Eating to optimise male fertility and sperm health

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The types and amount of food a man eats all affect the health of his sperm.

Dietary nutrients and male fertility

If you want to get your partner pregnant, you need to keep a close eye on what you eat, as nutrients, fat and other components of food can influence male hormones, the production and quality of sperm and ultimately the chance that one of the millions of sperm you produce each day will go on to fulfil its potential, fertilise an egg and start a pregnancy. If you and your partner are preparing to get pregnant, you can boost your fertility and ensure your sperm are as healthy as possible by:

  • Eating a healthy balanced diet including plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least five portions daily);
  • Eating polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fats as evidence suggests that men who eat more saturated fats have lower concentrations of sperm in semen, and produce sperm which cannot swim as well;
  • Eating antioxidant rich food particularly fruit and vegetables. Higher intake of antioxidants may increase the number of sperm you produce and improve their motility (ability to swim);
  • Consider taking a selenium supplements or including some selenium rich foods such as nuts (brazil nuts are particularly selenium rich but other nuts are also good), poultry, fish and meat in your diet. Selenium may improve sperm concentration in the semen, and reduce the proportion of immotile and abnormally shaped sperm. Selenium plays an important role in developing the testes, sperm production and sperm health. Talk to your doctor about whether or not a selenium supplement could help boost your fertility; and
  • Consider limiting your consumption of soy foods such as tofu and soy milk. Soy foods contain isoflavones which contain compounds similar to oestrogen (the female hormone). Eating a lot of soy food may reduce sperm concentration. Talk to your doctor about whether or not this would be of benefit for you.

Overweight and obesity

Eating too much leads to overweight and obesity, which may affect your fertility by reducing the quality of your sperm. Being either overweight or obese can affect the motility of a man’s sperm, that is, how well they can swim. Obesity may also reduce the concentration of sperm in a man’s semen. So it’s sometimes necessary for men to go on pregnancy diets as well!

There are numerous ways in which being overweight or obese may affect sperm health. Testosterone, the male hormone responsible for driving sperm production, is converted to oestrodial (the female hormone) in fatty tissues. The more fatty tissue in a man’s body, the more testosterone is converted to oestrodial, and the less is available to stimulate the testicles to produce sperm. Obese men also tend to have lower levels of inhibin B, another hormone involved in sperm production. They may also accumulate fat at the top of their thighs, which can in turn trap heat in the testicles, because fat provides extra insulation. The testes require a slightly cooler environment than the rest of the body and the extra heat from this thigh fat can impair sperm production.

Obesity is also associated with oxidative stress, that is, the presence of too many ‘reactive oxygen species’. High levels of reactive oxygen species in the testes can reduce male fertility, either by impairing sperm production, or by causing damage to sperm once it has been produced. Reactive oxygen species are molecules which are unstable because they contain too much oxygen. The extra oxygen can easily undergo chemical reactions which cause damage to the surrounding cells. Sperm are more likely than other cells to be damaged by reactive oxygen species, because they lack the protective layers of other body cells. Antioxidants such as those found in fruits and vegetables, absorb the unstable oxygen molecules from reactive oxygen species and prevent them from damaging body cells such as sperm.

Diabetes, metabolic syndrome and fertility

Health conditions associated with being overweight or obese such as type 2 diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome are also associated with oxidative stress and may affect a man’s fertility. Evidence suggests that men with type 2 diabetes mellitus have a greater risk of infertility compared to non-diabetic men.  Amongst men with diabetes, smoking and being obese may increase the risk of infertility even further.


More information on pregnancy planning for dads

For more information on preparing yourself for conception, see Pregnancy planning for dads.
For more information on optimising the health of you, your sperm, and the likelihood that you and your partner will conceive, see Detox to improve male fertility.
For more information on fertility and lifestyle changes that can increase the chance of conception, see Other lifestyle measures to boost male fertility.
90_couple-eating-healthy Use these 14 tips to boost your fertility and ensure your pregnancy gets off to the healthiest start possible.14 tips to boost your fertility.
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Date Created: August 16, 2012 Date Modified: July 3, 2018