Diet for Male Fertility
Following on from the blogpost about Falling Sperm Counts this post will look at which dietary factors affect male fertility and sperm health. Eating a healthy diet for several months before conception is recommended as it takes 3-4 months for sperm to fully mature. To produce a healthy baby healthy sperm is just as important as healthy eggs. Research shows that following a healthy diet can improve sperm quality in men with poor semen quality (1). And a good diet can also improve libido!
Being overweight is associated with low sperm counts and fertility problems in men (2) so if you are overweight losing weight through a healthy diet and regular exercise is good place to start preparing yourself for fatherhood.
Let’s look at the specifics of what a diet for male fertility should include:
Beneficial Oils – the omega 3 fats have been found to improve testicular function and semen quality (3,4) and are important for all aspects of the endocrine system. They are found in oily fish, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and avocados as well as the cold pressed oils of these seeds.
Brightly Coloured Fruit and Vegetables – these are rich in antioxidants which play a major role in improving semen quality (4). Other sources of antioxidants include nuts, seeds and sprouted foods.
Tomato sauces – the red pigment found in tomatoes may boost sperm count by up to 70%, as well as conferring other benefits such as slowing the progression of prostate cancer (5). Lycopene is also found in watermelon and red grapefruits.
Whole grains – are positively associated with improved sperm health (4). Examples include oats, rye, barley, millet, quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth.
Honey – has a protective effect against impaired sexual behavior and fertility caused by cigarette smoke (6).
Lentils and beans – rich in B vitamins including folic acid, needed for healthy sperm and pregnancy outcomes.
Good quality protein – protein is needed for all aspects of health. Good sources of protein include peas, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, quinoa, amaranth, wild fish, eggs, organic poultry and grass fed meat.
Chocolate – throughout history many magical and aphrodisiac properties have been attributed to chocolate. The Aztecs believed that cacao pods symbolized life and fertility with fortifying and aphrodisiac properties (7). Modern research has found numerous active substances in cacao beans that may have a synergistic effect and positive influence on sexual health and function (8).
Other foods with some of the same chemicals as chocolate include apples, avocados, almonds, and cheese.
Olive oil – with its wide range of health benefits and culinary uses is believed to have aphrodisiac qualities (9)
Chillies – contain capsaicin which increases blood flow and encourages the release of endorphins.
Nuts and Seeds – Walnuts have been shown to improve sperm vitality and motility in healthy young men (10). Pistachio Nuts improve erectile function in men with erectile dysfunction (11). Nuts are rich in L-arginine which helps to relax muscles and widen blood vessels potentially aiding erectile function.
Sunshine – OK, it’s not a food, but the sun is nourishing! Findings are mixed but there is some evidence to suggest that vitamin D may improve male fertility by modulating hormone production and improving semen quality and motility (12). The best way to up your levels of vitamin D is to spend time outside in the sun with some skin exposed. Take care not to burn! Supplemental vitamin D may be needed during the winter months. See the newsletter on Vitamin D for more information: http://www.foodforthoughtuk.com/?s=vitamin+D
Foods to Avoid
The following have all been found to have a negative effect on sperm health or male fertility:
Processed meat (4) – including cured meats such as ham, bacon, sausages, luncheon meat, canned meat, some kebabs and burgers and fast foods.
Trans fats – have a negative effect on testicular function (3,4). They are found in processed and packaged foods such as crisps, snack foods, fried foods and fast foods.
Dietary Phytoestrogens – have been related to abnormal semen quality and hormone levels (4). Soy foods are one of the major dietary sources of phytoestrogens. However, intake of soy products by the male partner in couples attending fertility clinics appears to be unrelated to fertilization rates and pregnancy outcomes (13). However, it would be prudent to avoid processed soy found in textured vegetable protein and many processed and packaged foods. Fermented soy foods such as miso and tamari are not thought to be a problem.
Dairy products – are associated with reduced semen quality in some studies (4). Swap cow’s milk for hemp or almond milk and include more vegetable protein from nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.
Alcohol – is associated with reduced semen quality (4).
Sugar and sugary drinks – are associated with reduced semen quality (4).
Caffeine – The literature suggests that caffeine intake, possibly through sperm DNA damage, may negatively affect male reproductive function. Evidence from epidemiological studies on semen parameters and fertility is however inconsistent and inconclusive (14).
Pesticides – a link has been found between eating fruit and vegetables containing pesticide residues and lower sperm counts. Eating organically grown fruit and vegetables is advisable for men wishing to protect their sperm health and fertility (15,16).
Shellfish and high mercury fish – these include albacore tuna, swordfish, shark and king mackerel.
Men wishing to optimise their fertility and male hormone balance would be well advised to eat a whole food diet rich in fish, poultry, fruit, vegetables, pulses, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Avoidance of alcohol, caffeine, sugar, processed foods and fast foods is recommended. Organically grown foods should be eaten where possible.
- 1. Oostingh EC, Steegers-Theunissen RP, de Vries JH et al. Strong adherence to a healthy dietary pattern is associated with better semen quality, especially in men with poor semen quality. Asian J Androl. 2017 Mar-Apr;19(2):184-190.
- 2. Liu Y, Ding Z. Obesity, a serious etiologic factor for male subfertility in modern society. Reprod. 2017 Jul 26. pii: REP-17-0161.
- 3. Minguez-Alarcon L, Chavarro JE, Mendiola J et al. Fatty acid intake in relation to reproductive hormones and testicular volume among young healthy men. Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2014;228:57-82.
- 4. Salas-Huestos A, Bullo M, Salas-Salvado J. Dietary patterns, foods and nutrients in male fertility parameters and fecundability: a systematic review of observational studies. Hum Reprod Update. 2017 Jul 1;23(4):371-389
- 5. Sheffield University “Scientists investigate sperm-boosting nutrient which may help infertile couples.” ScienceDaily. 11 April 2016.
- 6. Mohamed M, Sulaiman SA, Sirajudeen KN. Protective effect of honey against cigarette smoke induced-impaired sexual behavior and fertility of male rats. Toxicol. Ind Health. 2013 Apr;29(3):264-71.
- 7. Lippi, Chocolate and medicine: dangerous liaisons? Nutrition. 2009 Nov-Dec;25(11-12):1100-3
- 8. Bianchi-Demicheli F, Sekoranja L, Pechere-Bertschi A, Sexuality, heart and chocolate. Rev Med Suisse. 2013 Mar 20;9(378):624, 626-9.
- 9. Wardhana, Surachmanto ES, Datau EA, The role of omega-3 fatty acids contained in olive oil on chronic inflammation. Acta Med Indones. 2011 Apr;43(2):138-43.
- 10. Robbins WA, Xun L, Fitzgerald LZ et al. Walnuts improve semen quality in men consuming a Western-style diet: randomized control dietary intervention trial. Biol Reprod. 2012 Oct 25;87(4):101
- 11. Aldemir M, Okulu E, Neselioglu S, et al. Pistachio diet improves erectile function parameters and serum lipid profiles in patients with erectile dysfunction. Int J Impot Res. 2011 Jan-Feb;23(1):32-8.
- 12. De Angelis C, Galdiero M, Pivonello C et al. The role of vitamin D in male fertility: A focus on the testis. Rev Endocr Metabl Disord. 2017 Jul 1.
- 13. Minguez-Alarcon L, Afeiche C, Chiu YH et al. Male soy food intake was not associated with in vitro fertilization outcomes among couples attending a fertility center. Andrology 2015 Jul;3(4):702-8.
- 14. Ricci E, Vigano P, Cipriani S et al. Coffee and caffeine intake and male infertility: a systematic review. Nutr J. 2017 Jun 24;16(1):37
- 15. Y.H. Chiu et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic. Human Reproduction, 2015. Jun;30(6):1342-51.
- 16. Levine H, Swan SH. Is dietary pesticide exposure related to semen quality? Positive evidence from men attending a fertility clinic. Human Reproduction. 2015 Jun;30(6):1287-9.