FertilityFor YouMale Fertility

How Diet and Lifestyle changes can improve sperm health

By December 4, 2021No Comments

Male fertility has dropped dramatically in the past generation, and it is estimated that sperm counts are half what they were in the 1970s. It is believed that dietary and lifestyle changes in the previous decades have had a huge negative impact on sperm health. However, this isn’t all bad news, the research shows us that making positive diet and lifestyle changes can have a powerful positive impact on all measures of sperm health: number, quality, motility, morphology.


How to Eat to improve sperm health

It will come as no surprise that positive dietary changes are important when trying to support and improve sperm number and quality. While specific nutrients play an important role, it is also important to look at the Eat healthy for better sperm health overall quality and balance of your diet. Men who follow a Mediterranean dietary pattern are consistently found to have better fertility and increased chances of conception. Wherever you live you can achieve a Mediterranean style diet, and what I think is really important to remember is that this dietary approach does not involve extreme changes or exclusion of any food groups, everything is allowed in appropriate ratios and the focus is on the quality of the food consumed.  By following a few key principles we can all have a Mediterranean style diet (minus the sunshine):

  • Fill up half plate with vegetables at each main meal, vegetables should be the main event of the meal, not an afterthought.
  • Snack on whole foods such as fruits and nuts instead of crisps and chocolate bars. Sugary treats should be enjoyed at the weekend, ideally at the end of a meal.
  • Eat foods rich in good fats every day, these include extra virgin olive oil, nuts, avocado and oily fish.
  • Have high quality meat 3-4 times a week. Choose from grass fed red meat, organic chicken, fresh fish and shellfish.
  • Choose whole grain options when possible including brown rice, whole-grain wheat and pasta.
  • Drink in moderation and spread your consumption over the week instead of binge drinking at the weekend. If possible choose red wine.

Still curious about food options? Click here to read about Key Nutrients for Male Fertility


Antioxidants are essential

In my opinion the Mediterranean dietary pattern is beneficial for male fertility because it is a dietary pattern that provides an abundance of antioxidants. Antioxidants are a type of nutrient that is fundamental to male fertility, because they protect sperm cells from damage. Sperm cell are very vulnerable to damage by a type ofAntioxidants - Sperm Health unstable molecule called free radicals, and antioxidants protect the sperm cell itself and the DNA within it from damage.  Therefore antioxidants are key in promoting good sperm quality and preventing DNA fragmentation within the sperm. The more antioxidants you have in your diet the more protected your sperm will be.

Antioxidants are present in all plant foods. Quite often the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their colour act as antioxidants, a good example is beta carotene the orange pigment that gives carrots their colour.

Following these few rules will help you ensure you are getting plenty of antioxidants:

  • Eat a rainbow of colours of vegetables, don’t just go for peas and carrots every night. As mentioned above antioxidants give fruits and vegetables their colours, so by eating a range of colours of vegetables and fruits daily you will ensure you are eating a wide variety of antioxidants.
  • Dress your vegetables with olive oil or butter: most antioxidants are fat soluble and more antioxidants will be absorbed from a meal when eaten with some fat. So dress salads with olive oil dressings or toss your vegetables with a knob of butter.
  • Spices and herbs are the most concentrated dietary source of antioxidants, so not only will cooking with spices and herbs make your food taste better, it will up your antioxidant intake.
  • Mushrooms are packed full of an antioxidant called glutathione. Glutathione is potentially the MOST important antioxidant for male fertility. It is crucially important for sperm health and protecting the sperm from damage during development and has been shown to protect sperm from damage during assisted reproduction. All mushrooms contain glutathione but shiitake and porcini mushrooms are particularly rich in glutathione.


Get more sleep

After diet a good sleep pattern is probably the second most important change that can have a real positive impact on sperm health, and a good night’s sleep is effectively free. We are all sleeping less than we used to: in 1942, less than 8% of the population was trying to survive on six hours or less sleep a night; in 2019, almostSufficient sleep for better sperm health 50% of the population is. Sleeping for less than six hours has been shown to reduce chances of conceiving by half. There are two main reasons why sleep is so important for male fertility:

  1. Firstly, the male reproductive hormone testosterone that is used up during the day is replenished at night time. So getting a better night’s sleep pattern is a natural way to naturally support testosterone levels. As testosterone plays a role in the sperm production process (called spermatogenesis) having healthy testosterone levels is fundamental to male fertility.
  2. The sleep hormone melatonin also acts as a powerful antioxidant throughout the body and men who were found to have higher concentrations of melatonin in their semen had higher chances of conceiving. Melatonin specifically stabilises DNA, ensuring quality DNA within the sperm, a factor that is important in supporting both conception and reducing chances of miscarriage.

So try and get at least 7 hours sleep every night when you are trying to conceive.


Stress Less

Trying to reduce stress can be a frustrating recommendation and lifestyle goal, especially as for many couples trying to conceive can be one of the most stressful periods of their life. However, the physical impact of stress can have real negative consequences for male fertility. When we experience stress our body produces the stress hormone cortisol, and men who have higher levels of cortisol are found to have lower levels of testosterone, therefore stress hormones could be interfering with the sperm production process. On top of that prolonged exposure to stress can cause levels of the hormone prolactin to rise and prolactin can inhibit the activity of luteinising hormone (LH), this hormone works together with testosterone to promote healthy sperm production.

Stress might be unavoidable when trying to conceive so focus on a hobby or relaxation activity that can, at the very least, help reduce stress hormone levels (e.g. yoga, meditation, massage, moderate exercise, team sports, walking in nature) while also getting enough sleep.


Exercise (in moderation)

The relationship between exercise and better male fertility may not be obvious at first, but the more muscle tissue that a man has the more testosterone he will produce, potentially benefitting reproductive hormone balance. Regular exercise is also shown to increase levels of the antioxidant glutathione and, as we have mentioned above, this antioxidant plays a really important role in protecting sperm quality. Interestingly excessive high intensity exercise will deplete glutathione levels and the research shows that moderate exercise (such as walking and jogging) is much more effective at improving sperm quality than high intensity exercise (such as HIIT training or running). Bear in mind that high intensity exercise can be a physical stress on the body leading to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.

Cycling is not recommended for men trying to conceive as it can promote inflammation in the male reproductive organs and actually have a negative impact on sperm quality and number.


Avoid cigarettes, alcohol and SUGAR??

It may come as no surprise that cutting out alcohol and cigarettes can support male sperm health. But, you may be surprised to learn that heavy sugar consumption can have a strong negative impact on male sperm health and male fertility. Men who eat more sugar and therefore have higher blood sugar levels have been found to have lower sperm count and higher levels of DNA damage within their sperm cells. So as harmless as sweet treats such as biscuits and chocolate bars may seem, regular consumption could be having a real negative impact on sperm health. Aim for a maximum of 2-3 treats weekly.

Every cigarette exposes the body to billions of free radicals, and as we discussed above, sperm cells are particularly vulnerable to free radical damage and male smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to experience fertility problems and low sperm count. Smoking marijuana, on the other hand, has a strong negative impact on sperm motility and has been linked to a drop in luteinising hormone.

Heavy alcohol consumption and binge drinking at the weekends are associated with reduced sperm number, quality and motility. However, the research suggests that up to 5 alcoholic drinks weekly has no negative impact on male fertility so try and adjust your alcohol intake in line with these findings.



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Adewoyin M, Ibrahim M, Roszaman R, et al. Male Infertility: The Effect of Natural Antioxidants and Phytocompounds on Seminal Oxidative Stress. Diseases. 2017;5(1):9.

Torres-Arce E, Vizmanos B, Babio N, Márquez-Sandoval F, Salas-Huetos A. Dietary Antioxidants in the Treatment of Male Infertility: Counteracting Oxidative Stress. Biology (Basel). 2021;10(3):241. Published 2021 Mar 20. doi:10.3390/biology10030241

Espino J, Bejarano I, Ortiz A, Lozano GM, Garcia JF, Pariente JA, et al. Melatonin as a potential tool against oxidative damage and apoptosis in ejaculated human spermatozoa. Fertil Steril. 2010;94(5):1915–1917.

Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men. JAMA. 2011;305(21):2173-2174. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.710

Anna-Karin Lennartsson, Ingibjörg H. Jonsdottir, Prolactin in response to acute psychosocial stress in healthy men and women, Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2011, 36 (10)

Dabbous Z, Atkin SL. Hyperprolactinaemia in male infertility: Clinical case scenarios. Arab J Urol. 2017;16(1):44-52. Published 2017 Nov 16.

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Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki et al. “The effects of three different exercise modalities on markers of male reproduction in healthy subjects: a randomized controlled trial.” Reproduction, 2017.

Hajizadeh Maleki B, Tartibian B. Long-term Low-to-Intensive Cycling Training: Impact on Semen Parameters and Seminal Cytokines. Clin J Sport Med. 2015 Nov;25(6):535-40.

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Managing Director, Gordons Chemists


Robert Gordon, director at Gordons Chemist's. Gordons Chemists is a chain of more than 60 pharmacies, located in NI and Scotland. Gordons Chemists is Northern Ireland's largest independent pharmacy chain.

Dr. Debbie Collins



Dr. Debbie Collins MBBchBAO MRCGP, a practicing GP and partner in Belfast. She has a passion for patient education and advocacy. Her special interests are Women's Health and Fertility

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Nutritional Therapist


Sarah Trimble - a nutritional therapist with a passion for good food instead of fad diets. Sarah has a particular Interest in using the power of nutrition to support hormonal imbalances and reproductive health.

Barbara Scott

Director, Seren Natural Fertility
Chair, Association of Reproductive Reflexologists


Barbara Scott is Chair of The Association of Reproductive Reflexologists, founder of Seren Natural Fertility and author of Reflexology for Fertility. In 2017, she was awarded ‘Complementary Therapist of the Year’ by the Federation of Holistic Therapists and has been nominated for several awards within the field of complementary therapy. In 2019 she was awarded the Innovation in Reflexology Award by the Association of Reflexologists.

Barbara speaks and lectures globally on her integrative approach to supporting couples having difficulties conceiving. She has spoken at many of the Fertility Shows and Fertility Fest. Alongside her own busy clinics, she also trains practitioners in providing this integrative, approach to fertility and reproductive healthcare and well-being. The ARR (Association of Reproductive Reflexologists) has trained practitioners globally, from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, and most areas of the UK.

Her expertise and passion is in advocating a patient-centred and integrative approach to supporting both men and women on their journey to parenthood.

Cindy Charles

Fertility coach and Founder of Fertilelife


Cindy Charles- Fertility coach and Founder of Fertilelife. Cindy is a committed advocate of social and personal development. Her own life experiences inspired her fertility support services. Cindy has worked with the Fertility Network UK, and has had the privilege to work as a resident Fertility Coach for the London Women's Clinic on Harley Street. Cindy believes in the importance of nurturing our own fertility.

Dr. Lyuda Shkrobot

MD, MSc Gynecologist, Fertility specialist at unq.life fertility clinic


Dr Lyuda has a special interest in reproductive immunology. Dr Shkrobot assisted in establishing the first European Donor Egg programme at Sims, coordinating and liaising with Intersono Clinic in Ukraine Advisors. She is passionate about patient-centred, results-driven care.

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Business Development Executive


Lisa has 15 years of commercial business experience. She has proven her capabilities in Investment Property Sales and, Management & Business Development for Technology companies that have provided her with an understanding of different customer needs across several sectors. Lisa appreciates the value of customer education and relationship building in long-lasting partnerships.

Aoibheann Murphy

Chief Financial Officer


Having trained with PWC, Aoibheann qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1997. She subsequently spent eight years working in industry, gaining invaluable experience in many areas In 2005 Aoibheann became MD of Pangur Consulting, providing professional expertise to a broad client base. She is looking forward to the new challenge of Nua Fertility.

Share a little about yourself—the things we wouldn’t learn from simply reading your professional bio.


What was your journey to parenthood like?

Right craic!

Do you prefer podcasts or books? And of the one that you prefer, what is a show or title that you recommend?

I love sport…any sport…and the outdoors. Living in the Barrow valley I get to enjoy swimming and kayaking in the Barrow and exploring the Blackstairs mountains. Since I hung up my soccer boots (the body just couldn’t take it anymore!), I’ve been cycling with my lovely friends in Mount Leinster Wheelers and was chuffed to have completed the Ironman 70.3 triathlon event in Dublin in 2019!
I’m an avid reader…books beat podcasts hands down!...although recently I’ve dabbled with audio books through the library app Borrow Box. “A Little Life” left its mark on me. A harrowing story, definitely not for the faint hearted.

If there was just one thing you could impart on women on their journey to parenthood, what would it be?

Don’t be consumed by the roles in your life – parent, partner, employee etc. Parenthood, be it getting there or going through it, will have its tough times. Cherishing yourself as an individual and making time for yourself can help you through those times….it’s good to be a bit selfish!!

Mark Mullins

Director of Sales


What was your journey to parenthood like?

To be honest it was very difficult. At the beginning we thought that when we decided that we wanted to start a family Deborah would fall pregnant shortly afterwards like many of her friends. As time went by, we started to suspect something was wrong. After initial tests we found out that I had a low sperm count which meant that we would have to go down the assisted pregnancy route. This took me several months to get my head around as I blamed myself for this. All I wanted was my wife to be able to go through the pregnancy journey. We couldn’t wait to become parents. There were many long and painful nights where I thought this would never happen for us. After several failed attempts we decided to look at further ways of improving our chances. This led us to look at fertility supplements, our diet, exercise. I will never forget when that morning during our Two Week Wait when Deborah woke me up at 5 a.m. to show me those two lines, we had both been yearning for! We are blessed to now have our beautiful daughter.

On challenging days, what kept you going? Where did you find inspiration?

My wife was my inspiration. She kept me going through those challenging months and years. She was there to help me deal with everything. The guilt I felt when I saw her having to go through everything.

What is your ideal was to relax and unwind?

My latest passion is cooking on my BBQ. I find it so peaceful and I just switch off. It just gives me a bit of alone time which everyone needs.

If there was just one thing you could impart on men as they begin trying to become parents, what would it be?

I would highly recommend communicating with friends and family. A problem shared is a problem halved. Failing that there are some really good private Facebook groups for men suffering from infertility. I found this great support through the good and especially the bad times.

Deborah Brock

Founder & CEO of Nua Fertility


Deborah has a personal passion for fertility health, supporting people and communities. With over 15 years experience of working in the Non profit and Education sector, I have had the honour of working together with people and communities focusing on their strengths, capacities and assets. With extensive senior management, project management and creative programme development experience.

How did your experience with fertility inspire you to help start Nua Fertility?

My own personal fertility journey opened my eyes to the world of fertility health. Trying for a baby is one of the most exciting yet vulnerable times in your life. It took myself and my husband over three years and the helping hand of science to become a mum.  I have always worked with people and communities and felt my vision for Nua Fertility could genuinely support others who have fertility challenges.

Share a little about yourself—the things we wouldn’t learn from simply reading your professional bio.

I'm am curious person and love all things research. My ideal evening would be reading and exploring scientific journals! I like to think I am a little bit creative and I LOVE paint by numbers! Its probably the only time I slow down, I become immersed in the painting and think of nothing else.

What do you want to tell someone trying to conceive or already pregnant?

Educate yourself! Knowledge is power. The more you inform yourself about your fertility health the more you are empowering yourself with knowledge. Own your journey and take control over your own fertility health.

What’s something you wish someone told you while trying to conceive?

Open up and talk with friends and family. I was surrounded by amazing friends and family but I never opened up. When your struggling to conceive, a non-judgemental ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on is so powerful.