MALE FERTILITY AND NUTRITION

It takes two to tango…

When a couple wishes to conceive, naturally improving their fertility (the health and function of your body and reproductive system) is often the next step. And whilst it’s great that people are generally now more aware of the impact of their health history, diet and lifestyle habits when looking at making a baby; it is far too common to see (and hear) male fertility being overlooked in the equation. In fact, male fertility issues have been found to account for 40-50% of couples having difficulty conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy*.

Sperm + Egg = Baby

Taking the whole realm of fertility back to basics for a minute, it’s really important to consider that a healthy baby is made, when a healthy sperm and a healthy egg meet… This is fertility 101. So let’s get down to what we’re here to talk about today; the nitty gritty of making healthy sperm…

It all comes down to stress, digestion and quality nutrition

The business of making top-notch swimmers and being fertile essentially ties back to 3 things; the impact of “stress” (physical, mental/emotional, environmental) on our physiology; how well we can digest, absorb and utilise the nutrients in our food; and whether or not we are adequately nourished from the foods we eat…

You could almost say that above all else, the number one key to healthy sperm and reproductive health is good nutrition!

Because, when the body has available to it all the raw materials it needs in order to establish and maintain cellular health and integrity, it means our entire physiology is then equipped with what it needs to keep good health, and function well. This includes the multitude of processes that are essential to our bodies on a daily basis, for example, in the regulation of the our organs and body systems, to produce energy, synthesise hormones, maintaining good brain chemistry, an effective immune response or acid/alkaline balance; as well as to bind and eliminate toxins adequately, and generally buffer our body against the impacts of stress, toxins and modern-day living…

These “raw materials” are the nutrients that come from our diet. That is, what we’re putting into our bodies on a daily basis. Which means our level of health, wellbeing, and fertility is directly related to the quality of food we eat, and the nutrients our body receives from our food -such as the vitamins, minerals, healthy fatty acids, amino acids, anti-oxidants and other health-boosting compounds (especially from plant-based food sources) that protect our cells (and DNA), organs and tissues from damage, keeping them in good health and working order.

However, all of this also relies upon good digestive function, and our body’s capacity to break down and metabolise the nutrients in our food to send to our tissues and cells.

A well-nourished body can protect against, and off-set the impact of stress, toxic load and other factors…

Did you know…

Nutritional and lifestyle interventions play a significant role in addressing the major causes of male infertility including*:

·         Low sperm count (when number of sperm produced is low),

·         Poor motility (sperm too unfit to swim),

·         Sperm agglutination (coagulating),

·         Impotence (unable to achieve or maintain an erection), and

·         Ejaculatory disorders (premature, delayed or absent ejaculation)

For good sperm health, there are some specific nutrient deficiencies to look out forincluding*:

·         B-complex vitamins (especially B12, which has been shown to improve sperm count and motility),

·         Omega 3 fatty acids (highly protective effect for sperm, and needed for integrity of sperm membrane and sperm motility),

·         Zinc (huge sperm-health nutrient, that has proven beneficial for male infertility, and is needed for optimum testosterone levels, sperm production and motility),

·         Vitamin C (is a potent antioxidant, which protects against oxidative DNA damage; helps prevent against sperm agglutination (sticking together or clumping), and has shown positive effects improving sperm viability and motility.

What’s “stressing” you…

It is equally important to address the impact “stress” has on our health, fertility and nutrient status; as stress rapidly uses up (and depletes!) nutrients in the system (that’s assuming we’re eating and digesting well to begin with, let alone if we’re not!).

Whether your stress registers in your awareness or is flying under the radar, some things to be mindful of, include:

·         Events, relationships, experiences, worries  and emotions;

·         How much stuff is “on your plate”?

·         How busy or rested you are; 

·         Your environment -what is (or has) your system being (or been) exposed to? For example, the quality of air in your home, or working environment;

·         Level of chemical exposure, from pesticides and additives in foods; toxins absorbed from personal products e.g. like your antiperspirant or body wash (our skin is our biggest organ of absorption);  

·         Exposure to heavy metals and common industrial chemicals found in seafood, petrol fumes, adhesives, paints and the like;

·         Radiation from mobile phones, flying, x-rays, digital televisions, wi-fi etc.

·         Lack of, or poor quality sleep;

·         Sedentary lifestyle;

·         Alcohol intake, smoking, recreational and pharmaceutical drugs (cigarette smoking has been implicated as a direct causative factor in poor sperm quality and quantity; alongside which, recreational and pharmaceutical drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, anti-depressants, antibiotics and steroids can also impact sperm health and quality)*.

·         Inflammation and infections;

·         Testicular temperature;

The biggest contributing factors to testosterone deficiency in men are: stress, lack of regular exercise, nutrient deficiencies, insulin resistance, obesity, smoking and toxicity. These factors contribute to low production of testosterone in the gonads, which is essential for sperm production**.

Testosterone deficiency: typically characterised by symptoms such as low libido; mood disturbances, depression; erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation; fatigue; Adropause (yes, that’s right; the male equivalent of menopause. Men experience this as their natural levels of testosterone decrease); insomnia; increased visceral fat (fat deposits stored in abdomen, around organs); decreased muscle mass, weakness; loss of bone density; loss of facial, underarm and pubic hair; heat flushes; signs of premature ageing; testicular shrinkage, anaemia; increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. When testosterone levels decrease, risk of inflammatory conditions, atherosclerosis, insulin resistance and hypertension all increase.

Oestrogen excess which may be characterised in men by the development of breast tissue (colloquially referred to as “man boobs”); an enlarged prostate (also known as, benign prostatic hyperplasia -BPH), including symptoms such as difficulty urinating, urgency, urinary incontinence or waking during the night to urinate, urinary tract infections, bladder or kidney stones; and prostate cancer.  Too much oestrogen in the system can occur through an over-abundance of oestrogenic influences that disrupt the endocrine system; for example, from regular beer intake, xeno-oestrogens from plastics (especially those that are heated and leeching into our foods/body systems), and those from fish, soy products and fast foods common in the standard Western diet.

When addressing fertility, it’s necessary to consider the impact all of these things (“stresses”) have on our physiology; and the potential influence they have in either protecting, promoting, or compromising our health (and fertility) to various degrees –whether it be contributing to nutrient depletion/deficiency; glandular and hormonal disturbances; immune dysfunction; acidity and inflammation; they all affect the body’s overall health and ability to function well.   

It’s worth noting that the improvements we make to our nutrition, digestive function, and stressing less (see list above for potential hidden stressors in your life) can absolutely turn reproductive health and fertility around... The science of epigenetics (the influence of external modifications, such as diet, nutrition and stress have on the ability to turn certain genes on or off), and the study of nutrigenomics (how nutrients in our diet directly affect our genes, and the potential nutrition has in preventing, mitigating and even treating disease) are a testament to this.

Finally, a minimum of 4 - 6 months of corrective treatment before trying to conceive is advised*.

I am happy to help.

Shanna

 

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References:

*Osiecki, H 2006, The Physician’s Handbook of Clinical Nutrition 7th edn. Bio Concepts, QLD Australia.

**Metagenics, 2014, Female Hormonal Disorders, QLD Australia.