Infertility affects about 15% of couples worldwide. But when it comes to fighting infertility, it’s not just about eggs anymore. In about half of couples, there’s a male factor contributing to infertility.
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Today, more men are being evaluated for the root causes of infertility at hospitals and clinics. There are even semen testing kits that allow men to take their own sperm counts at home.
Here, male infertility specialist Sarah Vij, MD, explains how making better food choices and staying active can improve your overall health, including your chances of becoming a father.
Q: Why is it so important for men and their partners to understand the role of diet in fertility?
A: Men should focus on making changes that are within their control. Helping them understand the role of diet and lifestyle can inspire better health choices, which often improve fertility as well as overall health. In fact, the desire to become a father can be a great motivating factor in helping some men get healthy.
It’s important to remember that improving fertility may involve making several changes over time.
Q: How does diet play a role in fertility? How is obesity involved?
A: Obesity is often the result of an unhealthy diet. Research shows that obesity can lead to poor sperm quality. It also can lead to low testosterone and high estrogen, which can negatively affect male fertility.
Sperm production is dependent on normal testosterone levels. Testosterone can also affect a man’s heart, bones and blood sugar. Helping men focus on getting their testosterone levels back to normal can help improve many health factors, including fertility.
Diet and lifestyle can affect both erections and sperm health. Certain diets, including those high in fat and animal protein, have been shown to hurt sperm health. High-sugar diets can lead to diabetes, a condition that is bad for sperm health and erections. For some men, getting diabetes at an early age from poor eating habits can lead to long-term health consequences.
Q: Are there any common myths about diet and fertility?
A: There’s a lot of information out there about vitamins and supplements that can help fight infertility. While there is evidence to support their benefits, they may not be a game changer alone. Certain supplements like L-carnitine, coenzyme Q10 and vitamin C, among others, may improve sperm health.
For men who are overweight with poor diets, it’s more important to focus on getting back to a normal weight and increasing exercise. Those are likely to have a bigger impact on fertility and overall health than vitamin supplementation.
Q: Which foods help promote male fertility?
A: Most doctors recommend following a balanced, nutritious diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, that includes the following:
- Fruits and vegetables, especially those high in antioxidants (like blueberries, strawberries, artichokes, kale, red cabbage, beans and spinach).
- Lean animal proteins.
- Whole grains.
- Nuts and seeds.
Q: Which foods should be avoided to protect fertility?
A: To safeguard fertility, be careful with the following foods and drinks:
- Fat, sugar and animal protein. Excess fat, sugar and animal protein can hurt your fertility. Eating too much fat and sugar is toxic to sperm.
- Soy. High amounts of soy, which contains estrogen, can harm sperm function.
- Alcohol. Alcohol in high amounts is bad for fertility. For men, doctors recommend no more than 10 drinks a week. But be reasonable. Don’t have all 10 drinks in one night or weekend.
Q: What’s the best dietary advice you can give to potential fathers?
A: Moderation is the key. It’s better to stick to a balanced, nutritious diet than to get involved in fad or fasting diets that promise quick or unrealistic results. Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t only good for sperm health, it’s also good for preventing diabetes and heart disease.
It’s important to maintain your overall health through moderate exercise and healthy eating — both to help improve your fertility and to ensure that you have a long, healthy life with your children!