Helping Your Reproductive Health
Are you and your partner thinking about starting a family? To ensure you have the best chance of conceiving, it’s important for both of you to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle. It’s not all about the woman – after all, it takes two to fertilize that egg! And your man’s sperm will only be as healthy as he is.
The average sperm count has declined by 40 per cent since 1940. In 90 per cent of cases, low sperm count is due to inadequate production of sperm. And in about 90 per cent of those cases, the cause of low production is unknown. This rapid and significant reduction has led to speculation that changes in diet, lifestyle and environment in recent decades are interfering with sperm production.
Like so many things in life, sperm quality is better than sperm quantity. Your man could have a sperm count so high it’s off the charts; but if the majority of them are unhealthy, he’s likely to encounter fertility challenges. Low motility, also known as “slow swimmers,” and abnormally shaped sperm can interfere with fertility.
The good news is there are plenty of simple dietary changes your partner can make to ensure he has the healthiest, mightiest swimmers possible!
Antioxidants vs. Free Radicals
Sperm cells don’t have a proper defense system to protect them against free radical or oxidative damage. That means they have to rely on antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and beta-carotene for protection. High levels of free radicals are found in the semen of 40 per cent of infertile men. Free radical damage is increased in those who eat a lot of fried, fatty foods, consume alcohol on a regular basis, or smoke cigarettes (which also depletes vitamin C levels in the body); therefore limiting these habits is critical to maximizing sperm health. Replace alcoholic drinks with fresh smoothies made with dark leafy greens such as kale or spinach – all great sources of vitamin C, E and carotenoid antioxidants. And don’t forget to include selenium-rich foods like crimini or shiitake mushrooms, eggs and oats.
This is the most important trace mineral for male sexual function. It’s involved in almost all aspects of male reproduction – from hormone metabolism to sperm formation and motility. Zinc deficiency often leads to decreased testosterone levels and low sperm counts. Good sources of zinc include whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – especially pumpkin seeds. While you’re eating these foods, make sure to get enough vitamin B6 in your diet, as this nutrient helps ensure zinc is properly absorbed. Bell peppers, garlic and tuna are all great sources.
High-fiber diets are essential to male reproductive health, as fiber helps keep estrogen levels in check. We are living in an environment that contains many sources of estrogen, which can weaken male reproductive vitality – hormone-fed livestock, unfiltered drinking water (found to contain recycled synthetic estrogens excreted from women taking oral contraceptives), and environmental chemicals found in the soil where our food is grown. Fiber binds to estrogens and promotes their timely elimination through regular bowel movements. It’s very difficult to avoid environmental estrogens altogether, so the best strategy to limit its effects on your health is to eat plenty of fiber-rich foods – fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
These compounds are found in legumes and organic, unprocessed soy foods such as tempeh. They bind to estrogen receptors and, as a result, block the body’s own estrogen from binding. These foods are also a good source of phytosterols – plant compounds that may help manufacture steroid hormones, including testosterone.
Chinese and Siberian ginseng:
These adaptogenic herbs increase sperm formation and help get you in the mood. They may also increase testosterone levels if they’re on the low side.
Essential Fatty Acids:
All sperm cells are protected by an outer membrane made up of fatty acids. The healthy omega 3 and omega 6 fats found in cold-water fish such as salmon (ideally wild Alaskan), sardines and mackerel, as well as a variety of nuts and seeds (walnuts, ground flaxseed, chia and hemp seeds) help support all areas of sexual function, including sperm production and activity.
If EFAs and unsaturated fats help increase sperm function, it makes sense that saturated fats have the opposite effect. Too much saturated animal fat, hydrogenated oil, trans-fats, coconut oil and palm oil changes the composition of the membrane, decreasing fluidity and motility. These foods should be limited as much as possible.
This is another source of fat often found in potato chips and other processed foods, which should be avoided at all costs if you’re having trouble conceiving. Cotton is sprayed heavily with pesticides, leaving its seed with toxic residues. It also contains a high level of gossypol, a toxin that inhibits sperm function so severely that it’s being investigated as a “male birth control pill.”
Making changes in your diet can be difficult if you don’t have support from your partner. You’re in this process together – and planning meals, cooking, and eating together will help both of you stick to a healthier lifestyle. The added bonus is that when you eat better, you feel better. You’ll have lots of energy and you’ll feel great – both of which bode well for baby making!
Murray, Michael, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 2nd edition.
Mateljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods.