by Sarah Trimble
Getting the right nutrients from your diet and high quality nutritional supplements can make a huge difference to male reproductive health, promoting optimal hormone levels and healthy sperm production. If you’re not sure which nutrients you really need this is a guide to the key nutrients you need to focus on.
Remember the sperm maturation period is 3 months so to produce healthy sperm we need these nutrients consistently for 3 months prior to starting trying to conceive or in the 3 months prior to beginning assisted conception treatments.
This mineral is probably the most important nutrient when it comes to male fertility and as a result men who are zinc deficient are more likely to experience infertility. Zinc is required to produce testosterone and for sperm production and men with low levels of zinc are more likely to have low sperm count and low testosterone levels.
On top of that our body uses zinc to make antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that we can either obtain from our diet, or produce in our bodies, that protect our cells from damage by unstable molecules called free radicals. Antioxidants are incredibly important in male fertility and sperm health because sperm cells, and the DNA that is contained within the sperm, is very vulnerable to free radical damage. Therefore men trying to optimise their sperm quality need to increase their antioxidant levels. Zinc is needed for the body to produce an antioxidant called SOD and higher levels of SOD improve sperm number and motility whereas lower levels was associated with poorer DNA quality in the sperm.
Zinc is present from red meat, eggs, shellfish, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds, and dairy products. Red meat represents by far the best dietary source as it provides a form of zinc that is easily absorbed by the body, therefore men who avoid red meat or follow a vegetarian or vegan diet could be at higher risk of zinc deficiency. Zinc cannot be stored in the body, so regular daily intake in the form of quality supplementation may be necessary when trying to optimise male fertility.
Selenium & Cysteine
Since the 1970s our intake of selenium has been gradually dropping due to the depletion of selenium from the soil in which our vegetables are grown and animals graze. It is very difficult to get enough selenium even from a balanced diet and this is bad news for male fertility. Selenium plays a role in the process of sperm production, called spermatogenesis, and ensures proper motility of sperm, helping them swim to their destination.
Like zinc, selenium is used by the body to produce an important antioxidant to protect sperm from free radical damage. Together with the amino acid cysteine, selenium is used by the body to produce an antioxidant called glutathione. You may have never heard of it but glutathione is the single most important antioxidant for male fertility, protecting sperm from damage during sperm production. Glutathione has also been shown to keep sperm healthy during assisted conception treatments when sperm may be stored, frozen and thawed.
As I’ve mentioned it can be difficult to get enough selenium from diet alone and to ensure adequate daily intake to optimise reproductive health daily supplementation is recommended for men who are trying to conceive.
Our diet is not our main source of vitamin D, in fact our body produces its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. As a result people living in less sunny climates like Northern Europe are more likely to be vitamin D deficient. There is a clear relationship between vitamin D levels and male reproductive health. Vitamin D deficiency is believed to result in lower testosterone levels and poor sperm quality. In one clinical trial men who were tested for vitamin D deficiency and then had it treated saw their testosterone levels and sperm quality improve alongside their vitamin D levels. Testing vitamin D status to learn whether a deficiency is present is an important initial step in optimising nutritional health for conception. Once you know your vitamin D levels a medical professional or nutritional therapist can advise on an appropriate supplementation level tailored to your needs.
Vitamin C & Vitamin E
Vitamin C and vitamin E are both antioxidant nutrients that we can obtain directly from our diet. The combination of these two nutrients has been shown to keep the DNA within sperm healthy and the health of this DNA can have a significant impact on chances of conception and achieving a healthy pregnancy.
Smokers are at risk of vitamin C deficiency and therefore must increase their intake through both dietary sources such as oranges, kiwi fruit, peppers and tomatoes and consider taking a vitamin C. Vitamin E is a fat soluble nutrient found in avocadoes, nuts and seeds and olive oil so people on low fat diets could risk a deficiency.
L-arginine is an amino acid that is typically found in meat, turkey, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate. It is a multi-tasker when it comes to male fertility, undertaking a number of key roles. In the body l-arginine relaxes blood vessels ensuring proper blood flow to the male reproductive organs, delivering nutrients and oxygen necessary for sperm production. L-arginine also supports the energy production process within sperm cells and this leads to better sperm motility. Sperm are very active compared to other cells and, as a result, energy production within the sperm cell is very important. Better energy production within sperm cells will ensure good sperm motility, helping the sperm move more efficiently through the female reproductive tract.
Another amino acid and, as the name suggests, our main dietary source is meat! Like l-arginine, l-carnitine also supports the energy production within the sperm cell, promoting better sperm motility. It also promotes conception in another very important way, by increasing levels of an enzyme in the sperm head that enable sperm cells to penetrate an egg cell. So l-carnitine can help sperm move through the female reproductive tract and help those cells fertilise the egg cell when they get there.
CoQ10 is a nutrient like substance that we can actually produce in our own bodies. It has two main roles in male fertility: it supports energy production in sperm cells, thus ensuring good motility, and it is an antioxidant that improves sperm quality.
You may have read, or been advised that very high doses of Co Q 10 are needed to boost sperm health, however, it is important to be aware that very high doses of antioxidants can actually have a negative impact on sperm health and interfere with sperm production and fertilisation. Dosages of between 30-60mg daily have been shown to be sufficient in promoting sperm quality and motility without any potential negative impact.
We call this the Goldilocks effect because you don’t want too little antioxidants or too many as both could be detrimental to male reproductive function.
I know probiotic bacteria are not technically nutrients, but they have so many positive effects for our health that they act just like powerful nutrients. We now know that semen contains trillions of GOOD bacteria that have a positive role in maintaining the health of a man’s sperm population and imbalances in this population of good bacteria could have a negative impact on reproductive health.
Clinical trials using the probiotic strains Lactibacillus Rhamnosus BIFOLAC PB01 and Bifidobacterium Longum have shown the power of probiotics to improve sperm motility and DNA quality within the sperm. In fact one study found sperm motility to increase by 6 times following probiotic supplementation.
So when using nutrition to optimise male fertility, a combined approach of choosing the right foods, whilst supplementating with a high quality nutrient and probiotic formula is a great place to start.
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