Infertility is a heavy burden to carry, one that bears a significant toll on a couple’s overall well-being. In both medical and social circles, the fertility conversation has largely centered on women. But up to 50 percent of infertility cases result from male factor infertility. This has put an undue burden on women for a couple’s fertility issues, while neglecting the importance of male fertility.
Sperm health is paramount for conception, pregnancy, and even the health of a man’s children and grandchildren. Taking a proactive approach to improving sperm health before trying to conceive is key for improving a couple’s fertility.
Including men’s health in the fertility conversation encourages an equal balance in a couple’s fertility plan. This fosters a deeper connection between the partners, which bodes well for parenting the children to come.
If a couple has not conceived after 12 months of regular, unprotected intercourse, an evaluation of both partners is recommended. However, as age plays a role in fertility, it is recommended that couples aged 35 and older seek help after just six months of trying to conceive.
“Couples can also look for help after three episodes of pregnancy loss,” says Dr. Rachel Corradetti-Sargeant, naturopathic doctor for Conceive Health at Niagara Fertility. “If there are underlying issues with hormones, overall health, or history of steroid use, then they can begin looking for help sooner.”
Assessments may be performed to determine whether the couple is facing female or male factor infertility, or a combination of both. A male fertility screening involves medical history, physical examination, hormone testing, and semen analysis.
Oxidative stress accounts for 50 percent of male infertility cases. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between damaging reactive oxidative species and antioxidants in the body. In the sperm, this may lead to damaged DNA, oxidation of proteins, decreased motility, impaired function, and altered morphology.
Male infertility may also arise from systemic disease, infections, trauma, injury, toxins, antibodies against the sperm, and anatomical or genetic abnormalities. Corradetti-Sargeant often sees insulin resistance and diabetes among her male infertility patients. Insulin resistance is correlated with reduced semen quality, and those with diabetes have a high prevalence of erectile dysfunction.
Testosterone is a hormone that promotes healthy sexual function and is crucial for spermatogenesis (the production of sperm cells). Its production depends on the proper functioning of the neuroendocrine network known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis.
Overweight, poor sleep, psychological stress, oxidative stress, and deficiencies in zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D can all have impacts on the function of the HPG axis.
Key for healthy testosterone production are exercise (specifically, resistance exercise), sun exposure, stress management, and a nutrient-rich diet.
Enhancing male fertility
Low nutrient status may impair fertility. “For male factor infertility, in particular, the typical nutrient insufficiencies I see include low vitamin D and vitamin B12,” says Corradetti-Sargeant. A high-fat diet also affects the structure of spermatozoa.
Adherence to healthy dietary patterns correlates with improved sperm quality, reduced sperm DNA fragmentation, and fewer issues with sperm count, concentration, and motility.
Eating a varied and balanced diet—including fish and seafood, poultry, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains—is advised for supporting male fertility. Increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids and the minerals selenium and zinc are positively associated with sperm quality.
Along with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins play an important role in combatting oxidative stress, which is a primary contributor to male factor infertility.
Cigarette smoking, cannabis use, and alcohol consumption have a negative bearing on fertility.
- Cigarette smoking has been shown to reduce sperm count and cause abnormal morphology.
- Cannabis use has been associated with reduced sperm count, concentration, motility, and abnormal morphology.
- Alcohol consumption is associated with reduced semen volume.
Environmental or occupational exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including pesticides, phthalates, bisphenols, and flame retardants, has been correlated with fertility disorders.
“The most impactful thing a man can do to improve his fertility would be to remove as many toxins as possible, [including] smoking, marijuana use, heavy alcohol use, and BPA exposure,” suggests Corradetti-Sargeant.
Research is underway to investigate the potential association between male infertility and lifestyle factors including testicular heat stress, intense cycling, lack of sleep, and exposure to electromagnetic radiation from cellphones. [END]
Global stats on male fertility
- Over the past 40 years, the quality of human semen has decreased worldwide by 50 to 60 percent.
- Although this is a global phenomenon, there has been a greater decrease in male fertility in industrialized countries.
- Modifiable lifestyle factors, such as sedentary behavior and a diet based on processed foods, are likely contributors to the downward trend in male fertility.
Sneaky infertility culprits
- golfers exposed to heavy pesticides
- high-heat jobs such as firefighting and refinery work
- jobs requiring long commutes
- tight-fitting underwear
- hot tubbing
Natural male fertility boosters
Consult a health care practitioner to safely and effectively incorporate supplements into your fertility plan.
Supplement Benefit CoQ10 supplementation improves sperm quality and motility melatonin preserves spermatogonial stem cells and modulates sperm cell proliferation myo-inositol improves sperm quality and sperm mitochondrial function L-arginine supplementation has been shown to improve mild to moderate erectile dysfunction zinc + folate supplementation together has been shown to increase sperm concentration and morphology fenugreek extract has been shown to increase serum total testosterone ashwagandha supplementation has been shown to improve subjective perception of sexual well-being in men
Most assume sperm health is only important for conception. But fascinating research is showing that a man’s health before conception has an impact on the health of his children throughout their lives, as well as his grandchildren!
Diet and weight
A high-fat diet and obesity reprogram spermatogonial stem cells and promote metabolic dysfunction in offspring. Diabetes opens the door to epigenetic changes to the germ line that can be passed on to more than one generation, increasing the offspring’s risk of diabetes.
Paternal exposure to early life trauma and long-term psychological stress can make epigenetic changes in the sperm. This contributes to transgenerational stress and an increased risk of psychological disorders.
Seeking professional help to manage stress and unaddressed trauma would be helpful not just for the father’s mental health but for that of his children.