We caught up with expert fertility nutritionist, Sandra Greenbank, to find out more about how to improve sperm quality through nutrition. Read on to hear about foods that help with fertility.
Over to Sandra Greenbank
www.sandragreenbank.com | @Greenbank.nutrition
Male DNA makes up 50% of the fertilised egg and between 40-50% of infertility cases are due to male factor issues. In 2017 an analysis of 185 studies found that sperm counts in Western countries decreased by approximately 50% between 1973 and 2011. Yet, the fertility process seems almost entirely focused on the female partner. As long as the semen analysis is ‘Ok’, the male partner seems to be ignored altogether. However, we should be aiming for much more than ‘Ok’ for the best possible chances of natural and IVF success when trying to conceive. The good news is that male fertility is heavily influenced by nutrition, and these nutritional factors are within your personal control to change.
For men, the preparation should start around 3-4 months before trying to conceive. This is because the sperm takes approximately 100 days to mature, and this is a huge window of opportunity to make sure that the sperm gets the best possible start in life.
What Food Can We Eat to Improve Sperm Quality?
Firstly, it’s important to ensure a healthy weight. Obesity in men is associated with more fertility problems, higher levels of damaged and abnormally shaped sperm, reduced rate of live birth and increased risk of baby loss and miscarriage.
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The one diet that has been consistently associated with higher sperm concentration, total sperm count and sperm motility, is the Mediterranean diet. Contrary to popular belief, the cornerstones of this diet are not pizza, pasta and red wine! The Mediterranean diet consists of:
A high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds
Fish and seafood consumed at least twice per week
Olive oil is the main oil used in cooking
Low to moderate amounts of dairy and poultry
Absence of processed meats, fried foods
Wine is consumed in low/ moderate amounts
Red meat and sweets are rarely eaten
In addition to the Mediterranean diet, eating organic fruit and vegetables has been positively related to helping improve sperm count. However, it’s better to eat non-organic vegetables than to eat none at all, so focus on organic if you can but choose the produce you are able to find.
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What About Stress?
Oxidative stress has negative effects on sperm but antioxidants protect our cells from free radical damage. We know that antioxidants can help improve sperm quality and male fertility by reducing oxidative stress. Foods rich in antioxidants, incidentally, include those that are prevalent in the Mediterranean diet:
Fruits and berries (the deeper the colour, the higher the antioxidant levels)
Vegetables (especially tomato-based sauces and soups, carrots and spinach)
One of the main antioxidants which is absolutely essential for male fertility when trying to conceive is Zinc. It helps protect the DNA, which is housed inside the head of the sperm and which is passed on to the fertilised egg at the moment of conception. When this DNA becomes damaged, fertilisation rates are affected and miscarriage rates increase. Zinc also acts as a hormone balancer and is involved in the creation of new sperm. In my clinic, I have found that men are very often deficient in this mineral, even if they have been supplementing with zinc. This is likely due to our busy lifestyles and increased stress levels, which in turn affects our digestion and absorption of minerals such as zinc, so it’s important to take a holistic view and not just assume that popping a fertility supplement is going to cover our needs.
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Vitamin D and Fertility
A word on Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin. A Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with reduced fertility, as well as many other health problems. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that gets converted into a hormone in the body. It’s found in small levels in oily fish, dairy products and egg yolk, and we can also convert it through our skin from UV light from the sun. Vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in the northern hemisphere, and it is not possible to make Vitamin D from the sun between the months of October-March. Therefore the NHS recommends that everyone takes a Vitamin D supplement during the winter months. If you are somebody that wears a lot of sunscreen during the summer months and rarely expose your bare skin to sunlight, it would be worth you considering a supplement during the summer months also.
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However, a word of caution; supplements are just that – supplementary to the diet as a whole. We can’t take a supplement and expect to see a difference if we don’t also change our diet. It is also very important not to overdose on any single nutrient, as this may also have negative consequences. It’s always best to work with a qualified nutritional therapist who is also a specialist in fertility nutrition, to ensure that you are taking the best quality supplements without putting your health at risk.
Making a few dietary changes could make a big difference to male fertility, and isn’t it nice to feel that as a couple there is something proactive you can do together, in order to increase your chances of (IVF) success when trying to conceive?
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