10 ways to improve male fertility
The average sperm count is falling. Here are ten ways to boost male fertility from Sarah Heywood, Founder of The Journey, who provide a range of information on fertility and early years parenting issues gives you the low down to improving your fertility.
The last few decades have not been kind to male fertility. There has been a shift away from infertility being a principally female issue to the stats being closer to ⅓ a female issue to ⅓ male and ⅓ a combination of both. In fact, research shows that on average male sperm count has fallen over 50% over the last 40yrs!
According to research: ‘Lifestyle modification is the most fundamental, important, simple and easy way to improve sperm quality.’ (1)
ONE: Get more sleep for a fertility boost
Did you know that on average we get 1-2hrs less sleep than people 50-100 years ago? Probably not a huge surprise given our 24/7 lifestyles. However, did you also know that it can have a very real impact on your sperm quality and male fertility?
The results of several trials show a clear link between abnormal sleep and issues with sperm. Here are a couple of extracts to give you a picture – and it seems that too short and too long are equally guilty:
Research has shown as much as a 25% decrease in sperm volume from short sleep (classified as below 6hrs), with a reduction in sperm cells in semen with lower survival rates. There was also impact on motility. All things we don’t want for peak male fertility.
TWO: Prevent DNA fragmentation…what?!
So, one thing we cannot do is stop the aging process. However, contrary to popular belief we know aging impacts male fertility as well as female fertility. One of the main culprits is something called DNA fragmentation.
There are a few ways to reduce this DNA damage. The good news is that many are pretty obvious and simple to change.
Starting with avoiding cigarette smoke/airborne/excessive drinking. Heat is another factor which can cause damage. So loose underwear and avoiding high temperatures for long periods of time (sauna/hot tub/hot baths) or working with your laptop on your lap will help boost male fertility.
THREE: a surprising bonus!
This is one way that may well be welcomed (!)
Research suggests that ejaculation every other day may actually be the best bet to reduce sperm dna fragmentation (4). Another reason why it’s best to have sex ideally every other day if you’re trying to conceive. Rather than the technique of ‘saving’ it until ovulation. It also means less chance of missing the right time as targeting ovulation is notoriously tricky.
Turns out regular ejaculation is great for male fertility. Every other day (or two) is ideal.
FOUR: antioxidants for male fertility:
One of the main routes to DNA damage is something called Oxidative Stress. In a nutshell this is where there is not enough of nature’s mop within our bodies to clean up the waste produced by our cells. This is waste that not only comes from regular function but also from the burden from dealing with toxins, infections and other stressors. Stressors that seem increasingly common in our modern lifestyles and diets.
Antioxidants are our body’s natural ‘mop’. One easy way is to get more is from food. Fresh dark coloured fruits and vegetables are great sources. Also reducing the factors that deplete our antioxidants. Think avoiding the obvious nasties like processed foods, high refined sugars etc.
If you are getting older or have a lifestyle that perhaps hasn’t been ideal (!) on top of making changes and getting antioxidant rich food, talk your doctor about whether or not you should consider taking an antioxidant supplement.
FIVE: get tested! When it comes to male fertility – knowledge is power
If you are struggling to conceive or have had miscarriage it is absolutely worth getting your sperm checked. The first port of call will be a traditional analysis looking at morphology (shape), count and motility (what direction/how they are moving). DNA fragmentation is not usually considered when it comes to initial testing.
Reasons to take a deeper dive and talk to your doctor about this:
If you are older and have suffered from more than one miscarriage (5) getting this tested and including DNA fragmentation analysis is something to discuss with your doctor.
Ask for a comprehensive test of your sperm if you have been struggling with fertility. When you’re older and/or have faced miscarriage ask them to check out the DNA fragmentation within your test.
SIX: Hormones: are we the estrogen/‘Moob’ generation?!
These days, modern life does a great job pushing these all important factors out of balance. A prime reason impacting Male fertility. Particularly impacting the all important hormone Testosterone.
There are several culprits, but the dominance of the hormone estrogen (yes, men have it too) is causing problems. Estrogen is something that should be at a lower level in men vs women.
What to avoid: Xenoestrogens have been suggested to play a role in a variety of male fertility based disorders including possible declines in sperm concentration (6). It is essentially anything that imitates estrogen – either naturally or synthetic. Some common culprits Phtalates (most commonly in added fragrance in skincare), pesticides/herbicides, BPA in plastic (another reason to avoid it) or too many natural estrogens like processed soy.
SEVEN: Your waist circumference… yep…
BMI matters. Did you know that too much adipose (fat) tissue will convert things like Testosterone to estrogen? You especially don’t want to carry it around your middle.
Another way to get more oxidative stress – the enemy of male fertility – is a high BMI and lots of the things that contribute to it. Diabetes is a culprit for subpar sperm and compromised Male fertility. You’re more likely to be impacted if you have a high BMI, sedentary lifestyle and a diet full of processed sugar.
Watch your waist circumference as an indicator that you may need to take action. Here are some stats to know from our resident expert on Male Fertility Dr Anand Patel:
Caucasian men: you need a waist circumference below 94cm
Asian men: you need a waist circumference below 90 cm
Upper limits 102 cm – above that you are at risk.
EIGHT: on that note – exercise: it’s all about Goldilocks:
We also know that exercise has an impact on sperm, with research showing that:
‘moderately physically active men had significantly better sperm morphology.’ (8)
Too much fat from no exercise = testosterone conversion to estrogen and potentially higher stress levels. It is also inflammatory.
On the flip side: too much exercise and very high levels of cardio exercise can also throw your hormones off balance by kicking up the stress hormone Cortisol. Performance athletes and people who participate in more extreme exercise regimes have been known to suffer from fertility issues. Once again stemming largely from the impact it has on hormones; after all extreme exercise is a stressor.
‘In males where results seem more controversial, it has been observed that prolonged intensive exercise (and training) may lead to adverse effects on physiological systems, particularly the reproductive system and fertility with alterations in reproductive hormone levels…abnormal sperm morphology and reduced sperm motility.’ (9)
Ideally you want 20-30 minutes per day of moderate exercise (moderate = you increase your heart and breathing rate until you cannot sing is a good test).
NINE: Intermittent fasting for male fertility: really?!
Particularly if you’re struggling with your BMI this may be worth considering. Intermittent fasting is gaining science backing for a wide range of health benefits. As a reminder this is when (as the name suggests) you have a period of time of fasting. It can either be 5:2 which is five days of normal, two days of very low calorie. Or 16:8 which is eating during 8hrs and fasting for the remaining 16. It is also being used as a tool in weight loss.
Intermittent fasting has shown some benefit against Oxidative Stress. Whilst we don’t know too much at this stage about sperm specifically. However Intermittent fasting has shown some benefit reducing Oxidative Stress overall. Interestingly showing a protective factor specifically for lipids – all important for sperm.
TEN: Caffeine, don’t worry, not what you may think we’re going to say….
The good news here is that caffeine on the whole does not (in moderation) seem to have any negative effects. So, no need to forgo your morning espresso. Phew!
However, soft drinks (particularly caffeinated) were the exception.
As with most things in life. There is not a single silver bullet fix. It is more making lots of little changes which can contribute to the health of your body overall. Even making a couple of changes where you can could have a surprisingly positive effect. Good luck!
- Young Kim: What should be done or men with sperm DNA fragmentation? Clinical and Experimental Reproductive Medicine: 2018 Sept 45(3): 101-109
- CHOI JH, LEE SH, SHIN C: Effect of sleep deprivation on the Male Reproductive System in Rats: Journal of Korean Medical Science: 2016: Oct: 31(10):1624-1630
- LIU MM, LIU L, YU C-H: Sleep Deprivation and Late Bedtime impair sperm health through increasing antisperm antibody production: a prospective study of 981 healthy men. Medical Science Monitor: International Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research: 2017: 23: 1842-1848
- Pons I, Cercas R, Fernandez-Shaw S: One abstinence day decreases sperm DNA fragmentation in 90% of selected patients: Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics: 2013 Sep: 30(9) 1211-1218
- Coughlan C, Clarke H, Pacey AA: Sperm DNA fragmentation, recurrent implantation failure and recurrent miscarriage: Asian Journal of Andrology: 2015: 17(4) 681-685
- Soy Food and isolfavone intake in relation to semen quality parameters among men from an infertility clinic. Human Reproduction (Oxford): 2008 Nov: 23(11): 2584-2590
- RICCI E, VIGANO P, PARAZZINI F: Coffee and caffeine intake and male infertility: a systematic review: Nutrition Journal: 2017: 16:37
- SHARMA R, BIEDENHAM KR, AGARWAL A: Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility: Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology: RB&E: 2013: 11: 66
- SKAKKEBAEK N, RAJPERT-DE MEYTS E, JUUL A: Male Reproductive Disorders and Fertility Trends: Influences of Environment and Genetic Susceptibility: Physiological Reviews: 2016 Jan 96(1): 55-97
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.
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