Why a Healthy Diet is Critical for Male Fertility
While women often bear the burden of being the caretaker of conception, men have a largely underappreciated role in fertility. The male component is weighted on the quantity and quality of the sperm and semen analysis looks at all of these parameters: are enough getting made, are they able to swim well, do they have the right shape, and are they moving in the right direction? Diet is one aspect of a man’s health that can really pack a punch when it comes to boosting fertility. It takes about 64 days for sperm to be made, so believe it or not, diet can shift the sperm quality in a few short months! The cornerstone of making fertile super-swimmers is eating whole, fresh, organic foods rich in antioxidants.
The holistic impact of diet on fertility
Eating a healthy diet benefits male fertility in at least four ways.
- Following a nutritious diet supports your female counterpart, both for her general health and because her body is literally providing all the nutrients to grow and nourish another human. A supportive partner helps nurture a we’re-in-this-together mentality, making sticking to a particular diet easier for the whole household.
- Eating right for fertility creates healthy habits to pass on to a future generation, but not only in the sense of domestic routines. New and emerging research in epigenetics shows that our health and lifestyle leading up to conception can have a direct physiological impact on at least two generations into the future.
- An organic whole foods diet can help prevent chronic disease and conditions, such as diabetes or obesity, that can impair fertility.
- Preventing chronic disease, including cancer, is about even more than fertility. It is about helping you to feel your best throughout life—from mood, to energy, to heart and joint health—keeping you in the condition you need to be to contend with and enjoy the rigours of fatherhood for many years to come!
The specific impact of antioxidants on sperm
Antioxidants are super-hero nutrients that work to protect cells from oxidative damage and are critical for sperm health. A sperm is basically a little genetic package with a tail, and the DNA in that genetic material is highly vulnerable to oxidative damage that can cause mutations that impair conception, cause miscarriage, or result in chronic or fatal disease in offspring. Oxidative stress in our daily lives comes from many sources including:
- exposure to environmental pollutants
- industrial solvents
- pesticides and herbicides
- overly intense exercise
- smoke exposure
While supplements can be helpful, a diet rich in fresh, whole food-based antioxidants is ideal. Getting antioxidants directly from food not only preserves the integrity of the antioxidant, it also ensures you get a variety throughout the day. Paired with other nutrients in your meal, this provides the best conditions to efficiently absorb antioxidants through normal digestion. For example, vitamin A and beta-carotene are fat soluble and when paired with a high-quality fat, the bioavailability of the antioxidants will be increased. A great-tasting example is pairing sweet potatoes with a little drizzle of olive oil!
Antioxidant-rich foods for male fertility
Fruits, vegetables, and spices are chock-full of a variety of antioxidants that include vitamins, minerals, enzymes, carotenoids, bioflavonoids, and catechins. Carotenoids and bioflavonoids are the natural compounds that give fruits and veggies their vibrant color, so the brighter, the better! Antioxidants are readily available in a large variety of common foods.
- Vitamin C: found in most fruits and veggies, especially citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, and broccoli
- Vitamin E: almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens
- Vitamin A: eggs, liver, or dairy products
- Beta-carotene (carotenoid): sweet potato, carrots, peas, and spinach
- Lycopene (carotenoid): tomatoes and watermelon
- Resveratrol (bioflavonoid): grapes and berries
- Lutein (carotenoid): leafy green veggies
- Selenium (mineral): nuts, legumes, and whole grains
- Catechins (polyphenol): green tea, chocolate, red wine, and berries
- Antioxidant-rich spices: turmeric, ginger, oregano, cinnamon, and mustard seed
The Mediterranean Diet and male fertility
There are many different diets that emphasize whole foods. The Anti-Inflammatory Diet, Whole 30, and Pegan diets are a few. The one that is most studied and found to have beneficial effects on fertility is the Mediterranean diet. A Mediterranean type diet is abundant in fresh fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy, fish, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, poultry, eggs, legumes, and wine. One study looked at couples working with a fertility clinic and compared the sperm from men who ate a Mediterranean diet to sperm from men who consumed a Western-style diet, characterized by high consumption of vegetable oils, high-fat dairy, processed meats, refined grains, sweets, and beer. The results were remarkable: men who ate a Western pattern diet had a 2.6 times higher likelihood of having lower sperm counts, low motility, and abnormal sperm shape.
Choose organic to further reduce toxins
There are many mechanisms by which herbicides and pesticides can alter fertility— from hormone disruption to oxidative stress. Studies show not only that pesticide residues can be detected in semen samples but that higher amounts of pesticide residue correlates with lower sperm counts and an increase in abnormally shaped sperm. Eating organic produce and animal products will naturally reduce pesticide exposure and therefore the associated oxidative stress to DNA.
Making and raising a baby is a big job for a body—including male bodies. A nutritious diet will increase your ability to conceive a healthy baby and help keep you feeling young and limber as you wrangle your way through fatherhood.
While healthy, whole foods will benefit both partners, women have slightly different dietary needs. Next, learn what women should be eating for optimal fertility.