A Danish study concluded that between 1938 and 1990 sperm concentration has fallen from 113 million per millilitre (ml) to 66 million per millilitres, which is actually a decrease of almost 50 per cent in 50 years
. Based on these statistics, male infertility is on the rise. Nutritionist Claudette Wadsworth explores why this may be, and what you or your partner can do to optimise the quality and quantity of your sperm.
Natural treatments that include diet and lifestyle changes, herbal medicines and nutritional supplements can make a dramatic improvement in sperm parameters. However, you need at least three months of targeted treatments for the beneficial effects to follow through, since it takes 100 days to produce and mature sperm[ii].
In the long term, the key to ensuring high numbers of good quality sperm is to avoid the factors that are known to damage sperm, while increasing the activities that boost and protect sperm. Male issues represent approximately 40 per cent of the reasons behind couples experiencing conception difficulties[iii], so here are some facts and tips to help you achieve optimal sperm health.
Heed the following tips to achieve optimal sperm health.
Zinc is the number one mineral to assist male fertility. It is essential for all aspects of fertility (both in males and females), contributing to testes and prostate development, sperm count, motility and morphology, to DNA replication for genetic material [iv] . Highest food sources include beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
The healthier your diet, the better your fertility. Keep it simple with lots of fresh, unprocessed meals containing vegetables, salads, protein, fruit and Omega 3 oils. These can provide all your nutrients and antioxidants. Start cutting out junk food, cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine and sugar.
The good oils
These are oils with anti-inflammatory properties that make up the cell membranes of sperm, keeping them supple and fluid for fertilisation to occur [v] . They include oily fish such as salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, nuts and seeds.
As mentioned above, keep cool, wear breathable cotton underwear, and avoid daily saunas and hot spas.
Pump your muscles
When you build muscle, you boost your testosterone levels[vi] so include some weight training or resistance training, rather than all cardio exercise – mix it up and your entire mind and body will benefit.
Your thoughts and emotions have an enormous impact on your testosterone levels. One study tested men before and after watching a football match, showing a rise in testosterone level after the game[vii]. You are the star of your own life, so get out there and embrace it!
Minimise or avoid the following factors to optimise your fertility levels.
Plastics can disrupt your hormonal balance by exerting an oestrogenic effect[viii]. Avoid using squishy plastic containers and plastic cling wrap, especially for hot foods. Use a water bottle that is labelled as being BPA-free or use a stainless steel bottle.
Keeping your mobile phone snuggled up close to your private parts is not a good idea. Sperm are particularly vulnerable to radiation damage[ix] so try carrying it in your top pocket instead, place it on the corner of the desk rather than on your body whenever you can, and switch it off at night so your body gets at least eight hours free from the radiation caused by the mobile constantly picking up a signal.
Excessive intake of foods that naturally contain plant oestrogens will not help your testosterone-driven sperm production [x] . The main culprits are beer and soy. Be aware that soy is now an additive in many processed and packaged foods, so eat natural wholefoods wherever possible. This includes the basics such as vegetables, protein, salads, fruit, grains.
Medications such as antidepressants, steroids such as prednisolone, and anabolic steroids actually decrease fertility so seek alternatives or avoid them altogether[xi].
To ensure you don’t overcook your swimmers, opt for cotton boxer shorts over briefs, stop crossing your legs and avoid heated car seats. Squashing the testes for long periods can harm nerves and impede blood flow, which is why long hours of cycling on unforgiving bike seats has been shown to reduce male fertility in recent times[xii]. If you love cycling, keep it short and fast, and try mixing it up with some other sports.
These days, we are surrounded by chemicals in our environment, from cleaning products, pest control and building materials, to paints and heavy metals. Try to avoid excessive exposure wherever possible by asking or doing some investigation yourself into less chemical-based alternatives. When exposed, always wear protective clothing and masks, and maximise ventilation, especially in the workplace [xiii] .
Chronic stress exhausts your adrenal glands, reduces testosterone and causes inflammation in the body, which damages sperm as well as all other body cells[xiv]. Find an outlet for your stress whether it be exercise, meditation, nature, creativity but more importantly, change your thoughts and perspective on your life. Life is wonderful and you are great!
Whether you envision being a father now, in 10 years' time or you already have children, everything you do accumulates in your body and impacts on your health. Start making changes today, and your health, the legacy of your future, and the health of your prospective child/ren will thank you for it!
[iii] McLachlan RI, 2013 Mar;98(3):873-80. doi: 10.1210/jc.2012-3650.
[iv] Wong WY et al, Fertil Steril 2000; 73: 435-442.
[v] Lenzi A et al, Mol Hum Reprod 2000, 6(3):226-231.
[vi] , 2013 Mar;27(3):738-47.
[vii] et al, 2012 Jul;198(7):485-94.
[viii] WHO/UNEP “ State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals” 2013
[ix] Hull MGR et al, BMJ. 1985, 291:1693-1697.
[x] Hechtman L Clinical Naturopathic Medicine 2011, Elsevier, Australia.
[xi] Domar AD et al, 2013 Jan;28(1):160-71; Arit W et al, 2010 Nov;95(11):5110-21.
[xii] Leibovitch I, Mor Y, 2005 Mar;47(3):277-86.
[xiii] Savitz DA et al, Sep-Oct;104(5):473-7.