Male infertility – how diet and lifestyle changes can help
Infertility has been on the rise and while this is due, in part, to reproductive tract infections and genetic impairments, those are not the only reasons for this increase especially in male infertility. Diet, environmental and lifestyle factors can also be contributory.
In many cases, the causes of male infertility are not detectable and remain unknown. Besides poor sperm quality and various other infertility factors, we should look at what makes men vulnerable and search for preventive measures. Some of these exposures are listed below:
Smoking: Low levels of ROS (reactive oxygen species) are essential for fertility, but too high levels can cause oxidative stress which damages sperm by reducing their motility and impairing the sperm DNA. Nicotine and tobacco smoke trigger an increase in ROS levels which can be harmful. Not only does this oxidative stress impair fertility but it can also lead to DNA damage in the sperm which can have an impact on the fertilization process or even give rise to abnormal embryos or result in early pregnancy losses or miscarriages. It is therefore wise to refrain from smoking or avoid inhaling tobacco smoke. Generally, benefits can be seen within a few months from giving up smoking.
Alcohol: Alcohol consumption can lead to increased infertility by lowering testosterone levels, luteinizing (LH) and follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) and raising estrogen levels, all of which reduce sperm production. The higher the alcohol intake, the lower the volume of semen production and motility and morphology of the sperm. It is wise to reduce the alcohol levels or consume it in moderation; however couples trying to conceive may even consider giving it up permanently.
Obesity: Persons with high BMI are more likely to have fertility related issues. Excess fat can alter the male hormone balance by increasing conversion of testosterone to the female hormone, estrogen, which is detrimental to sperm production. Weight gain in men has shown lower testosterone levels leading to reduction in the quality of the sperm.
Exercise: One way to counter obesity is by exercising which is good for general health as well. However, too much exercise could be detrimental to sperm production. Hence a balance in the exercise regime is necessary. Even half an hour of exercise at least 3 times a week may help. Running has shown to improve sperm motility, but only if it continues – not as a short-term option, as the sperm quality will decrease when the exercise is stopped. However, competitive sports like cycling can lower the quality of the sperm. Hence, a routine of moderate exercise will be beneficial.
Diet: Another way to control obesity is to maintain a healthy balanced diet. Not only will it decrease the body weight, which is good for general health, but it could also help improve semen quality. The best diet for this is categorised as the Mediterranean diet. It is based on vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs, beans and whole grains. Moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, dairy and seafood are included. It is rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and low in fats – ideal for sperm health. To be avoided are diets including full-fat dairy products, processed meat, coffee, sugar sweetened beverages and alcohol.
Sleep and rest: Men produce testosterone while they sleep, so less sleep reduces the amount of testosterone. Research has shown that men who sleep less than 6 hours a night have higher infertility rates than men who sleep between 7 and 8 hours. A routine of going to bed at the same time every night is beneficial, as frequent shifts in timing can cause metabolic problems. Keep the bedroom cool and dark. Try not to keep a television in the bedroom and avoid heavy exercise 5-6 hours before going to sleep.
Stress: Psychological stress can have a negative effect on sperm. Stress causes the body to release the hormone cortisol which is important for BP regulation, normal functioning of the heart and other organs. However, excess amounts of cortisol can cause hormonal and cell imbalances, leading to reduction of testosterone which negatively affects the male reproductive system. It is difficult to “rid oneself of stress” but there are some options to reduce it. Meditation and yoga, as well as breathing exercises, help to reduce stress levels.
Conclusion: If detected soon enough, male infertility can be prevented or reversed to a certain extent by the methods listed above. It is therefore important to have a semen analysis and sperm DNA Fragmentation test done. Low sperm count itself is sometimes associated with other health risks, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure. By having it diagnosed early, preventive measures can be taken to improve not only infertility but the general health of the person as well.