By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
When trying to start a family (either naturally or through assisted conception), it is important to ensure your body is in the right condition. The food that you choose to eat may have a direct impact on the quality of your sperm. So, it is important that you choose what you eat wisely as it may have a significant impact on your ability to conceive. Poor diet (and lifestyle factors) have been linked to fertility issues in both men and women and there have been numerous studies carried out to support this. A low sperm count is one of the most common causes of male infertility and can affect more than a third of couples who are trying to conceive. So what are some of the key nutrients that may help improve the health of the little swimmers?
Here are 10 top tips that may help
Choose foods containing high antioxidant levels such as selenium, vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene as antioxidants protect sperm DNA (antioxidants help to counteract those free radicals which can cause damage to sperm DNA due to oxidative stress). If you smoke, stop, as smoking reduces the amount of vitamin C in the body (just one reason of many to give up). Vitamin C helps to reduce the number of sperm that clump together (agglutination).
Increase L-Carnitine containing foods in your daily diet as it aids transportation of fatty acids into the mitochondria and thus helps increase energy levels of the sperm. Natural sources are cheese, chicken and milk.
Vitamin E is important in sperm membranes and aids the ability of the sperm to fertilise the egg. Try to include more in your diet. Good food sources of vitamin E include: avocados, almonds, butternut squash and spinach.
Include more sources of zinc in your diet such as shellfish, eggs, nuts, whole-grains and seeds. Zinc helps to improve the form, function and quality of sperm. Zinc can be obtained from a variety of other foods including beef, poultry, dairy, eggs and whole grains.
It’s not all about eating your greens! Packed full of powerful beta carotenoids, red fruit and vegetables, particularly carrots and tomatoes have been found to improve the sperm’s ability to swim towards an egg. Similarly, lycopene, found in abundance in tomatoes, is associated with improving the overall appearance and quality of men’s sperm. Eat more tomatoes, especially cooked ones as once cooked they release more lycopene.
Increase sources of omega 3 fatty acids as these maintain membrane fluidity of the sperm. These are also good for healthy hormone functioning and controlling inflammation – fab sources are oily fish, flaxseed, walnuts (avoid trans fatty acids, hydrogenated fats and saturated fats where possible as these can affect sperm motility and decrease membrane fluidity). Walnuts are also packed full of antioxidants, which help zap those free radicals which can cause damage to sperm DNA due to oxidative stress. Walnuts are also great to add flavour and crunch to salads or as a nutritious mid-afternoon snack to help manage blood sugar levels.
Remember to drink at least 6 glasses of fresh water a day to keep fully hydrated- this will also help the little swimmers to swim!
Minimize or cut out alcohol – drinking too much alcohol has been linked to reduced libido, impotence and decreased sperm count and quality.
Eat organic food where possible as some pesticides and plastics contain Xenoestrogens and these have been linked to declining fertility in men. Some of these may mimic oestrogen in the body which can cause testosterone to decrease. Healthy testosterone levels are necessary for sperm production.
Eat foods that contain some L’arginine. L-arginine can be found in most protein rich animal or fish-based foods. Soybeans and nuts also contain some arginine. L-arginine is an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein. The head of the sperm contains a lot of l’arginine and it is important re sperm quality and count.
Improving Male Fertility (2013). Research Suggests a Nutrient-Dense Diet May Play an Integral Role. Today’s Dietitian Vol. 15 No. 6 P. 40.