Guys, are you taking care of your sperm? Did you know that your diet, lifestyle and environment choices can impact the quality of your sperm and potentially the health of your future child?
I know, mind-blowing right?!
New research conducted in mice, has shown that the diet of the father affected the epigenetics (or the way that the genes are expressed), of the offspring mice. The baby mice were more likely to have more body fat, metabolic problems, and differences in the gut microbiota (Watkins et al., 2018).
Now, I know it’s just in mice, and we are not tiny rodents, but it is starting to highlight that we need to be equally focused on men as we are women when it comes to fertility nutrition and health!
And with male-factor fertility on the rise over the past 30-40 years, and contributing to 50% of infertility cases overall, and even if you have been checked out and your swimmers have been given a green light, you can still take stock of your diet and lifestyle to ensure you are setting your child’s future health up for success!
So gents, listen up, here are 5 things you can do to improve your sperm health:
1. Eat your veggies
Maintaining a healthy balanced diet is a key part of helping to support optimal sperm health, and vegetables contain some of the key nutrients we want to help boost in the diet!
Certain vitamins and minerals have been studied in the wonderful world of sperm research and the following nutrients have been found to be reduced in men with reduced fertility compared to the other men:
- Folate – found in green leafy veggies, oranges, strawberries, avocado, lentils and beans! (Raigini et al., 2014)
- Vitamin C – before you run for just the citrus fruits, pretty much all fruit and veggies contain vitamin C, and in fact, kiwifruit, chilli, capsicum, broccoli and spinach are all better sources of vitamin C than an orange! (Song et al., 2006). It appears that vitamin C may play a role in maintaining the genetic material within the sperm!
- Lycopene – an antioxidant that requires fat for optimal absorption, has been shown to be lower in infertile men (Goyal et al., 2007). Key sources include tomatoes, capsicum, carrot, red cabbage, guava and grapefruit as well as watermelon! Try cooking with extra virgin olive oil and use fresh or tinned tomatoes for the base of pasta sauces and soups to get that lycopene boost for your sperm!
2. Don’t forget your protein!
Now, before you all sigh a collective groan about the veggie situation, there is some good news for all my protein-loving guys out there!
As Adam Watkins’ landmark study in mice found, a diet too low in protein (and therefore high in carbohydrates) has been linked to poorer health outcomes for the offspring mice including obesity! Why? Well, we are not too sure just yet…
But, we know that protein foods do contain some key nutrients that are important for sperm health too, including:
- Zinc – zinc is a critical mineral for men as it is lost in every ejaculate! Zinc is found in protein foods like oysters and seafood, beef, pork, chicken, fish and eggs. Don’t neglect those plant-based protein foods too like legumes, beans and cashews! (Ebisch et al., 2006)
- Co-enzyme Q10 – CoQ10 is not in the standard suite of essential vitamins and minerals, however, it is an antioxidant that has been studied and shown to help support improved sperm counts. CoQ10 is found meat and seafood including oily fish. Plus CoQ10 is found in some veggies, fruit, legumes & beans, sesame seeds and pistachios! (Balercia et al., 2004; Kobori et al., 2014)
- Selenium – a mineral we only need in a small amount that is found in many foods but varies depending on the selenium quantity in the soil. The best source of selenium are brazil nuts, just a couple a day to meet your whole day’s needs and supports sperm health (Eroglu et al., 2014)
3. Reduce your caffeine
It’s not just your missus that needs to pull back on the coffees and black teas before conceiving, you need to take a look at your caffeine habit too!
In fact, a recent 2017 review of the scientific evidence showed that caffeine from sources such as coffee, caffeine-containing soft drinks like energy drinks and cola drinks can negatively impact sperm numbers and also more DNA damage (Ricci et al., 2017).
Before you say farewell to your cappuccino though, we are only talking about large quantities of caffeine that have a negative impact on your sperm quality, so cap it at 1-2 espresso coffees or up to 4 cups of black tea a day and you should be sweet.
Don’t forget to ditch the energy drinks, guys. Soft drinks (regular or “zero” types) have been shown to also impact men’s fertility negatively too (Hatch et al., 2018)! It only takes one soft drink a day to affect fertility, gents, switch it out for some herbal tea or water infused with fruit.
4. Go easy on the booze
I know, I know, you’re probably about to close the tab and move onto happier news, first coffee and now alcohol?!
I mean, we know that alcohol often contributes to too much energy in the diet and contributes to excess weight for many men and women and is a leading contributor to liver damage.
Not just that though, heavy drinking can actually lower testosterone and make it harder to get busy with your missus!
An occasional drink is unlikely to affect your fertility but we don’t actually know how much is safe (Healthy Male Project). The 90 days or so when your sperm is developing before you plan to start trying for a baby is an especially critical time period to help reduce your alcohol, not only for the sake of your fertility but potentially your child’s future health too!
5. Keep the boys cool
Boxers over briefs, boys. And it isn’t just a saying, scientists have actually studied this and have shown that men who wore boxers had higher sperm concentration, counts compared to those wearing other types of underwear (Minguez-Alarcon et al., 2018).
This is because the sperm that lives in your testicles needs to be kept slightly cooler, hence why they are located a bit further away from your body.
So if you are having scorching hot showers or baths, jumping in hot tubs frequently or maybe you need to ditch some of the tight underwear in that top drawer.
6. Your environmental exposures
It is more than just eating right, exercising, cutting back on the coffees and alcohol, turns out toxic chemicals in the environment that you may be exposed to can impact sperm quality.
A 2018 Italian study explored the impact of environmental chemicals on the reproductive health of young men, with associations between more chemical exposure to poorer sperm quality and changes in the reproductive hormone levels. Whilst the impact on this group’s future fertility is not yet known, it is a concern.
Have a think, are you exposing yourself to chemicals in your home or work environment? What precautions can you take to avoid contact or inhaling these potentially fertility-reducing chemicals?
So, guys, it’s not just all about the leading lady when it comes to fertility and the health of your future baby. You, too, should be wising up about your nutrition and lifestyle before you start trying to grow your family. Get yourself checked out by your GP and come along to a dietitian appointment to learn how to optimise your diet and lifestyle to not only ensure your sperm are healthy but also to potentially reduce the risk of chronic diseases for your future child!