Your Plan Of Action – The Natural Approach
Research shows that following a good male fertility diet can improve your chances of conceiving
- Eat plenty of fruits and veg and snack on nuts daily
- Eat more fish and vegetarian meals and less meat and processed foods
- Ensure you get a semen analysis and sperm DNA fragmentation test
Male fertility is the second most common cause of fertility issues, coming second only to advanced age of the female partner. It affects about half of all couples so it is essential to consider when you are trying to conceive. It was often the female partner who might initiate tests, but we strongly recommend getting male tests done from the start of your fertility journey.
A regular semen analysis looks at the external parts of a sperm, how well it can function and get from point A to point B. The World Health Organisation has set optimal levels that indicate good fertility potential:
- Volume: the ejaculate should be 2ml or more in volume
- Sperm count: this is the number of sperm and should be higher than 40 million sperm or 20 million sperm per ml
- Motility: this indicates how well the sperm can swim and over 50% of sperm should be good swimmers
- Morphology: this indicates that the sperm are well formed and not abnormal looking which might impede their ability to swim or penetrate the egg. There are usually a high number of abnormal forms in the sample, this is quite normal. Depending on how this is measured, the normal forms should be above 4% or perhaps higher than this depending on the lab
- Anti-sperm antibodies: these are antibodies that bind to the sperm which interferes with their function. It is important to have this below 50%
Sperm DNA Fragmentation
- This test looks at damage to the DNA within the sperm which carries the important paternal genetic information. Men with an abnormal semen analysis may have increased DNA fragmentation also. However, one in four men with a completely normal semen analysis will have increased DNA fragmentation. This might mean that you have proceeded with trying to conceive and only later down the road, it might be identified that there is another issue. This is often later found as a cause of ‘unexplained infertility’ or recurrent miscarriage. We therefore recommend getting this test done with your semen analysis.
- It is normal to have a certain level of DNA fragmentation. Depending on what test is used, this might be up to 15%. Above this, there might be difficulty conceiving and above 30%, the chances are reduced significantly and risk of miscarriage increases.
- The DNA in sperm is vulnerable to conditions of ‘oxidative stress’. Under these conditions, the DNA can be damaged causing the DNA to fragment. Where there is a high degree of DNA fragmentation, there may be an increased risk of infertility, failed assisted reproduction e.g. IUI or IVF, and recurrent miscarriage.
Can Nutrition Help With Male Fertility?
Male fertility issues have lots of causes, some which you can improve. These include smoking, inflammation, poor diet, being overweight, sedentary lifestyles and exposure to heat and chemicals.
If there is a physical reason for low sperm or poor quality sperm such as a varicocele (like a varicose vein in the testes) or a blockage, it might still be important to try to improve sperm quality. This way, if sperm is retrieved by another method e.g. biopsy, you can still try to make it the best quality possible.
This is also important when ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) is recommended for those with high DNA fragmentation; it is still recommended to try to reduce the levels of damage as much as possible before going for your cycle.
There is a growing body of evidence to show that diet has a significant impact on your sperm health and numbers. A good fertility diet is high in vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. Fish intake is important, particularly omega-3 rich fish such as wild/ organic salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and anchovies. Including more pulses and plant-based foods is helpful and reducing red meat, particularly processed meats is beneficial. A reduction in high fat, high sugar processed foods is recommended.
Male Fertility Nutrients
So as well as eating a healthy diet, supplementation is beneficial to help improve male fertility. It is important to have a good multivitamin and mineral supplement that is designed for male fertility. This multi would contain a number of key nutrients that are important for men.
Zinc is the most widely studied nutrient in terms of fertility for men. It is an essential component of genetic material and a zinc deficiency can cause chromosome changes, leading to reduced fertility and an increased risk of miscarriage for the female partner. Zinc is found in high concentrations in the sperm and is needed to make the outer layer and tail of the sperm and is, therefore, essential for the health of sperm. To show you how powerful these nutrients are men, who were sub-fertile, were given a combination of zinc and folic acid and it showed a 74% increase in total sperm count.
Selenium is an antioxidant that helps to protect your body from highly reactive chemical fragments called free radicals. Good levels of selenium are also essential to maximise sperm formation. Selenium supplementation given to infertile men increased sperm count, motility and the number of normal sperm.
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant and has been shown to increase fertility when given to men. Vitamin E helps to increase fertilisation rates during ICSI treatments.
Vitamin C is also an antioxidant and we know that it is important for men as it can help to increase sperm counts by up to a third.
Antioxidants in general (and that includes zinc, selenium, vitamin C and vitamin E) have been shown to have a major impact on male fertility. A review of 34 studies with men going for IVF/ICSI cycles has shown that when men take antioxidants their partner is five times more likely to have a live birth compared to a placebo.
Two amino acids, L-arginine and L-carnitine are particularly important for male fertility. The L-arginine is essential for healthy sperm production and protects the sperm against oxidative damage. The higher the levels of L-carnitine in sperm cells, the higher the sperm count and motility.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and more specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are a major component of sperm membranes. Good levels of omega-3 can improve sperm count and motility. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and, indirectly, are able to protect against sperm damage. In a ‘Western Diet’, we do not get enough omega-3 in our diet. Eating at least two portions per week of oily fish is recommended. If you do not eat fish, a supplement containing over 500mg of each of EPA and DHA is useful.
Omega 3 fatty acids are important for male fertility because semen is rich in prostaglandins, which are produced from these Omega 3 fatty acids. Men with poor sperm quality, abnormal sperm, poor motility or low count, can have inadequate levels of these beneficial prostaglandinsand research has shown that by supplementing with omega 3 fish oils there was a significant increase in sperm count compared to a placebo.
Vitamin D is important for male fertility as low levels of this nutrient is associated with low sperm motility and more abnormal forms.
Tests For Male Fertility
Do you want to know more about exactly what vitamins and minerals you really need? Our Nutritional Profile MGL4 (blood test) can help you to find out what you are deficient in so that you can know exactly what supplements you should be taking. Restoring antioxidants and correcting deficiencies can be very effective in improving sperm quantity and quality.
We can also organise a Semen Analysis and Sperm DNA Fragmentation Test.
Where To Start?
Make sure you are eating well and it is important to know which vitamins and minerals you should be taking to improve male fertility. If you would like personalised advice on what to do next, then request a consultation with one of our qualified nutritionists.