertility, and capitalize on the window of opportunity of sperm turnover to produce healthy sperm before conception (remember to always check with your provider before starting a new supplement).
Whether you're starting to think about getting pregnant, actively trying to conceive or have been trying for a while, remember that everyone's well-being matters. Just as there are many considerations on the female side about how to optimize the body for conception, there are equal considerations that a man can take to improve their fertility and future health of the baby.
Wherever you are on your conception journey, we are here to support you.
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