Male infertility may not be the first topic of conversation that you bring up at the workplace water cooler, but with one in six couples having difficulty conceiving and in 50% of those cases the issue being male factor, the chances are it may be affecting someone you or someone you work with.
When it comes to infertility, a lot of emphasis is placed on the female side. This, however, is only half of the equation, we know it takes two to make a baby, so sperm health is equally significant. Poor sperm quality not only impacts pregnancy success rates but can also be a contributor to miscarriage. And don’t be fooled into thinking that age is not a factor when it comes to male fertility. In men aged 40 or over, there is a decline in pregnancy rates, and increased risk of miscarriage.
It takes around one hundred days to mature a batch of sperm, so the time before conception is essential for men to work on supporting their sperm health During this time what can be done to support male fertility?
Firstly, if there are any infections, structural or hormonal issues, these need to be addressed. Dietary and lifestyle issues should also be considered as they can be extremely helpful in improving male fertility. We spoke to Julia Young from the Fertility Nutrition Centre to explain a few simple ways to improve sperm quality:
Antioxidants are compounds that help prevent free radical damage to cells. Research shows that including antioxidants, such as vitamins E and C, in your diet improves sperm quality and increases the chances of conception. Broccoli, peppers, and strawberries are all excellent sources of vitamin C, and vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, salmon, and avocados.
Fats containing omega 3 fatty acids are known to improve sperm quality. Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies are good sources, as well as flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.
Research has shown vitamin D to positively impact sperm motility. The best source of vitamin D is from the action of sunlight on your skin, so getting outside and exposed to natural light is key. If you think you might be deficient in vitamin D it is advisable to get tested before considering supplementation. Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish, mushrooms, and eggs.
Lifestyle is equally important when it comes to sperm health. It is worth reviewing your alcohol intake as alcohol is associated with poor sperm quality and increased miscarriage risk. As alcohol is also unhelpful for female fertility, support each other by reducing your intake together. Being overweight or obese can also negatively impact male fertility, and if you are a smoker, now is the time to give up. Research shows that smokers have lower semen volumes, sperm counts, and motility compared to non-smokers.
Exercise is critical for optimal health and fertility. However, overexercising releases free radicals so moderation is key. If cycling is your thing, it might be worth switching up your exercise for a while. Heat to the testicles from sitting on a saddle is associated with low sperm count and poor sperm motility.
Heat damages sperm so always keep the area as cool as possible. Avoid carrying a mobile phone in your pocket or having a laptop or iPad on your lap. Similarly hot baths and showers, hot tubs and sitting in saunas should be avoided.
Supplements can be beneficial for supporting male fertility. However, it is always useful to get professional advice on the best supplements for you, and it is not always a case of the more you take the better.
Historically there has been a lack of support for men experiencing male fertility issues and this can leave men feeling isolated. But the good news is that there are lots of great resources available now. Fertility Network UK has information dedicated to male fertility, and there are fertility groups on Facebook just for men. Recently, the comedian Rhod Gilbert set up the Him Fertility campaign to encourage men to talk about their fertility problems and direct them to much-needed support. Also, consider talking to your HR department, sometimes it can make your work life easier if they are aware of what you are going through.