What’s eating male fertility?Here’s the good news according to research:‘Lifestyle modification is the most fundamental, important, simple and easy way to improve sperm quality.’ (1)Let’s take a look at what they are.
1. Sleep and male fertilityDid you know that on average we get 1 to 2 hours less sleep than people 50 to 100 years ago? Probably not a huge surprise given our 24/7 lifestyles. However, did you know that it can have a very real impact on your sperm quality and male fertility? True story.The results of several trials show a clear link between abnormal sleep and issues with sperm. Here are a couple of extracts to give you a picture – and it seems that too short a sleep and too long a sleep are equally guilty:Research has shown as much as a 25% decrease in sperm volume from short sleep (classified as below 6 hours), with a reduction in sperm cells in semen with lower survival rates. There was also impact on motility. All things we don’t want for peak male fertility.How does sleep impact male fertility?Did you know that Testosterone has its own circadian rhythm?! (It’s own regular rhythm with peaks and troughs over a 24 hour period). Research shows that restricted sleep duration = lower morning Testosterone. Which has also been shown to reduce with more time awake.Well we know that too little testosterone is going to give us issues with sperm production. One study in rats demonstrates this quite clearly with a significant fall in sperm motility and testosterone in sleep deprived rats. (2)Antisperm antibodies (ASA): that doesn’t sound good!Now we do know that a lack of sleep can impact our immunity. There are a couple of studies that suggest this too can play a role in why a lack of sleep can potentially impact fertility.What are Antisperm antibodies?Well as the name suggests this is where your own body destroys healthy sperm. Crucially one study showed a relationship between not enough sleep and antisperm antibody content. ‘Strongly supporting that deficient sleep was a major contributor to presence of ASA in the semen.’ (3)Positive action points for male fertility Sounds simple, but simply prioritising a good night sleep can be powerful. A consistent time to bed, aiming for ideally 7 to 8 hours. Darkened room, early dinner time and no tech before bed. Blue light is not our friend!
2. DNA fragmentation...what?!So, one thing we cannot do is stop the aging process. Sigh. However, contrary to popular belief we know aging impacts male fertility as well as female fertility. One of the main culprits is something called DNA fragmentation.DNA fragmentation is essentially damage to the DNA. Naturally there will be some damage in all sperm, the question is more how much is damaged.Some basics for tackling an enemy of male fertility linked to DNA fragmentation:There are a few ways to reduce this DNA damage. The good news is that many are pretty obvious and simple to change.Positive action point for male fertilityStarting with avoiding cigarette smoke/airborne/excessive drinking. Heat is another factor which can cause damage. So loose underwear and avoiding high temperatures for long periods of time (sauna/hot tub/hot baths) or working with your laptop on your lap (should come up with a different name for that!)
3. A surprising bonus!This is one way that may well be welcomed (!)Research suggests that ejaculation every other day may actually be the best bet to reduce sperm DNA fragmentation (4). Another reason why it’s best to have sex ideally every other day if you’re trying to conceive. Rather than the technique of ‘saving’ it until ovulation. It also means less chance of missing the right time as targeting ovulation is notoriously tricky.Positive action point for male fertilityTurns out regular ejaculation is great for male fertility. Every other day (or two) is ideal.
4. Antioxidants for male fertility:One of the main routes to DNA damage is something called Oxidative Stress. In a nutshell this is where there isn't enough of nature’s mop within our bodies to clean up the waste produced by our cells. This is waste that not only comes from regular function but also from the burden from dealing with toxins, infections and other stressors. Stressors that seem increasingly common in our modern lifestyles and diets.Antioxidants are our body’s natural ‘mop’. One easy way is to get more is from food. Fresh dark coloured fruits and vegetables are great sources. Also reducing the factors that deplete our antioxidants. Think about avoiding the obvious nasties like processed foods, high refined sugars etc.One other route is supplements. You should always speak to your doctor before taking these (you also don’t want too much) but we particularly like N-Acetyl Cysteine which helps your body produce more of it’s own. Other well known ones: Vitamin C and Co-Qu10. Speak to your doctor if you think you may need help.Positive action point for male fertilityIf you are getting older or have a lifestyle that perhaps hasn’t been ideal (!) on top of making changes and getting antioxidant rich food, talk your doctor about whether or not you should consider taking an antioxidant supplement.
5. Get tested! When it comes to male fertility - knowledge is powerIf you are struggling to conceive or have had miscarriage it is absolutely worth getting your sperm checked. The first port of call will be a traditional analysis looking at morphology (shape), count and motility (what direction/how they are moving).DNA fragmentation is not usually considered when it comes to initial testing.Reasons to take a deeper dive and talk to your doctor about this:If you are older and have suffered from more than one miscarriage (5) getting this tested and including DNA fragmentation analysis is something to discuss with your doctor. Research has shown that as many as 15% of people who have shown ‘normal’ results using the traditional screen still still suffer with infertility.Testing DNA fragmentation testing measures the quality of sperm as a DNA package carrier (1). It may well give further clues to the picture. Your doctor will be looking for damage to be below 30%. Above that suggests it may be the cause of issues and will need to be addressed.Positive action point for male fertilityIf you've been struggling with fertility ask for a comprehensive test of your sperm. Knowledge is power when it comes to male fertility. If you’re older and/or have faced miscarriage ask them to check out the DNA fragmentation within your test.
6. Hormones: are we the estrogen/‘Moob’ generation?!These days modern life does a great job pushing those all important factors out of balance. A prime reason impacting Male fertility. Particularly impacting the all important hormone Testosterone.There are several culprits, but dominance of the hormone estrogen (yes, men have it too) is causing problems. Estrogen is something that should be at a lower level in men vs women.Positive action point for male fertilityLooking after hormone health is key:
- What to avoid: Xenoestrogens have been suggested to play a role in a variety of male fertility based disorders including possible declines in sperm concentration (6).
- What is a Xenoestrogen? It is essentially anything that imitates estrogen - either naturally or synthetic. Some common culprits Phtalates (most commonly in added fragrance in skincare), pesticides/herbicides, BPA in plastic (another reason to avoid it) or too many natural estrogens like processed soy.
- Avoid plastics, processed soy, go organic where you can, filtered water (alas the pill has made it’s way into our water system!).
- Go fragrance free with your skin care products.
- Keep BMI under control and keep your body’s filters in good condition: the Liver and the gut. Easy ways to do this are to include a wide range of whole foods, moderate/minimum alcohol consumption. Lots of fibre and lots of cruciferous vegetables. Pro tip: they contain something called Indol-3-Carbinol which helps our liver convert excess estrogen into milder forms.
7. Your waist circumference... yep....Once again - BMI matters. Did you know that too much adipose (fat) tissue will convert things like Testosterone to estrogen? True story…You especially don’t want to carry it around your middle.Another way to get more oxidative stress - the enemy of male fertility - is a high BMI and lots of the things that contribute to it. Diabetes is a culprit for subpar sperm and compromised male fertility. You’re more likely to be impacted if you have a high BMI, sedentary lifestyle and a diet full of processed sugar.Watch your waist circumference. A great indicator for health in men. Here are a few stats from Dr Anand Patel expert in men’s health and reproduction:Positive action point for male fertilityWatch your waist circumference as an indicator that you may need to take action. Here are some stats to know:
- Caucasian men: you need a waist circumference below 94cm
- Asian men: you need a waist circumference below 90 cm
- Upper limits 102 cm – above that you are at risk.
8. On that note - exercise: it’s all about Goldilocks:We also know that exercise has an impact on sperm, with research showing that: ‘moderately physically active men had significantly better sperm morphology.’ (8)Doing none at all/being very sedentary or doing too much or the wrong sort can be equally problematic.Too much fat from no exercise = testosterone conversion to estrogen and potentially higher stress levels. It is also inflammatory.On the flip side too much exercise and very high levels of cardio exercise can also throw your hormones off balance by kicking up the stress hormone Cortisol. Performance athletes and people who participate in more extreme exercise regimes have been known to suffer from fertility issues. Once again stemming largely from the impact it has on hormones; after all extreme exercise is a stressor.‘In males where results seem more controversial, it has been observed that prolonged intensive exercise (and training) may lead to adverse effects on physiological systems, particularly the reproductive system and fertility with alterations in reproductive hormone levels…abnormal sperm morphology and reduced sperm motility.’ (9)Positive action point for male fertilityIdeally you want 20-30 minutes per day of moderate exercise (moderate = you increase your heart and breathing rate until you cannot sing is a good test!). This will improve your sugar control for 16 hours after. Resistance training is particularly powerful for keeping you healthy and balancing hormones. This is body weight/light weights ideally.Don’t forget leg day. Seriously! There is a trend of guys focusing to much on arms and upper body. However, research shows that particularly are we get older maintaining mass in legs (something that slips with sedentary lifestyle and into later life) can increase your risks and reduces testosterone. Make sure you’re doing a full body workout and maximise lower body strength.Cycling, once again its Goldilocks. Studies have shown that ‘bicycling more than five hours per week has been demonstrated to have a negative correlation with both total motile sperm counts and sperm concentration.’So like most things in life, not too much and not too little.
9. Intermittent fasting for male fertility: really?!Particularly if you’re struggling with your BMI this may be worth considering. Intermittent fasting is gaining science backing for a wide range of health benefits.As a reminder this is when (as the name suggests) you have a period of time of fasting. It can either be 5:2 which is five days of normal eating, two days of very low calorie. Or 16:8 which is eating during 8hrs and fasting for the remaining 16.It is also being used as a tool in weight loss. A healthy BMI is a definite positive for fertility.Why is this relevant to sperm DNA and male fertility?Intermittent fasting has shown some benefit against Oxidative Stress. Whilst we don't know too much at this stage about sperm specifically. However intermittent fasting has shown some benefit reducing Oxidative Stress overall. Interestingly showing a protective factor specifically for lipids – all important for sperm.Perhaps not an essential, but worth considering nevertheless!Positive action point for male fertilityIf you’re getting older and/or are struggling with your BMI, intermittent fasting could be something worth discussing as a strategy with your doctor. Research and health benefits are mounting and the kicker is that it could be a positive tool for male fertility.
10. Caffeine, don’t worry, not what you may think we’re going to say!The good news here is that caffeine on the whole does not (in moderation) seem to have any negative effects. So, no need to forgo your morning espresso. Phew!However, soft drinks (particularly caffeinated) were the exception:‘Semen parameters did not see affected by caffeine intake, at least caffeine from coffee, tea and coca drinks in most studies. Conversely, other contributions suggest a negative effect of cola-containing beverages and caffeine containing soft drinks on semen volume, count and concentration’ (7)Positive action point for male fertilityThis one is easy. Say not to soft drinks - especially those with caffeine.
Bottom line:As with most things in life. There is not a single silver bullet fix. It is more making lots of little changes which can contribute to the health of your body overall. Even making a couple of changes where you can could have a surprisingly positive effect. Good luck!For more expert information about fertility, check out Sarah's other free content.
- Young Kim: What should be done or men with sperm DNA fragmentation? Clinical and Experimental Reproductive Medicine: 2018 Sept 45(3): 101-109
- CHOI JH, LEE SH, SHIN C: Effect of sleep deprivation on the Male Reproductive System in Rats: Journal of Korean Medical Science: 2016: Oct: 31(10):1624-1630
- LIU MM, LIU L, YU C-H: Sleep Deprivation and Late Bedtime impair sperm health through increasing antisperm antibody production: a prospective study of 981 healthy men. Medical Science Monitor: International Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research: 2017: 23: 1842-1848
- Pons I, Cercas R, Fernandez-Shaw S: One abstinence day decreases sperm DNA fragmentation in 90% of selected patients: Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics: 2013 Sep: 30(9) 1211-1218
- Coughlan C, Clarke H, Pacey AA: Sperm DNA fragmentation, recurrent implantation failure and recurrent miscarriage: Asian Journal of Andrology: 2015: 17(4) 681-685
- Soy Food and isolfavone intake in relation to semen quality parameters among men from an infertility clinic. Human Reproduction (Oxford): 2008 Nov: 23(11): 2584-2590
- RICCI E, VIGANO P, PARAZZINI F: Coffee and caffeine intake and male infertility: a systematic review: Nutrition Journal: 2017: 16:37
- SHARMA R, BIEDENHAM KR, AGARWAL A: Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility: Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology: RB&E: 2013: 11: 66
- SKAKKEBAEK N, RAJPERT-DE MEYTS E, JUUL A: Male Reproductive Disorders and Fertility Trends: Influences of Environment and Genetic Susceptibility: Physiological Reviews: 2016 Jan 96(1): 55-97
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.
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