Enhance your chance: Factors affecting male fertility
By Annemarie Aburrow RD
By Annemarie Aburrow RD
Want to give your super swimmers the wow factor? Want to enhance your chance to conceive? This article provides information to help promote tip-top fertility. Infertility affects around 15% of couples and around half of these involve male infertility. Common causes include low sperm count, abnormalities in sperm shape and poor motility (slower moving sperm).
When trying for a baby, diet and lifestyle are just as important for men as for women. Sperm is produced in 3 monthly cycles, meaning that what you eat today affects the quality of your sperm in 3 month’s time. Consider making changes to your diet and lifestyle today.
Eating a healthy diet is the key to good health and fertility. A healthy diet is one that is rich in fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, starchy foods and low in fat, sugar and salt. The Eatwell Guide (below) shows how much of what you eat should come from each group. Eating a balanced diet prevents you missing out on essential nutrients.
You should obtain all the essential nutrients you need to produce healthy sperm by eating a healthy diet. It’s well documented that including enough zinc, vitamin C and selenium helps improve the quality of sperm, so use the following points as guidance:
Research has found no conclusive evidence for the benefits of men taking multivitamin and mineral supplements marketed to improve their fertility. Nothing is a substitute for a healthy diet, so as long as you’re eating healthily, it’s your choice whether to take supplements or not. Beware of herbal remedies, e.g. St John’s Wort, or single-vitamin supplements, as they may cause harm especially if taken in large doses or for prolonged periods. Check with your dietitian or fertility team if you’re unsure.
Being a healthy weight promotes fertility. Calculating your body mass index (BMI) is the simplest way to check if you’re a healthy weight. A healthy BMI is between 20 and 24.9kg/m2. A BMI lower than 20kg/m2 indicates underweight, and a BMI over 24.9kg/m2 indicates overweight. Being both overweight or underweight reduces fertility. Waist circumference is also a useful measure. Using a tape measure, measure around you waist at the height of your belly button. You’re aiming for a measurement under 94cm.
A recent study found that a weight gain of just an extra 1 ½ stone resulted in a 10% reduction in fertility. If you’re overweight, the best remedy is to eat a healthy diet and increase your physical activity. If your partner is also overweight, slimming together will help keep you motivated. Aiming for a slow weight loss of 1-2lbs a week is ideal, so start your healthy eating plan well before you start trying for a baby. Ask you doctor to refer you to a dietitian if you are struggling to lose weight.
Drink in moderation, and avoid binge-drinking. Following the Department of Health’s recommended daily limit guidelines of 3-4 units, and including at least two alcohol-free days is best. Studies show that drinking too much reduces sperm count, motility and affects shape, lowering fertility. The effect is reversible; reducing your alcohol intake will quickly improve your fertility.
Often overlooked, stress can interfere with the hormones needed to make sperm, reducing sperm quality. Working long hours and stressful jobs may increase tiredness and reduce sex drive. Try to give yourself some rest and relaxation – read a book or do some exercise. De-stressing releases endorphins (‘happy hormones’) which boost libido.
The Department of Health recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days a week. This includes walking, running, football, and the gym. Regular physical activity helps us to stay healthy in all areas, including fertility. Recent studies suggest that men who watch TV for too long have reduced fertility. The key message is simply to ‘move more’. Try not to sit down for too long, and find other ways to relax, such as gardening or going to the gym.
Sex is also good exercise, which is great news! Be aware that you are most fertile if you wait around three days between ejaculations.
Many studies have shown that smokers have lower sperm count, lower sperm motility and increased abnormalities in sperm shape. It may take longer to conceive. Even if you smoke and your partner doesn’t, she can still breathe in smoke passively, affecting her fertility. You can get support for giving up smoking by calling the NHS Smoking Helpline. The Smokefree website also has lots of information, advice and tools to support you. You should also avoid using marijuana, cocaine or other recreational drugs. Marijuana stays in the body for two weeks, so even using it occasionally has negative effects on fertility.
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National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (2010) Alcohol-use disorders – preventing harmful drinking (Accessed August 2013).
NHS Choices (2012) Vitamins and minerals – Others (Accessed August 2013).
Sallmén et al (2006) Reduced fertility among overweight and obese men. Epidemiology. 17:520-523.