By: Dr. Patti Haebe, NMD
When it comes to fertility, the spotlight seems to primarily focus on women, but they’re only 50% of the equation; what about men?
It takes one egg and one sperm to create a baby. There’s a lot more we can be doing to support men in the process of conception.
With male fertility on the decline, it’s never been more important to begin making lifestyle changes to better support sperm quality and improve male fertility.
- Have more sex!
- Eat for fertility.
- Get moving.
- Clean up your environment.
- Fill in the gaps with supplements.
It takes about 70 days for sperm to fully develop and mature, and there’s a great deal of work you can do in advance to support that sperm throughout the entire time they are maturing. Today we’ll discuss lifestyle changes to help support and optimize male fertility.
Have more sex!
This may be most men’s favorite lifestyle change to improve fertility and also may be the simplest and most enjoyable to achieve. Couples should engage in intercourse 2-3 times a week for the best sperm count and quality.
Studies have shown that “saving up sperm” doesn’t actually help increase sperm count and prolonged abstinence can actually decrease semen quality. Sex every 2 days seems to be the sweet spot for maintaining healthy sperm parameters.
Eat for fertility
There is more and more research coming out showing that pesticides – commonly sprayed on the foods we eat – may impact the cells that create both sperm and testosterone. Studies are beginning to show that men with higher levels of pesticide exposure actually have lower sperm concentrations than those with lesser exposures. (1)
The best way to protect sperm is to focus on eating organic as often as you are able. Each year the Environmental Working Group releases a list of the top 12 most highly pesticide-sprayed fruits and vegetables. It’s best to make these 12 foods a priority when it comes to buying organic. This year’s “Dirty Dozen” list includes:
- Kale/ Collard greens/ mustard greens
- Bell peppers and hot peppers
Beyond avoiding pesticides, it’s also important for men to focus on a nutrient-rich, whole foods diet to ensure they have all the building blocks and antioxidants they need to produce healthy and vital sperm.
Modified diets such as the Mediterranean, Anti-inflammatory, and Paleo diets tend to be a great combination. These focus on the consumption of whole foods while limiting or eliminating exposures to highly allergenic or inflammatory foods, as well as staying away from processed, sugary, and trans fats-filled foods.
Male infertility can often be linked to obesity. Having a BMI higher than 35 was associated with lower sperm counts, poor morphology and lower testosterone levels; especially men who carry their weight in their stomach, also called central adiposity. A healthy BMI (18.5-25) has the best support in research for fertility and obstetrical outcomes for both men and women.
Regular movement, such as 30 minutes of vigorous walking daily combined with heavy weight lifting, not only benefits cardiovascular function but also adds a layer of muscle that increases resting metabolic rate which turns your body into a fat-burning machine!
Biking and other sports that can jostle or potentially injure the testicular area should be avoided or limited in men trying to conceive. Additionally, some athletic supportive garments can be too constricting and can create elevated temperature levels that negatively impact sperm quality.
Clean up your environment
We’ve already chatted about avoiding pesticides but what other chemicals are lingering in our environments and potentially impacting male fertility?
Many fingers point to environmental toxins for the swift decrease in male fertility that we’ve witnessed since the 1950s. Many studies have shown a correlation with the very items that we used to clean our home, store our food, or in the water we drink.
- Pesticides in food and use around the home
In addition to the list above, it’s important to eliminate or avoid hormone-disrupting compounds whenever you are able.
- BPA (found in single-use plastics) was linked to lower sperm concentration, lower sperm count as well as vitality and motility. Instead of disposable plastic water bottles, opt for aluminum or glass bottles and filtered water.
- Phthalates (used to increase flexibility in products and in lotions, perfumes and cosmetics) were also found to be associated with decreased sperm concentration, motility and FSH/LH levels. Opt for skincare products and soaps that are phthalate-free whenever you are able.
Fill in nutritional gaps with supplements
We can only do our best when it comes to proper diet, sometimes adding in a robust supplement can help to fill any gaps that you may experience dietarily. Men who are planning to conceive should talk to their doctor about beginning a multivitamin that contains both selenium and zinc, beginning at least 3 months before trying to conceive.
Other supplements that have supportive research for male fertility include:
- CoQ10: Acts as an antioxidant and benefits mitochondrial energy production
- Carnitine and Acetyl-L-Carnitine: May help to improve sperm motility (the way sperm move)
- Antioxidants (Vitamin C and E): Shown to improve sperm quality.
When it comes to male fertility, it’s important to make lifestyle changes today that benefit your sperm at their full maturity 70 days from now. Whatever you are eating, drinking, smoking, bathing in, or covering yourself today, will all affect your sperm 2-3 months from now. Change doesn’t happen overnight, pick a few items to improve one at a time, and enjoy the process of trying to conceive with your partner.
** Always speak to your doctor before beginning any new dietary or exercise regimen. All supplements and medications should be approved by your physician before beginning. This content is for educational and informational purposes only.