When it comes to fertility, female reproductive health typically comes to mind first, however, it takes two to tango!
Mom's fertility isn't the only one that matters, dad's plays a big part too in the conception process.
Issues with fertility are common, affecting approximately 10-15% of couples globally (1).
Men's fertility is often overlooked, however infertility among males is said to make up one-third of infertility cases (2).
Male infertility is most often linked to sperm quantity and quality as well as motility and this is reported to be on the decline worldwide (3).
Fertility can be impacted by many factors including diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
The good news is that there are many ways that fertility can be improved using simple strategies such as nutrition, lifestyle changes, and supplementation. Male fertility can respond quite significantly and rather quickly to beneficial changes in diet and lifestyle.
Whether you are wanting to start a family or simply improve sexual function, below are 4 tips that are backed by science that can may to boost male fertility.
What you eat matters, not just for your overall health but also reproductive health.
The Standard American Diet unfortunately consists of processed and inflammatory foods that are missing vital nutrients and can impact fertility in more ways than one.
The do's and don't of eating for fertility are similar to those recommended for overall health such as limiting alcohol, processed foods and added sugar. The exposure to chemicals such as xenoestrogens can also wreak havoc on sperm health (4).
Chronic alcohol intake has been reported to affect male fertility by increasing oxidative stress, disrupting hormonal regulation and affecting DNA integrity (5).
Though alcohol consumption is associated with a deterioration of sperm parameters this may be partially reversible with discontinuation of the use of alcohol (6).
There are some specific beneficial nutrients that can be obtained from the diet that are associated with improved sexual health among men (8). These may include:
Zinc: considered as one of the most important minerals for male fertility, zinc acts as a hormone balancer and supports the function of testosterone, the prostate, and overall sexual health (9).
A deficiency in this mineral can impede sperm production and contribute to sperm abnormalities as well as insufficient serum testosterone levels (10). You can find zinc in foods such as oysters, grass fed beef, hemp seeds, lamb, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, and cashews.
Observational studies have observed that a higher intake of omega-3 fats has been correlated to a greater levels of morphologically normal sperm (12).
What's more, supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids among men struggling with infertility has been associated with a significant improvement in sperm motility (13).
Vitamin C: vitamin C can help to decrease oxidative stress levels, the effects of which have been linked to worsened sperm quality and male infertility (14). Vitamin C may help to counteract the harmful effects of free radicals and even improve sperm count, quality, and motility in men (15).
You can obtain vitamin C from fruits and vegetable sources such as citrus fruits, broccoli, leafy greens, bell peppers, parsley, kale, kiwi, spinach, and lemons or you can take it in supplement form.
Vitamin D: low vitamin D has been correlated with lower testosterone levels in men, potentially impacting fertility (16). Higher vitamin D levels might support healthier testosterone levels and have been associated with positive changes in sperm motility (17)(18).
You can obtain vitamin D from certain foods like wild fatty fish, mushrooms, and egg yolks, however this is often not enough to sustain optimal levels. The best way to determine if you are low in vitamin D is to test your blood levels in order to assess whether supplementation is necessary.
Selenium: another important mineral for reproductive health, selenium is essential for normal sperm production and as an antioxidant it can reduce free radical damage from oxidative stress (19)(20). Good sources of selenium include brazil nuts, fish, pork, beef, chicken, turkey, eggs, brown rice, sunflower seeds, and cottage cheese.
Subfertile and infertile men are said to encounter higher amount of oxidative stress in the reproductive tract which causes sperm DNA damage and results in lower fertility and pregnancy rates (22). Antioxidants and omega 3 fats can help to reduce inflammation caused by oxidative stress, which may help to improve sperm parameters (23).
Improved semen parameters were observed in studies where participants consumed a healthy diet, rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fish (24).
In certain cases it may be beneficial to supplement if you are not obtaining sufficient amount of these nutrients through the diet as is often the case with vitamin D for example.
We all know we need to exercise regularly for the maintenance of good health, but what does it have to do with male fertility?
Physically active men have been shown to display healthier hormone levels as well as healthier semen production compared to sedentary males (27).
A study observing different forms of exercise on sperm health found that moderate intensity training was the most beneficial for improving markers of male reproductive function compared to high-intensity training (28).
Too much exercise at too high intensity levels is not healthy either and can potentially deplete hormones such as testosterone though zinc supplementation has been shown to correct these imbalances (29)(30).
The verdict? Regular physical activity is essential for male reproductive health, just don't overdo it!
Stress can not only kill the mood, but it can also impact fertility, in both males and females.
This is mainly due to the increase in the hormone cortisol. When cortisol is chronically activated it can negatively impact sex hormones such as testosterone, favouring the stress hormones instead (31)(32).
When stress levels go up, sex hormones tend to go down as the body does not favour reproduction during times of uncertainty (33).
This is why a stress management practice is essential.
We have spoken about stress management on the blog before and there are many simple ways that you can start to decrease your daily load of stress to benefit your health and fertility.
There are many supplements that can help to support hormonal balance as well as fertility. Today we are sharing 3 popular herbal supplements that have been shown to boost fertility in males:
Ashwagandha is a herb that is rising in popularity and in particular for stress management, however it also possesses aphrodisiac properties that can help improve and maintain normal sexual health (34). Ashwagandha can be used to enhance male sexual function and even treat stress-related infertility (35)(36).
It can benefit men's sexual health in a variety of ways which may include increasing testosterone levels, improving sperm count and quality, reducing erectile dysfunction, and enhancing sexual desire (37)(38).
It has been used in cases of impotence and erectile dysfunction and shown to improve male sexual function (41).
Though current research does show promise for the use of tribulus for sexual and reproductive health, more studies are needed to confirm its effects (42).
Research indicates that maca possesses fertility enhancing properties in men (44).
A study that observed the effects of maca among infertile men found that those taking 2 grams of maca for 12 weeks showed a significant improvement in sperm concentration compared with those treated with placebo (45).
Infertility can affect both men and women and though the causes may be complex, the first step should always be around nutritional and lifestyle changes as they can provide a significant impact alone on fertility regardless of sex. In addition, there are numerous supplements that may also provide a boost and additional support on your sexual health and fertility journey.
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