As a naturopathic dietitian, I work closely with couples facing infertility issues and, in 9 cases out of 10, the couple walks in with the aim to fix or improve the woman’s nutrition habits. Quick anecdote: last January, Sarah and Jason had their first appointment with me – this young couple had been trying to conceive for the past 5 years. During our first meeting, Sarah told me that there must be something wrong with what she was eating since she had perfect results for all the lab tests I recommended. So I asked Jason about his diet and lifestyle. Looking very surprised, he said ‘What does my lifestyle have to do with us getting pregnant?’ Unfortunately that’s a very common response although over half of all cases of infertility can be related to male factors. In fact, a 2012 study revealed that only 1 in 4 men have optimal semen quality and another study estimated that sperm counts have declined by 50% worldwide since the 1930s. Before considering IVF, you may want to check out this article to discover natural ways to increase your sperm count and overall sperm health as well as factors that could be adversely affecting your little swimmers.
What is meant by ‘healthy sperm’?
In order to address male infertility, it is crucial to understand the concept of sperm health or quality which is determined by four factors:
- Sperm count which is the total number of sperm cells produced. Under ideal circumstances, a healthy young man should produce 300 to 500 sperm cells per ejaculation although only one will typically fertilize an egg. For timely, reliable impregnation, males should produce a minimum of 40 million of sperm cells per milliliter of semen.
- Sperm morphology refers to the shape or physical characteristics – healthy sperm has a round head and a long tail that helps this little champion swim and penetrate the egg for fertilization to occur. Sperm that has more than one head or tail; an abnormal middle-piece; or an abnormally shaped head or short tail has been linked to fertility issues.
- Sperm motility which determines how well the little swimmers can move forward to reach the egg.
- The integrity or quality of the sperm DNA.
The following video nicely explains how a sperm analysis is conducted.
Top 9 natural methods to make your sperm healthier
1. Seek support to quit smoking
With a lethal mix of over 7000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that smoking can seriously affect your little swimmers. In fact, research suggests that smoking can reduce a man’s fertility by as much as 30% by causing:
- Erectile dysfunction: The various chemicals in tobacco smoke hinder blood flow throughout the body – circulatory issues down there could make it harder for the big guy to stand up. Moreover, smoking can also harm the penile tissue causing the penis to lose its elasticity and causing it to gradually be less able to stretch.
- Poor sperm quality: Several studies comparing semen quality between smokers and non-smokers found that male smokers are more likely to have low sperm count, abnormally shaped sperm and suboptimal sperm motility.
- DNA and structural damage to the sperm: The free radicals found in tobacco smoke affect the fatty membrane of sperm cell causing it to lose its flexibility, motility and fertilizing potential. The chemicals in tobacco also induce DNA damage such as deletion and mutation of genes in the spermatozoa’s nucleus leading to abnormal changes in the sperm’s shape.
What about marijuana?
You’re not off the hook either: research indicates that cannabis use can impair male fertility. The researchers speculate that THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, may disturb the sperm’s timing.
“The sperm from marijuana smokers were moving too fast, too early. The timing was all wrong. These sperm will experience burn-out before they reach the egg and would not be capable of fertilization,” reported study lead author Lani Burkman. The scientists also found that pot smokers had a smaller semen volume and lower sperm count compared to those who didn’t smoke.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Research suggests that the risks of male infertility increases by about 10% for every 10kg increase in body weight. This could explain why compared to their normal-weight counterparts, overweight men with a BMI above 25kg/m2 have a 22% lower sperm concentration whereas obese men are 81% more likely to be sterile (no ejaculated sperm).
What’s the link between body fat and sperm health?
Excess body fat can lead to a reduction in semen volume, lower sperm count and abnormally shaped sperm by:
- Promoting the conversion of testosterone to estrogen – higher levels of estrogen adversely affect sperm production.
- Causing overheating of the testis, the glands where the sperm and testosterone are produced. This could decrease sperm production or induce structural defects in the sperm.
- Increasing the risks of erectile dysfunction.
3. Steer clear from unhealthy fats
I’m talking about industrial seed oils also known as vegetable oils (such as canola, sunflower, safflower, soybean and cottonseed oils); products containing trans fats or fake fats like Crisco.
What this means for you:
- Choose healthy fats such as grass-fed butter or clarified butter, extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, grass-fed beef tallow, avocado, raw nuts and seeds.
- Select grass-fed meats, wild fish and free-range poultry as often as possible – if you can only access conventional meat, remember to trim as much fat as you can since this is where most of the antibiotics and hormones given to the animal will accumulate.
- Make sure to read the ingredient list even if the label says trans fat free – a product definitely contains some trans fats if it contains margarine, hydrogenated fats, mono- or diglycerides.
4. Ditch refined carbohydrates
Did you know that refined carbs such as bread, pasta, rice and sugar-laden foods and beverages have been linked to a decreased sperm count in young men? Moreover, it appears that consumption of refined carbs causes the sperm to become lazy. Scientists speculate that these adverse effects on sperm health are due to the spikes in blood glucose levels that occur after consumption of refined carbs.
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