We place so much focus on what women should and shouldn’t eat to improve their fertility, egg health and chances of conceiving. But what about men? Male infertility or fertility complications are actually solely responsible for up to 30% of infertility issues in Australia
So, it’s important for men to consider how they can protect the health of their sperm in order to grow a family in the future. And nutrition is a critical way in which men can take control and ensure their sperm are as healthy as possible.
There are certain nutrients which males should prioritise or aim to include more of in their diets in order to optimise sperm health.
Zinc has been found to have a positive impact on sperm concentration and motility, making it very important to include in a male’s diet. Even more, infertile or sub-fertile men often have lower zinc levels than fertile men, showing the link between sperm health and fertility and this essential mineral.
Zinc is essential for the production of sperm, as well as sperm count, function and morphology, and therefore for its ability to fertilise an egg.
Zinc is found most potently in animal foods, including oysters, red meat, poultry, eggs and fish, but you can also get some in legumes, beans and lentils, and some fortified cereal products. Men should aim for at least 14 mg/day of zinc – whether through food or supplementation under the guidance of a health professional, to ensure those swimmers are as healthy as possible!
We know women who are trying to conceive or are pregnant often require extra folate in order to support healthy development and prevent complications in the unborn bub. But, surprisingly, an adequate folate or folic acid intake is extremely important for sperm health, too!
Folate can help increase sperm count. It’s also important for helping our bodies to make DNA. When you think about it, your baby is inheriting DNA from both mum and dad – so it’s just as important for the male to have adequate folate levels to prevent future complications as it is for mum!
Great sources of folate include leafy greens, wholegrains and some fortified cereal products.
It’s important to consume just the right amount of selenium, as an excess or a deficiency can potentially harm sperm health or lead to abnormal sperm parameters. On the other hand, consuming an ideal amount of selenium can protect sperm from damage by oxidative stress, and improve sperm motility and health.
A Brazil nut (or two) each day keeps the doctor away, they say! Or at least, this will ensure you’re getting enough selenium in your diet for optimal sperm health.
4. Omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fats play an important role in keeping sperm safe and healthy, by strengthening the sperm membrane. Their anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties are also really important in supporting the concentration, number, motility and morphology of sperm.
Omega-3 supplementation was found to have a positive impact on male fertility and semen health, as did foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These include oily fish (like salmon or sardines) and nuts and seeds – especially flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seed and walnuts. So, there are plenty of delicious ways to get your omega-3s each day!
5. Ubiquinone/Coenzyme Q10.
‘CoQ10’ is an antioxidant which plays a critical role in sperm health and count. Male fertility following CoQ10 treatment has been found to increase sperm density, motility and morphology. The study found 150 mg of CoQ10 daily was enough to improve these markers of sperm health in fertile men.
CoQ10 is found in meats – especially organ meats, fatty fish (your salmon and sardines are back!), vegetables, legumes, sesame seeds and pistachios.
Interestingly, a range of antioxidants have been found to improve sperm health and sperm count, as well as help maintain DNA integrity in sperm, to assist in preventing any birth complications in your unborn baby down the track. Antioxidants are found in abundance in fruit and vegetables – so if you haven’t already increased your intake of plant foods, here’s just another reason to do so!
So where to from here?
Perhaps the best dietary change a male can make to improve sperm health is to follow a Mediterranean-style of eating. This means an emphasis on healthy fats (your omega-3 containing foods), wholegrains, lots of seafood (salmon and sardines, back again!), legumes and beans and plenty of vegetables.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve sperm health and quality, as well as supporting overall health in both men and women!
So, when should you start focusing on your diet and nutrient intake? Well, considering sperm take around three months to fully mature in a male’s body, the three-month period before you even begin trying to conceive is when it’s time to make these changes! Following a nutritious, balanced, whole foods-rich diet during this time is critical. And remember, men, you may not carry the baby, but the health of you and your sperm is equally as important in protecting the long-term health and development of your baby.