A healthy and well-balanced diet may improve male fertility. Better nutrition could be the solution if you have been diagnosed with low sperm count on a male fertility test. This article will cover the connection between male fertility and nutrition, including foods that increase sperm count, foods to avoid for male fertility, and other ways to increase sperm count naturally.
If you and your partner have been trying to conceive for a while without success, male infertility may be the cause. Approximately 40–50% of all infertility cases are due to “male factor” infertility, and as many as 2% of ALL men will exhibit suboptimal sperm parameters such as low sperm concentration, poor sperm motility (movement), or abnormal sperm morphology. Luckily, optimizing nutrition and lifestyle can help with each of these parameters and support male fertility.
Why is the Quality of Sperm Decreasing?
Unfortunately, the average sperm count has dropped considerably over the past 40 years.
Low sperm count, abnormal sperm appearance, and poor sperm motility can be attributed to a variety of factors, most notably poor diet and environmental toxin exposure. Unfortunately, these causes often get overlooked when treating male infertility.
In fact, evidence suggests that a high-fat diet and obesity as a result of an unhealthy lifestyle can affect sperm structure. Other environmental and lifestyle factors may adversely impact male fertility as well, such as chronic stress, exposure to pharmaceutical compounds and other toxins in drinking water, exposure to parabens and phthalates in personal care products, and air pollutants. Smoking, caffeine and alcohol consumption, and illicit drug use can also affect men’s fertility and sperm quality.
Fertility and Nutrition: The Connection
Evidence suggests that nutrition may be essential to altering fertility-related outcomes in both men and women. With an estimated 15% of couples in the U.S. suffering from infertility, it’s crucial to understand how diet may play a role.
For women, research suggests that following a “fertility diet” may favorably influence fertility outcomes. This diet includes predominantly plant protein sources such as whole grains and legumes, fruits and vegetables, full-fat dairy foods, iron, and monounsaturated fats like olive oil. Further, this study found that most infertility cases due to ovulation disorders may be preventable through diet and lifestyle modifications.
Specifically for men, research indicates that a healthy diet consisting of seafood, poultry, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and skimmed milk improves measures of semen quality. At the same time, a high intake of alcohol, caffeine, red meat, and processed meat by men negatively influences the chances of pregnancy.
Ultimately, diets high in unsaturated fats, whole grains, vegetables, and fish have improved fertility outcomes in both men and women. Meanwhile, saturated fats and sugar have been associated with poorer fertility outcomes. It is recommended to maintain this healthy lifestyle for at least three months before trying to conceive since it takes roughly three months for immature eggs and sperm to reach maturation.
It’s clear that there is a strong connection between fertility and nutrition. For men, eating foods that increase sperm count and avoiding unhealthy options are critical to optimizing fertility outcomes.
Which Nutrients are Essential for Male Fertility?
When optimizing male fertility, it’s important to get adequate amounts of micronutrients that support sperm health, ideally through diet and, if needed, through supplementation. Here are the key nutrients for male fertility:
Folate supports red blood cell production and function in sperm. Low folate levels can hinder proper sperm replication, causing sperm counts to be low.
Folate can be found in dark leafy vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.
Vitamin B12 positively affects semen quality by increasing sperm count and improving sperm motility. It also reduces damage to sperm DNA. These positive effects may be due to increased functionality of the male reproductive system as well as reduced oxidative stress and inflammation.
Foods high in vitamin B12 include low-fat cheese, yogurt, chicken, and egg yolks.
Zinc is an essential mineral that cannot be stored in the body and must be consumed regularly through dietary intake. It is critical for male fertility. Zinc deficiency impedes spermatogenesis, the process of sperm cell development, and is a common cause of sperm abnormalities. Zinc deficiency can also reduce serum testosterone levels.
Zinc-rich foods include eggs, meat, fish, legumes, and whole grains.
Similar to zinc, selenium also supports spermatogenesis. Selenium is a potent antioxidant, so it protects the sperm cells from oxidative stress during their maturation stage and beyond.
Selenium can be found in foods such as grass-fed meat, wild-caught seafood, and brazil nuts.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the overall health of sperm. Research has found that omega-3 supplementation results in higher antioxidant activity in seminal fluid and enhanced sperm count, motility, and morphology.
You can find omega-3 fatty acids in wild-caught fish like salmon and sardines, as well as nuts and seeds.
Vitamin D is important for male reproductive health. It supports the production of testosterone, which is required to create sperm. Research has also found that vitamin D is positively associated with sperm motility.
Good sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, wild-caught salmon, beef liver, and foods fortified with vitamin D.
Foods That Increase Sperm Count
While the nutrients listed above are essential for male fertility, you may be wondering what foods increase sperm count. Here is a list of the best foods to consider adding to your diet to increase sperm count and quality:
- Oysters: They contain the highest amount of zinc per serving compared to other foods.
- Organic & grass-fed beef: Beef contains zinc, selenium, carnitine, and vitamin B12. These nutrients have been shown to boost and support a healthy sperm count.
- Wild-caught salmon: This fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and vitamin D, which are all beneficial for sperm production and quality.
- Tomatoes: One study found that regular consumption of tomato juice seems to improve sperm motility in infertile men.
- Walnuts: Walnuts are full of folate, B6, zinc, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which support the healthy development of sperm.
- Garlic: One study on mice demonstrated that s-allyl cysteine, a compound in garlic, can stimulate the production of testosterone levels and sperm count. Another review of 18 studies concluded that garlic helped boost sperm production and increased testosterone levels, possibly due to its antioxidant properties.
- Pomegranate juice: Pomegranate juice is a powerful antioxidant. Animal studies have found that pomegranate juice has been shown to boost sperm quality, though it has yet to be proven to have the same effect in people.
Foods to Avoid for Male Fertility
Similar to foods that can increase sperm count, there is a list of foods to avoid as well. By reducing or cutting out the following foods and beverages, you may be able to improve sperm health:
- Caffeine: Coffee and other drinks high in caffeine content are associated with low levels of sperm count. It is recommended to avoid drinking coffee, energy drinks, and soda.
- Excess alcohol: An occasional glass of beer or wine may not affect sperm count, but an excess amount can absolutely damage sperm. In fact, daily use of alcohol has been shown to lower sperm health and quality.
- Soy: Soy contains xenoestrogens, an external source of estrogen, which can lower sperm concentration. Avoid soy-based foods and drinks such as tofu, tempeh, and soy-milk products.
- Processed meat: Avoid deli and processed meats. Instead, opt for animal protein like organic chicken, lean pork, beef, and bison, which can help protect sperm count.
- Highly processed foods: Fatty, fried, and sugary foods can impair male fertility.
Other Ways to Increase Sperm Count Naturally
If you and your partner are having trouble conceiving, there are a few ways you can increase your sperm count naturally. In addition to diet changes, look at other lifestyle factors you can improve. For example, maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise, reduce stress through meditation, and avoid exposure to environmental toxins, especially as it relates to personal care products and household cleaning products.
To learn more about natural alternatives to personal care products and household cleaning products, check out the resources put together by the Environmental Working Group:
- Swap standard personal care products for natural alternatives.
- Swap standard household cleaning products for non-toxic alternatives.
A healthy lifestyle can go a long way in solving infertility issues.
Work with a Functional Medicine Nutritionist
Many fertility issues linked to male infertility respond well to diet and lifestyle changes. For example, eating foods that increase sperm count and adding those essential nutrients to your diet or supplement regimen is a great way to improve male reproductive health. On the other hand, fertility issues that involve the female reproductive system can be more complex and may warrant deeper investigation.
You can benefit from working with a functional medicine nutritionist in both cases. Optimize your health and get to the root cause of your infertility through my one-on-one consultation program. Learn more and see if this is the right fit for you and your partner here!