When it comes to fertility, a female’s health isn’t the only thing to consider, as that of the male is as important when it comes to making babies.
There are many factors influencing fertility, including genetics, lifestyle and diet. The health of sperm is a primary factor in male fertility, with markers including concentration (sperm count), morphology (sperm shape and size), motility (sperm’s ability to move) and semen volume.
And too much of the sweet stuff is implicated in making in trouble for the little swimmers.
Sugar and sperm
A poor quality diet of the female, including the increased consumption of added sugar and sugary drinks, has been linked with poorer egg quality and pregnancy outcomes.
For men, research has found sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is correlated with lower sperm motility in otherwise healthy young men,(1)and that men consuming caffeinated energy and soft drinks may experience reduced fertility.(2)
In Denmark, compared with men who did not drink sugary beverages, researchers found those who consumed 1 litre or more of sugar-sweetened drinks a day (specifically, cola) had reduced sperm concentration and total sperm count.(3)
1 litre a day sounds like a lot, right? Well, that is less than 2x 600ml bottles of Coke, an easy amount for many to consume.
Perhaps more importantly, a recent study found men consuming at least one soft drink per day had a 33% lower average monthly probability of conceiving successfully with their partner. Women were found to have a 25% lower chance. For both men and women together, soft drink intake was associated with a 20% reduction.
“We found positive associations between intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and lower fertility, which were consistent after controlling for many other factors, including obesity, caffeine intake, alcohol, smoking, and overall diet quality,” said lead study author, Elizabeth Hatch.
“Couples planning a pregnancy might consider limiting their consumption of these beverages, especially because they are also related to other adverse health effects.”(4)
Moreover, men with uncontrolled blood glucose, type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for infertility issues. These can include erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, reversed ejaculation, reduced sperm quality and low testosterone levels.(5) The issue can alter gene expression and function, and be inherited by future offspring.(6)
Food for fertility
Fortunately, what you choose to eat can help with many aspects of health, whether directly or indirectly related to male fertility. In fact, semen quality improves with a better diet.(7-8)
- Healthy fats, such as those found in walnuts, flax and chia seeds, and oily fish such as sustainably sourced sardines
- Healthy protein, especially good sources of the amino acid arginine, such as pumpkin seeds, legumes such as peanuts, beans, peas and lentils, and some animal products including poultry*
- A large variety of colourful vegetables and some fruit
- Food rich in antioxidants, including:
- vitamin C, such as kiwi and capsicum
- vitamin E, such as green leafy vegetables and avocado
- CoQ10, such as herring and sesame seeds
- Foods rich in zinc, such as oysters, meat and poultry*, nuts, seeds and legumes
- Foods rich in B vitamins, especially:
- folate (vitamin B9), such as leafy green vegetables
- vitamin B12, such as meat and poultry*
- Fibre from vegetables and whole grains or pseudo-grains such as spelt, rye, quinoa, and buckwheat
- Water, and plenty of it.
Consider limiting or avoiding:
- Added sugar in excess of 6 teaspoons (25g) per day, particularly from sugary drinks
- Trans fats and deep fried foods
- Artificial colours and flavours
- Heavily processed grains and flours such as white flour and pastries
- Heavily processed meat products such as deli meats
- Where reasonable and possible, contact with pesticides, liquid chemicals, plastics and other harmful substances in our environment.
Lifestyle factors to consider are managing stress, getting good quality sleep, limiting use or intake of alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, exercising each day and maintaining healthy, meaningful relationships.
While there are the above modifiable dietary and lifestyle factors to consider, it is important to check in with your GP if you are trying to conceive, are having difficulty conceiving, or on medications that may be affecting fertility.
Finally, eating and drinking well will also help the partner who is going to carry the baby, supporting her in doing the same in pre-conception and throughout pregnancy. This can lead to a positive shift in household dietary habits, impacting the future bub by nourishing their body, brain and overall development. Win-win!
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)
*Choose ethically and sustainably raised animal products wherever possible.
- Chiu, YH et al. 2014, ‘Sugar-sweetened beverage intake in relation to semen quality and reproductive hormone levels in young men’, Human Reproduction, vol. 29, no. 7, pp. 1575–1584.
- Wesselink, AK et al. 2016, ‘Caffeine and caffeinated beverage consumption and fecundability in a preconception cohort’, Reproductive Toxicology, vol. 62, pp. 39-45.
- Jensen, TK et al. 2010, ‘Caffeine intake and semen quality in a population of 2,554 young Danish men’, American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 171, no. 8, pp. 883-91.
- Hatch, E et al. 2018, ‘Intake of Sugar-sweetened Beverages and Fecundability in a North American Preconception Cohort’, Epidemiology,vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 369–378.
- Diabetes UK 2018, Infertility in Men, viewed 18 September 2018,<https://www.diabetes.co.uk/pregnancy-complications/infertility-in-men.html>
- Ding, GL et al. 2015, ‘The effects of diabetes on male fertility and epigenetic regulation during spermatogenesis’, Asian Journal of Andrology, vol. 17, no. 6, pp. 948–953.
- Gaskins, AJ et al. 2012, ‘Dietary patterns and semen quality in young men’, Human Reproduction, vol. 27, no. 10, pp. 2899–2907.
- Gaskins, AJ & Chavarro, JE 2018, ‘Diet and fertility: a review’, American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, vol. 218, no. 4, pp. 379-389.
- Hechtman, L 2012, Clinical Naturopathic Medicine, Churchill Livingstone, Chatswood, N.S.W.