There’s plenty of anecdotal tales about how the right foods can boost male fertility, but the problem is sorting out the old wives’ tale from scientific fact.
Should a man wanting to be a father be eating lots of red meat? Or is a plant-based diet better for optimum sperm production?
Aren’t walnuts supposed to help …
What about oysters? Asparagus? Edamame beans?
Male infertility is a tough diagnosis for a man. He’s already dealing with the disappointment of not having children, so to be told that he’s infertile is a huge blow to his sense of virility and self-worth. Around 15% of couples experience infertility, and male infertility is responsible for around 25% of these cases.
So can nutrition help boost male fertility?
A recent analysis by teams from the University of Rovira and the Institute of Salud Carlos III in Spain, suggests it can. The teams reviewed the existing body of academic research into the effects of nutrition on male infertility – specifically, on the production of sperm.
The analysis suggests that correct nutrition has two effects that boost male fertility: firstly, it increases sperm production and, secondly, it results in sperm with stronger motility and fertilisation ability. The study also throws up some surprising findings on what a man should be eating to ensure optimal sperm production.
The review concludes that a diet rich in fish, fruit, vegetables and fibre is ideal for optimum sperm production. The Mediterranean diet is an excellent model for this type of eating. This is because fruit, veg, fish and seafood contribute to the high levels of antioxidants and omega-3 fats necessary to produce sperm with healthy DNA. (So those old wives were right about oysters.) Vegetables high in folate – yes, that includes asparagus – are particularly high in antioxidants. And cereals contain fibre which binds to excess oestrogen in the male bloodstream.
Soy products have long been suspected of reducing male fertility because they contain high levels of oestrogen. Animal studies back this up, so the review suggests that soy products should be consumed in low quantities. So swap those snacks of edamame beans for pumpkin seeds, chopped walnuts and kale chips.
Potatoes and other starchy foods have a surprising effect. They affect the metabolism of glucose which can disrupt sperm production. Plus, they can contribute to the development of diabetes which in itself causes fertility problems. The review does not suggest totally avoiding starchy foods but advises that low levels of consumption are preferable.
Consumption of high-fat dairy products decreases sperm production – probably because about 75% of commercial milk comes from cows in different stages of pregnancy and contains female hormones. However, low-fat dairy products might actually boost fertility by providing the insulin which is necessary for the development of sperm, but without the hormones that bind to dairy fat. The effect of dairy products on a man’s fertility is controversial, but it seems likely that switching from high-fat to low-fat products could be helpful.
Red meat should be kept as a treat, and processed meat eliminated. Poor farming techniques produce meat – particularly beef – high in artificial steroids which, when eaten by humans, results in weakened sperm. On the other hand, red meat is a great source of iron, necessary for creating highly-oxygenated blood. So enjoy a good steak now and again, but no more than once or twice a week, and choose organic, grass-fed meat.
Coffee and tea have a negative effect on sperm production only if consumed in high quantities. Whilst it’s good to cut back on caffeine, you don’t need to avoid it completely. Daily consumption of alcohol, on the other hand, definitely reduces the production of sperm. The good news is that moderate consumption of alcohol doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on male fertility so you can enjoy a glass of red wine a couple of times a week as part of your sperm-boosting Mediterranean diet.
Not surprisingly, sugar and sweetened drinks are a no-no for optimum sperm production. Refined sugar plays havoc with sperm formation, and sends the balance of male hormones haywire.
The main takeaways from the report are to eat lots of fish, fruit and non-starchy vegetables; swap the full-fat dairy for low-fat and eat good quality meat in moderation. Cut back on soy and alcohol, ensure you don’t drink too much coffee and cut out refined sugar.
And the old wives were right about oysters and asparagus. They’re good for fertility – plus they contain zinc and antioxidants that boost the libido. So if you’re trying for a baby, prepare dinner for two, turn the lights down low and enjoy your evening …
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