Male fertility is the result of a complex and delicate balance complex. Genetic, environmental, and behavioral influences all play a role. Nutrition has an important influence in the health of a man and scientific studies indicate that nutrition can influence his fertility.
Most Americans are well aware that there is an epidemic of obesity and diabetes amongst adults these days. Many ailments have been linked to diabetes and obesity and male infertility has recently joined the list. Obese men have, on average, poorer quality sperm as measured by DNA fragmentation testing than men with normal body mass. Fatter men lose more of their testosterone in their fat where it is converted to the “female” hormone estradiol. Lower testosterone can lead to lower sperm counts, motility and or quality in these men. Fatter men are at higher risk of developing diabietes. Diabetes ruins the circulation particularly in smaller body parts where blood vessels are more fragile. In addition to hurting the penis and causing erection problems, it hurts the testicles as well and it is associated with lower testosterone and lower fertility in some.
Proper understanding of good nutrition can help a man avoid or reverse obesity, overweight and diabetes. Even small amounts of excess weight, in the range of only 10 pounds, have measurable effects on a man’s overall health. The worst foods for putting on excess weight and risking diabetes are simple carbohydrates-sugars and starches. These foods are extracts of whole foods that themselves are healthy, but without the whole food they become dangerous. White bread, white rice and white pasta are all simple starch loads that have a high glycemic index, drive up insulin production in the body which burns out the pancreas leading to diabetes and simultaneously drives up fat storage leading to obesity. Insulin elevation is also linked to higher cholesterol and increased tumor risk. BUT, whole wheat and brown rice, the sources from which these villains are derived, are healthy and do not result in the same damage. Why? Because they are whole foods, complete with their husks, which contain fibers, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients some of which are not even characterized yet. The key is to eat food in its whole form. Fats are another problem.
Everyone is well aware to avoid animal fats, but vegetable oil in excessive amounts, including olive oil is not good for the circulation either. Studies show that consuming just one teaspoon of vegetable oil blunts the efficiency of the circulation for up to 4 hours. Healthy testicles need healthy circulation—all the time. Once again, oil is an extract, not a whole food. The foods from which oils are derived: seeds, nuts, olives etc are much healthier in their whole form than the oils themselves.
Protiens are important but most people over do it. High protein diets for weight loss have become mainstream. Most men consume most of their protein from an animal source: chicken, fish, beef, dairy, but at high levels this is probably not very healthy in the long run. Studies show that people who consume mostly vegetables fruits and grains, which have plenty of protein already ( a half cup of uncooked oatmeal has as much protein as an egg), live longer, get less cancer, less heart disease and less strokes, which means healthier cells and healthier circulation, and therefore potentially healthier testicles and sperm. Soy protein substitutes for meat are potentially problematic as they contain estrogen like chemicals which may have a negative impact on sperm. Once again, soy protein is en extract rather that a whole food.
Whole food from plants—vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains—are the primary source of antioxidants in a man’s diet. Several scientific studies show that antioxidants are important to protecting sperm from toxins and may improve fertility in some men. L carnitine, glutathione, vitamin e, vitamin C, selenium, and pomegranate juice are some of the nutrients with antioxidant properties shown to promote sperm health. Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, has been shown to be higher in fertile men’s sperm as compared to infertile men. Fish oil is a concentrated source of omega fatty acids but so are walnuts, hemp seeds, and flax seeds. The more and varied a plant based diet a man consumes, with as many colors, textures, and shapes available, the more likely he will get a wide variety of antioxidants, essential fatty acids and other micronutrients his sperm may benefit from. Supplements containing these nutrients may also be beneficial but the most efficient delivery of nutrition occurs with food. Furthermore, whole food, plant based meals provide nutrients that haven’t even been fully characterized but potentially beneficial but don’t end up in the capsule.
About the author:
Dr. Spitz is a Board Certified Urologist, trained in male reproductive medicine and surgery. Dr. Spitz earned his medical degree from Cornell University Medical College. He completed his Urology residency at the University of Southern California Medical Center and completed his fellowship in Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston Texas. He works with The South Orange County Urological Medical Group.