In general the diet for a healthy father-to-be should be every bit as balanced, varied, and nutritious as the diet for mother-to-be.
A balanced diet is extremely important. Research shows that poor eating habits and drinking alcohol regularly, for instance, can lower the quality and quantity of sperm. Infertility is as much a man’s problem as it is a woman’s. It is reported that approximately 30 – 40% of infertility can be attributed to men. Nutrition could have a direct impact on the potency of sperm. Following a healthy diet could boost your chances of conceiving a child.
Specifically, future dads should eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin C, get more zinc and increase intake of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin E and L-arginine.
There are many contributors towards the improvement of male fertility (some work more effectively in combination with others):
Promoters of fertility (in alphabetical order)
- Calcium – is a key regulator of sperm function. It improves the vitality and longevity of sperm.
Sources: low fat milk, yoghurt, cheese, hummus, broccoli, spinach, salmon, sunflower seeds, almonds, sesame seeds.
- Chromium – is an essential trace mineral involved with blood-sugar regulation and the hormone insulin. Severe chromium deficiency may interfere with normal growth and decreased fertility.
Sources: raw onions, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, honey, brewers yeast, oysters, liver.
- Coenzyme Q10 – is a nutrient mainly used by the body in the production of energy but it has been linked to increases in sperm count and motility.
Sources: beef, soy, mackerel, sardines, spinach, peanuts, vegetable oil.
- Essential Fatty Acid’s – EFA’s have a critical effect on every part of the body, both of the important families omega-3 and omega-6 are components of nerve cells and cellular membrane throughout the body. They act as hormone regulators. Sperm tails contain high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids particularly DHA. Semen is rich in prostaglandin’s, which are produced from fatty acids. Diet alone sometimes cannot offer sufficient intake of essential fatty acids; supplementation of fish oils can help to restore depleted levels of omega-3 levels.
Sources: linseed oil, flaxseed oil, hemp oil, starflower oil, evening primrose oil, herring, salmon, mackerel, sardines.
- Folic Acid (also known as folate) – is a form of water-soluble B vitamins. Studies have shown those most deficient in folic acid could have lower quality and lower density of sperm. Folic acid is said to work more effectively in combination with zinc.
Sources: grains, wheat germ, spinach, liver, eggs, romaine lettuce, lentils, fortified cereals.
- L-arginine – is an amino acid found in the head of sperm, it is essential in sperm formation; it increases sperm count and quality, and also, improves sexual desire and ejaculation.
Sources: in the food chain arginine is found in chicken, turkey and other meats.
- L-carnitine – is an amino acid that is essential for normal functioning of sperm cells. Higher levels of L-carnitine equals higher levels of sperm count and motility.
Sources: mutton, lamb, beef, pork, rabbit, chicken, cow’s milk.
- Niacin (also known as vitamin B3) – is critical to energy production. It causes a large release of histamine all over the body it aids proper circulation for long lasting erections.
Sources: liver, peanuts, chicken, tuna, salmon, peanut butter.
- Selenium – is an anti-oxidant that protects against sperm damage, maximises sperm formation and can reduce mobility. Low levels of selenium have been found in men with low sperm count. It works synergistically with vitamin E.
Sources: brazil nuts, tuna, beef, cod, turkey, noodles, egg, rice.
- Vitamin B12 – is needed to maintain fertility, it improves low sperm count and sperm motility.
Sources: meat, dairy products, eggs, yeast.
- Vitamin C – reduces the risk of sperm damage protecting them from oxidant damage. It stops sperm from clumping together making them more motile (clumping reduces fertility).
Sources: cereals, apple juice, grapefruit, orange, strawberries, asparagus, red cabbage, peppers, new potatoes, peas.
- Vitamin D – may help to improve fertility because it assists in the absorption of calcium from the food that you eat.
Sources: low fat milk, salmon, mackerel, cod liver oil, tuna, sardines, eggs, cereals.
- Vitamin E – increases fertility. The anti-oxidant properties are said to make sperm more fertile – by protecting from damage and increasing quality. It corrects the functioning of the endocrine glands that produce hormones, which influence growth, development and metabolic activity. Vitamin E is more effective when taken with another key anti-oxidant – Vitamin C.
Sources: wheat germ, almonds, sunflower seeds / oil, safflower oil, hazelnuts.
- Zinc – is involved in the health of reproductive organs and prostate glands and virtually every aspect of male reproduction. It is found in high concentration in the sperm and is needed to make the outer layer and the tail of the sperm. Even short-term deficiencies can reduce sperm volume and testosterone levels. Zinc is said to work more effectively in combination with folic acid.
Sources: pumpkin seeds, baked beans, chick peas, muesli, oysters, extra lean mince beef, dark chicken meat.
It is not always possible to obtain satisfactory levels of these substances from diet alone, taking supplements can sometimes be a good way of ensuring adequate levels are maintained but do not over-do this.
Inhibitors of fertility (in alphabetical order)
- Alcohol – can cause a decrease in sperm count and testosterone levels and contributes towards the production of abnormal sperm. It can also lead to lower proportions of motile sperm. Alcohol also inhibits zinc one of the more important minerals for male fertility. Cut out or cut back on alcohol. While an occasional drink is generally considered safe, studies show that daily consumption of wine, beer or spirits can be detrimental.
- Caffeine – like alcohol it can prevent your body from receiving and absorbing nutrients leading to problems with sperm count, abnormalities and motility.
- Drugs – recreational drugs such as marijuana and cocaine should be avoided. These can affect the brain chemistry responsible for releasing reproductive hormones. A father’s drug use can also cause birth defects. It is also wise to check with your doctor about medicines as some of these can suppress sperm production and quality.
- Radiation and chemicals – exposure to hazardous substances at work can also damage sperm, reduce sperm count and possibly cause genetic defects.
- Smoking – decreases sperm count, makes sperm more sluggish and increases the number of abnormal sperm. Smoking is also known to decrease vitamin C levels in our bodies.
- Stress – even minimal stress can cause a man’s testosterone levels and sperm count to drop.
Recommendations for improving male fertility
Sperm is produced 24 hours a day, 7 days a week but it takes approximately 72-90 days (up to 3 months) to produce mature sperm. It is should be recognised that any changes in lifestyle, diet etc. need time to have an effect.
The basic message is that you need to commit yourself to a few months of clean living and healthy eating which means plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats – and a safer lifestyle, you will then be in good shape to father a child. It may be necessary to take some supplements to ensure that optimum levels of minerals, vitamins and fatty acids (link) are obtained. In some cases studies have shown that RDA levels need to be exceeded to restore imbalances.
Motile sperms – swim forward in an essentially straight line but non-progressively motile sperms swim in a more abnormal path, such as tight circles. They are less likely to find the target!
Aggulation of sperms – relates to the ‘clumping’ of sperm (when sperm sticks together) it reduces fertility.