When we think about making improvements to our fertility, the most focus lies on the woman and her diet, but, men and sperm health play a big role when it comes to maximising the chances of conception. Male-factors including suboptimal sperm quality is thought to be responsible for around 25% of cases of infertility.
When it comes to sperm health, we can measure the quality of sperm in a number of ways to include the total number and concentration of sperm, motility or movement, and it’s morphology so it’s shape or structure. Thankfully, research suggests that there are plenty of dietary changes for men to make to improve these measures and increase their chances of fertility.
Improving sperm quality with a Mediterranean diet
A Mediterranean diet has been shown to be a fertility-promoting diet for men. Men who follow the Mediterranean diet style more closely are much less likely to have abnormal sperm concentrations, sperm counts and motility scores compared to those that don’t follow the principles of a Mediterranean diet. A Mediterranean diet includes fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and oily fish; this is a dietary style commonly advised to both men and women trying to conceive. A key feature of the Mediterranean diet is oily fish which contain omega-3 fatty acids, essential fatty acids that we are unable to produce in the body. Studies indicate a diet inclusive of oily fish or omega-3 supplementation has a positive effect on sperm quality markers, with the effect of supplementation being more prominent in those taking higher doses and for a longer duration.
Antioxidants for male fertility
Antioxidants are another key component of the male fertility diet. Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals, known to cause damage to cells within the body. Some antioxidants, in particular, are known for their role in promoting sperm quality and these include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium and zinc.
Vitamin C is found in much higher concentrations in seminal fluid than in the blood. Men with lower levels of Vitamin C have been linked to higher rates of infertility . You can find Vitamin C in citrus fruits, broccoli, potatoes, sprouts, peppers and blackcurrants. Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant found in cell membranes. There have been direct links between levels of vitamin E in seminal plasma and sperm motility (movement). Again, lower levels of Vitamin E were found in the sperm of infertile men. Good sources of Vitamin E include cereals, olive oil, nuts and seeds.
Selenium is another antioxidant found in Brazil nuts, meat, fish and eggs. Men require 75 micrograms per day. Having too much or too little selenium in the diet can cause sperm abnormalities affecting sperm motility and fertility. You should be able to get the selenium you need from a diet that includes meat, fish or nuts. If you choose to take a supplement, taking 35mcg or less per day is unlikely to cause any harm.
Zinc is an essential nutrient for male fertility and reproduction and can be found in meat, shellfish, dairy, bread and cereals. In addition to its antioxidant quality, Zinc is thought to fight against toxins from heavy metals and cigarettes and it helps to balance reproductive hormones. Zinc deficiency has been linked to sperm abnormalities and low testosterone levels.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced, Mediterranean-style diet, rich in antioxidants and inclusive of all food groups should promote good sperm health. These nutrients can be derived from the diet, but supplementation provides another option for nutrient provision for males looking to improve their sperm health and fertility.
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