The preconception health of men is just as important as women’s despite the societal focus having been more on the female’s fertility health to date.
We are now well aware that sperm quality impacts on fertility, and the lifestyle choices men make for up to three months before conception can have an effect.
For almost a generation there has been emphasis on needing super-fast “Formula 1” sperm to make a baby, with the theory that the first sperm to reach the egg must be the best quality. However, we are now aware that a good sperm count and motility do not necessarily mean good-quality sperm.
The process of maturing sperm occurs in cycles, taking roughly three months, with several hundred million cells reaching maturity daily. This process, named spermatogenesis, is important to understand because what you eat and drink and your general health for up to three months before conception or fertility treatment can make a difference to the quality of the sperm produced on the day.
What factors affect sperm quality?
The most common factors recognised as having a negative effect on sperm quality are: poor diet; lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol and recreational drugs; medical conditions such as obesity and diabetes; environmental factors, including exposure to chemicals, toxins and heat; recent illness (before, during or after 3 months of treatment) resulting in high fevers; body mass index (BMI); advanced age; and genetics.
These factors put a large strain on the body, whether they cause changes to the hormone balance in the testes, or filter through the bloodstream, supplying a contaminated food source to developing sperm cells. This can result in harmful free radicals that attack otherwise healthy molecules and can lead to poor-quality sperm being produced.
Substandard sperm health has been linked to reduced fertilisation rates, poor embryonic development, miscarriage and birth defects.
How do we reduce free radical damage?
Positive, healthy changes to diet and lifestyle with the support of antioxidant nutritional supplementation have been proven to increase fertilisation and blastocyst development.
Antioxidants have been shown to support the body by helping to neutralise free radicals, preventing them from further damaging the tissues of the body. There are many sperm health supplements on the market containing antioxidants, so look for products with the recommended male fertility antioxidants for best results (see table below). Remember to consult your GP or a specialist for advice and guidance.
Products with the recommended male fertility antioxidants
Please note: If you are viewing this table on mobile, please scroll to the right to see entire content.
|Supplement||Found Naturally||Count||Motility||DNA Quality||Fertilisation||Anti-Sperm Antibodies|
|Zinc||Shellfish, oysters, seafood, lean meat, wheatgerm, spinach, pumpkin and squash seeds and cashews||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Vitamin C||Strawberries, citrus fruits, acerola cherries, papaya, kiwi fruit, green leafy vegies, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, capsicum and tomatoes||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Vitamin E||Dark leafy greens, almonds, shellfish, sunflower seeds, broccoli, avocados, olive oil, pumpkin and kiwi fruit||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Folic Acid||Dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruit, papaya, strawberries, beans, peas, lentils, avocados, seeds and nuts||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
|Selenium||Brazil nuts, oysters, tuna, whole-wheat bread, seeds, lean meats, chicken and turkey, mushrooms, whole grains such as rye, oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|CoQ10||Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines in addition to beef and poultry and spinach||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
|Vitamin D||Cod liver oil, fatty fish, mushrooms, fortified cereals, tofu, caviar, dairy products and sunshine||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Magnesium||Dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, mackerel, beans and lentils, whole grains, brown rice, avocados, low-fat dairy, bananas, dried fruit (especially figs) and dark chocolate||No||Yes||No||No||No|
Making the right choices about your health in the lead-up to conception will help give you a better chance of conceiving and of quality DNA being passed on for generations to come.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com