When it comes to making babies, men who are trying to increase their chances of fertility might want to consider tweaking their diets to improve the quantity and quality of their sperm.
Since it takes two to conceive, it stands to reason that when infertility strikes — which is defined as actively trying to conceive for a year without success — men share about half the responsibility, and studies support that. Guys can check their fertility right at home with SpermCheck, an over-the-counter male fertility test that gives you results in minutes.
Research also suggests that men can improve sperm quality and raise their chances of fertility by adding, and sometimes eliminating, certain foods from their diet.
Okay, back up: What’s sperm quality?
Of course you remember from seventh grade health class that conception requires a whole army of sperm fighting to get their chance at fertilizing that egg. And lower sperm counts, which is pretty much anything under 5 million sperm per milliliter of semen (with 20 million being a pretty normal count), is the biggest factor in male infertility.
But what you might have forgotten from that long ago health class is that not only do you need a healthy amount of sperm, but they also need to be in tip top condition. For one thing, they need to be able to move towards the egg, which is called motility. If over 40 percent of a man’s sperm is just twitching or swimming around in circles, chances of conception are significantly lowered. A dude’s sperm needs a plan.
Another factor affecting fertility is the morphology of the sperm, or what the sperm actually look like when semen is analyzed. Normal sperm have oval heads with long, strong tails and complications arise when more sperm have abnormally shaped heads or crooked tails. The guys need to look good and feel good.
Got it. So, what can I do?
A number of studies over the last decade have determined that simple changes to a man’s diet — like adding foods rich in Vitamin D, zinc and folic acid — can improve overall sperm health.
“The most important thing a guy can do is to treat his body like a temple,” Dr. Seth Cohen, assistant professor of Urology and OBGYN at NYU Langone Medical Center, told askmen.com. “You want to simply put things in your body that help you stay healthy.”
To that end, we’ve come up with a list of vitamin and mineral rich foods that will help guys improve the quality and quantity of sperm and increase their chances of fertility.
You might have thought that they just helped you want to make a baby, but oysters aren’t just the aphrodisiac of lore. It turns out, they’re super rich in zinc, which helps increase production of sperm and testosterone, a necessary ingredient for conception. Oysters are also chock-full of selenium that helps sperm live longer and swim better. Can’t deal with their slippery texture? Try turkey, pumpkin seeds or lobster instead. Hey, this baby-making thing is tasty.
A 2012 study found that foods containing omega-3 fatty acid, like salmon and tuna, can actually help abnormally shaped sperm morph into pointy-headed love torpedoes with super long tails. Other foods rich in this important fatty acid include walnuts, spinach and sardines.
Cleaning up your diet doesn’t mean giving up your meat and potatoes (well, more on that later). Consuming beef in moderation can actually help increase the chances of your sperms’ survival and fertilization. Like oysters, beef is a great source of zinc and selenium and also Coenzyme Q10 and L-carnitine, which help protect sperm and ensure sperm’s future development. You’re welcome.
While they’re both a rich source of starch and dietary fiber, sweet potatoes beat out their paler cousins with the added value of helping to keep sperm actively swimming. Also, the beta carotene rich superfood creates antioxidants that help prevent sperm damage. Skip the marshmallows to get your swimmers ready for action.
Guys might want to limit nibbling on too many sweet treats to prevent weight gain, which has been found to contribute to infertility. But a few squares of dark chocolate each day provides the benefit of powerful antioxidants that protect sperm from damage and lower hypertension to help get you in the mood for love.
Great, I love chocolate. Anything I should give up?
Just as it seems like common sense to clean up your diet to improve sperm health, it comes as no surprise that numerous studies show there are certain foods you might consider eliminating — or at least cutting back on — to increase your odds with fertility.
“Eating clean is never a bad thing,” Cohen said. “If you’re eating junky processed foods, it’s not going to be good for your body and it’s not going to be good for your sperm.”
Here are some things men might want to cut back on if they’re trying to improve their conception odds.
Foods high in saturated fat
The same study that found the link between omega-3 foods and well-shaped sperm also found a correlation between a high total fat intake and lower total sperm count and concentration. Translation: stick to the good fats (think: avocado, walnuts or pumpkin seeds) and steer clear of the bad ones (butter, ice cream and bacon).
While doctors continue to debate the health effects of Bisphenol A, a chemical found in many household items including the ubiquitous plastic water bottle, the ingredient has been found to act like estrogen in the body, which could affect sperm count and motility. It’s like a wet blanket on the fertility bed.
As with beef, alcohol is okay if consumed in moderation, but if you drink to excess, your liver –along with your sperm – are sure to suffer. Most doctors say two drinks a day should be the limit. Cheers.
Aside from advantages in the fertility department, cleaning up your diet is a win for your overall health and gets you in shape for the real challenge: parenthood.