When it comes to fertility, women take the spotlight. With age, egg quality and period health being our focus. But, lesser known, and even less discussed is that male fertility issues are on the rise and affect 50% of couples who have difficulty trying to conceive (TTC).
How is male fertility measured?
The main test for male fertility is a semen analysis. This involves a man producing a sperm sample (usually via masturbation) at a fertility clinic, which is then analysed by qualified lab staff.
An initial semen analysis can tell you whether your sperm is within the normal range for the following areas:
· Sperm motility (how well the sperm move)
· Sperm count and concentration (how many sperm you have)
· Sperm morphology (if the sperm have normal shape and form)
Unlike women, men are not necessarily time restricted with their fertility. There’s no pending menopause and generally a man can father a child until their 70's. However, sperm quality does reduce as men get older; with sperm motility declining after the age of 34, plus sperm count and normal forms lowering after the age of 40.
Unfortunately, we can’t stop the ageing process (no matter how hard we try!) but there are some healthy changes that may improve male fertility. Approximately 100 million sperm are produced each day, which take between 60 - 90 days to become mature enough to potentially fertilise an egg. During this maturing phase, dietary and lifestyle habits can influence sperm health. Whilst it’s quite normal for sperm quality to vary from month to month, good nutrition and lifestyle habits can help build a solid foundation for overall sperm quality.
So, where to start? The points below are some important factors that are easy to implement:
We all know that regular exercise is good for us, but it can get a bit confusing – with research showing that cycling can be bad for sperm health. To help clear things up, a recent study showed that men who did combined aerobic and resistance training (cardio and weight training) showed greater improvements in their overall sperm quality. So if you are planning a pregnancy, or having fertility issues, it might be worth swapping the intense cycling (and tight lycra!) for running and weights for a while.
Maintaining a healthy weight:
When we think about weight loss, it’s usually for improved fitness, body image goals, or general health reasons. But, male obesity has been linked with lower sperm counts, poorer sperm form and motility. This makes it difficult for the sperm to actually reach the egg, causing delays in getting pregnant, the potential need for fertility treatments and a greater risk of miscarriage. You don’t necessarily need to get your BMI below 25, as even slight weight loss can improve sperm health.
Obesity can also contribute to DNA damage (AKA DNA fragmentation) in sperm. Sperm DNA damage is exactly as it sounds, damage to the DNA within the sperm cell, and is a specialised marker of sperm quality linked to recurrent miscarriage and failed fertility treatments.
What causes sperm DNA fragmentation?
Over time, oxidative stress can reduce the DNA quality of sperm cells. You may think that DNA quality may be a little out of your control, however, the main contributors to oxidative stress in the body can be minimised:
Smoking (including marijuana use): can significantly reduce sperm quality, this includes nicotine-containing e-cigarettes and passive smoking too. Vaping is still undergoing research to confirm its impact on fertility levels, but if you ask us, it’s best to avoid this if possible.
Alcohol: we know that alcohol should be avoided when you are TTC, and this doesn’t just apply to women. Studies have shown that even drinking 5 units of alcohol a week (that’s about 2 pints of beer/lager) reduces sperm quality.
Ageing: sperm DNA Fragmentation doubles between 20 – 60 years old. Again, we can’t stop ageing, but addressing these other lifestyle factors can help to counteract age-related sperm damage.
Environmental factors: sperm prefer cooler temperatures, so avoiding tight-fitting clothing and underwear can help to keep sperm at a more comfortable temperature. Did you know that radiation and heat from electronic devices can also contribute to sperm DNA damage? So try to limit the amount of time you are using laptops on your lap and consider moving your phone away from your pocket.
Stress: is there anything it doesn't impact? Chronic stress has been shown to suppress testosterone levels and reduce sperm quality. When stress is paired with a lack of sleep and a poor diet, this can further impact sperm health. Sure, daily life is stressful, but taking some time out for yourself and prioritising sleep, can help to reduce the impact stress has on our fertility.
Processed foods: it’s hardly surprising that higher intakes of processed foods have been linked with poorer sperm quality, but what does the ideal ‘fertility diet’ look like for men? The Mediterranean diet has shown the best outcomes in sperm quality, so including more organic fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, legumes, oily fish and nuts into your meals and snacks is a great starting point.
It can be difficult to talk about fertility, and lifestyle changes can sometimes feel daunting. So why not book a free discovery call with Hayley to find out how nutritional therapy can help you or your partner.