Let’s Hear it for the Boys: Preconception Sperm Health is More Important Than You Think
Historically female fertility has received the spotlight (and blame) around baby making and male fertility has been largely ignored by doctors and scientists alike. Only recently have researchers investigated how the health of the sperm influences conception, pregnancy outcomes, and the health of the baby. The omission of sperm health in studies and medicine has been a huge blunder considering that 50% of the genetic information is coming from the sperm. Focusing on this would likely prevent many couples from experiencing miscarriage and infertility—especially “unexplained infertility”— because many of these cases are likely caused by DNA damage or other sperm issues that are not measurable on a traditional semen analysis. Spending at least three months prior to conception focused on nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices, and a sperm-safe environment is an absolute must for every father-to-be/sperm donor.
Here are some steps for improving the health of sperm based on the latest research. This is not an exhaustive list but I included bullet points from a few of the most relevant fertility categories.
Diet & Nutrition
- A healthy anti-inflammatory diet is critical for sperm production. Deficiencies in vitamins, minerals and fatty acids have a detrimental impact on sperm health and deficiencies are very common in the United States. Aim for eating 3+ cups of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit per day. If you aren’t hitting this goal you may need additional nutrient supplementation. If you are on a more restricted diet including vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, keto, autoimmune/paleo you may need additional nutrient supplementation as well.
- Avoid sugary beverages like soda and gatorade which decrease sperm motility.
- Avoid trans fats aka partially hydrogenated oil and poly unsaturated fats like soybean, corn, and sunflower oil. They have a negative impact on sperm and embryonic development.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking decreases male fertility, decreases IVF/ICSI success, and increases risk of complications if a pregnancy does occur. Some people may think smoking marijuana doesn’t count. Or maybe it doesn’t count if you eat it. No matter the delivery method, marijuana is not good for sperm either. Evidence shows it can lower motility and function of sperm. Quitting is hard so invest in a lot of support here. The effects of smoking do seem to be cumulative as well so if quitting isn’t an option cut back as much as possible.
- Exercise, but not too much. Studies show frequent intense exercise has a negative impact on sperm health as well as not moving enough.
- Heat can damage sperm and decrease sperm count so it’s important to avoid hot tubs, lots of biking, cell phones in the pocket, and computers in the lap.
- A focus on environmental factors is critical for improving sperm health and fertility. Eliminate all hormone disrupting chemicals from your environment. These chemicals are found in plastics, cans lined with BPA, furniture covered in fire retardants, non-stick pans, lead paint and high VOC paint.
- Invest in a quality water filter to filter medications, heavy metals, and microbes from your water source.
- Invest in a quality HEPA air filter for your bedroom to improve the indoor air quality and reduce exposure to pollution.
Making lifestyle and dietary changes, taking targeted nutrients, and practicing self care to boost fertility is not always easy. It can be so helpful to get support. If you are interested in learning more about how to boost fertility with an integrative approach, join me in the fall at my Fertility Class series designed for men and women wanting to conceive. We will cover these topics in a lot more detail with additional fertility optimizing discussions on diet and nutrition, hormone balancing, epigenetics, detoxification, environment factors, and treatment. It is never too soon to start planning!
P.S. If you were able to read this article without getting the Footloose soundtrack in your head for a week—nice work! I cannot say the same. “Let’s Hear it for the Boy[s] . . . “
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