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Can diet really make a difference to sperm quality?

There is alot of emphasis on females when it comes to trying for a baby, but with the causes of fertility being 30% male factors, 30% female factors, 30% both, and 10% unknown, it's essential that we are considering sperm health as well.




I work with couples from all over the world to support them to improve their fertility, and have highlighted here some of the main points that come up in our sessions. Let's take a look at what the science is telling us, and what some key steps are for you if you are ready to take action and improve your sperm health.


Should Men Reduce Processed and Red Meat Intake When Trying to Conceive?


This is a common question and with all of the talk around red meat in the media I can understand why. So what are the studies telling us? In studies where men consumed lean red meat alongside a healthy diet, there have been no negative effects on sperm health and the fact that red meat is our best source of zinc (an essential nutrient for sperm health) we really need men to be consuming this for optimal sperm health! (1) Iron and selenium are also found in red meat along with B vitamins, all of which are important for improving and maintaining high quality sperm. Lean red meat (fat removed) can be consumed 2-3 times each week alongside other protein options.


On the other hand, processed meats can be a concern for sperm health (2)The salt and, most significantly, the saturated fat content of processed meats can effect sperm quality negatively. It's best to stick with a very minimal intake or to avoid processed meats like sausages, salami, bacon, ham, and meat patties.


My partner eats well but is overweight- is this a problem for sperm health?


Weight can be a a significant factor when it comes to sperm health, with studies showing that both underweight and overweight mean tend to have lower sperm quality compared to healthy weight men. In a recent study of 3966 Chinese sperm donors, it was found that the total sperm number, sperm concentration and total number of motile sperm were significantly reduced in men with a BMI < 18.5 kg/m2 when compared to men with a normal BMI. (3)


So the answer for underweight men who are trying to conceive? Consuming more calories from nutrient-rich foods to support healthy weight gain is important. This is absolutely best to be done alongside a fertility dietitian who can guide you on your overall diet quality, nutritional adequacy and supplement needs.


On the contrary, men who are overweight or obese have higher rates of infertility (4) and higher rates of adverse pregnancy outcomes for their pregnant partners (5).


Maintaining a healthy weight along with consuming a diet rich in nutrients that support sperm health and fertility is essential for men who are trying to conceive.


Should men cut out dairy to prevent estrogen levels rising too much?


Given that oestrogen has been shown to suppress testosterone production by reducing the secretion of gonadotropin hormones by the hypothalamus and pituitary, there has been considerable interest in dairy consumption as a potential risk factor for infertility in males. (6)


So what does the research say about dairy and fertility for men? Results of numerous studies suggest that sperm quality is more likely to be related to the saturated fat content of full-fat products rather than the estrogen content. One study found that men who consumed low fat dairy tended to have higher sperm concentrations and motility (7). Low-fat dairy, particularly as part of a healthy diet pattern, does not appear to have negative or deleterious effects on sperm quality and reproductive hormones. (8)


So the advice? Dairy contains high levels of calcium, protein, and vitamin D- all of which are important for male fertility. Dairy products are also rich in B vitamins which have been shown to support a reduction in oxidative stress which supports healthy sperm. All men should aim to consume 3 servings of dairy products (milk, cheese yoghurt, etc.) every day. As an example, one serving of cheese is 40g, 1 cup of milk = 1 serve, 1 pottle of yoghurt= 1 serve.


Conclusion

If you are currently trying for a baby or thinking of trying soon, then I encourage you have your male partners diet and lifestyle assessed and advice provided by a certified fertility dietitian. Nutrition is the single most effective way to improve sperm health and it doesn't need to involve drastic changes or expensive supplements!


You can get started right away by booking your initial consultation with me (a registered dietitian and certified fertility dietitian) and having a personalised nutrition, supplement, and lifestyle regimen created specifically for you, backed by science to improve your sperm quality starting right away. You can book HERE or learn more about my fertility services HERE.



References:


(1) (Wright C, Milne S, Leeson H. Sperm DNA damage caused by

oxidative stress: modifiable clinical, lifestyle and nutritional factors in

male infertility. Reproductive BioMedicine Online. 2014;28(6):684-

703) .


(2) (Walker WH. Testosterone signaling and the regulation of

spermatogenesis. Spermatogenesis. 2011;1(2):116-20.) .


(3) (Jixuan Ma, Li Wu, Yun Zhou, Hai Zhang, Chengliang Xiong, Zhe Peng, Wei Bao, Tianqing Meng, Yuewei Liu, Association between BMI and semen quality: an observational study of 3966 sperm donors, Human Reproduction, Volume 34, Issue 1, January 2019, Pages 155–162, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dey328)


(4) (Palmer NO, Bakos HW, Fullston T, Lane M. Impact of obesity on male fertility, sperm function and molecular composition. Spermatogenesis. 2012 Oct 1;2(4):253-263. doi: 10.4161/spmg.21362. PMID: 23248766; PMCID: PMC3521747.)


(5) (Lin J, Gu W, Huang H. Effects of Paternal Obesity on Fetal Development and Pregnancy Complications: A Prospective Clinical Cohort Study. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2022 Mar 14;13:826665. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2022.826665. PMID: 35360083; PMCID: PMC8963983.).


(6)(Maruyama K, Oshima T, Ohyama K. Exposure to exogenous estrogen through intake of commercial milk produced from pregnant cows. Pediatr Int. 2010;52(1):33-38. doi:10.1111/j.1442-200X.2009.02890.x)


7). (Afeiche MC, Bridges ND, Williams PL, Gaskins AJ, Tanrikut C, Petrozza JC, Hauser R, Chavarro JE. Dairy intake and semen quality among men attending a fertility clinic. Fertil Steril. 2014 May;101(5):1280-7. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2014.02.003. Epub 2014 Mar 14. PMID: 24636397; PMCID: PMC4008690.).


(8) (Afeiche M, Williams PL, Mendiola J, Gaskins AJ, Jørgensen N,

Swan SH, et al. Dairy food intake in relation to semen quality and

reproductive hormone levels among physically active young men.

Hum Reprod. 2013;28(8):2265-75.)

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