Let’s take two men: John and Matt. Both are looking to conceive with their partners in the next three months. They are chatting about whether they need to do anything to prepare. Their partners have started taking a preconception multivitamin and eating healthier, but would eating better and living a healthier lifestyle make a difference to their sperm health?
Read more to find out.
John’s partner Sally has got them eating more fish and shellfish, this suits John especially when Sally brings home oysters or cooks a pot of mussels. He has made an effort to increase his vegetables for lunch and dinner, and he eats three pieces of fruit a day. John eats mostly free-range or organic white meat and they regularly eat wholegrains such as brown rice and quinoa. He drinks a flat white coffee once a day and he has 1-2 beers a week.
Matt eats red meat three or more times a week and enjoys processed meat (his favourite is bacon). He drinks 2-3 lattes a day with full-fat milk and cheese is his go-to snack. He drinks a few beers during the week as well as sharing a bottle of wine once a week with his partner Julie. On a Friday he will have a drink with mates and have 6-8 beers. Matt has a sweet tooth, he adds 1 teaspoon of sugar to his coffees, a coke most days and he eats chocolate most days.
So what does the science tell us?
A 2017 review of 35 selected articles tells us that healthy diets rich in nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids (fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds), some antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C, β-carotene, selenium, zinc, cryptoxanthin (rich in papaya and apples) and lycopene (found in tomatoes), other vitamins (vitamin D and folate) and low in saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids had a reduced association with low semen quality.1
So the healthier the diet the better the sperm health?
Yes! That’s right. Fish, shellfish and seafood, poultry, cereals, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy and skimmed milk were positively associated with sperm quality. 1 See our Diet for Conceiving Well in the Resources section.
Diets associated with low sperm quality
Included diets rich in processed meat, soy foods, potatoes, full-fat dairy and total dairy products, cheese, coffee, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets. These diets were shown to be detrimental to the quality of semen in some studies. 1
The research showed a link between decreased sperm quality and those drinking high intakes of alcohol, caffeine and eating high amounts of red meat and processed meat. These factors all had a negative influence on the chance of pregnancy or fertilisation rates in their partners.
Sorry Matt, John wins!
John through his diet and lifestyle is in a more favourable position than Matt to have better sperm and increased fertility chances.
So whilst further research is needed it seems from that a healthy diet and lifestyle could improve sperm quality and fertility rates.