Whilst there is a wealth of information available detailing the benefits of nutrients such as folic acid and fish oils for women considering conceiving, what a man should or should not eat is very much a neglected area of research. This is surprising considering that the male contributes to half of the genetic material that makes up the future child!
The relationship between good nutrition and reproduction is well established, however many of you may still be surprised to learn that nutritional deficiency has been identified as one factor that may impair the production and function of healthy sperm. This is an extremely important point for every man to realise: what you eat (or don’t eat!) can and will influence the health of your sperm and thus the genetic make up of your child if you are considering conceiving.
This is also an important point that needs to considered for couples who have been unsuccessful in their attempts to conceive due to problems with the male’s sperm, as again, nutritional deficiencies may be an important neglected cause of reproductive impairment in men. Still, never underestimate the power of good nutrition! Whilst it is best to consult with a naturopath who specialises in men’s health and fertility for an individual review of your diet, below are my top five food groups (in no particular order) to get you (if you’re a man!) or your man (if you’re a woman) on the way towards healthy fertile sperm!
Zinc is one of the most important nutrients for sperm health however zinc deficiency has been identified as common in Australia, problematic considering adequate zinc is required for spermatogenesis (the development of the sperm cell) and sperm motility (the ability of the sperm to move and swim). Zinc deficiency results in lowered sperm count as well as abnormally shaped sperm that are weak and can’t swim very well. Increasing zinc status in males deemed to be sub-fertile has been shown to improve numbers of sperm as well as their motility and morphology (shape). Foods rich in zinc should be high on the list of any man wanting to improve the quality of his sperm, my favourite food sources of zinc are pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
Researchers have observed that human sperm is highly susceptible to damage from oxidation thus it should come as no surprise that increasing intake of antioxidants (those lovely constituents that help to protect against oxidation) ensures sperm cells are protected from damage. A number of antioxidants have been found to be of use to promote healthy sperm. These are detailed below and should be encouraged in the diet:
Antioxidant What influence does this nutrient have on sperm? Foods this nutrient is found in “Food Coach” Recipes containing optimal amounts of this nutrient
Beta-carotene Associated with higher sperm concentration and motile sperm Carrots, sweet potato, yellow and green vegetables Spiced sweet potato soup
Lycopene Improves concentration of sperm as well as motility and shape Tomatoes and Tomato based sauces Tomato and Olive Sauce
Selenium Required for testosterone synthesis, normal sperm
maturation and sperm motility Brazil nuts, alfalfa, broccoli, onions, garlic, whole grains Mmmm mixed nuts containing Brazil nuts, an excellent source of Selenium
Vitamin C Prevents ‘sticky sperm’ (sperm agglutination). Protects sperm from oxidative damage Oranges, Kiwi fruit, strawberries, rose hip Bright Eyes Juice – packed with vitamin C, not only does it provides antioxidant support, its great for a detox
Vitamin E Protects against free radicals that typically make sperm immotile Almonds, wheatgerm, nuts, egg yolks Bliss Balls, a sweet treat containing vitamin E
Omega-3 fatty acids: your good fats
Good fats, in particular the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish such as salmon and sardines are not only required structurally by the sperm, they are also essential to keep the sperm ﬂuid and ﬂexible so that successful fertilisation can take place. Interestingly infertile men have been found to have lower concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in their sperm than fertile men. Increasing the number of fish meals you have each week is an easy way to increase your omega-3 fatty acids.
Consuming enough protein is also highly important as amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) such as arginine and carnitine also contribute to healthy sperm. Arginine has been shown to increase sperm count and quality whilst carnitine functions as a fuel or power source for the sperm helping to propel them along in their journey. Mind you, this is most definitely not a free rein to go out and overdose on steaks, meat pies and sausage rolls! Quality and quantity of protein is important, additionally a good mix of animal protein (e.g. fish, lean meats) and vegetarian sources of protein (e.g. legumes) should be considered.
The benefits of drinking more water are always being drummed into us and there is good reason particularly in your quest for quality sperm! Low sperm count is associated with dehydration so ensure you get your 8 glasses a day. Sip throughout the day rather then downing a litre in one go!
Author – Lisa Costa Bir, Naturopath