The scoop on sperm
By Dr. Jodie Peacock ND
30-50% of couples struggling with fertility have a concern with male factor fertility.
When it comes to fertility concerns often the burden is left to the female partner to determine what is wrong and why a couple isn’t getting pregnant. We know that at least of 30% of infertility couples have a male factor concern so it is essential to ensure that the male partner has their sperm tested. During testing a variety of different parameters are explored including total volume of semen, total count, morphology (how do the sperm look) and motility (can they swim and in the right direction) and DNA fragmentation.
A variety of factors contribute to male infertility, many environmental factors such as exposure to certain chemicals, medications, heavy metals, pesticides, heat, or electromagnetic radiation. Other factors can also include smoking, drug use, alcohol abuse, chronic stress, poor diet, obesity, urogenital trauma, and inflammation in the male reproductive system. All these factors inevitably lead to elevated reactive oxygen species (ROS) or oxidative stress, which plays a significant role in male infertility.
Higher amounts of ROS can have a negative affect on sperm DNA, leading to concerns with sperm morphology. ROS production also leads to reduced ability of the sperm to swim and issues with sperm membrane integrity. It has been shown that the antioxidant capacity of semen from infertile men is less than that from fertile men. In addition to the environmental and lifestyle factors, mounting evidence points towards the vital role of nutrition in sperm quality and infertility. This is the reason that diet, lifestyle and nutrients have been gaining more attention in the treatment and management of male infertility.
New sperm are constantly being developed so there is lots of opportunity to improve their health. It takes around 75 days or roughly 2.5-3 months from when a sperm first starts to develop to when it is ejaculated from the body.
Even if your sperm parameters do meet the minimum requirements it is a great idea to do what you can do to optimize the health of the sperm. 50% of your baby’s DNA will come from the one sperm that makes it into the egg, so you want to make sure that it is one of top quality.
What lifestyle factors can you start to incorporate to improve the health of your sperm?
- Be careful about overheating the testicles. This includes things like hot tubs but also by wearing tight fitting clothing, avoiding prolonged sitting. If you have a desk job you want to make sure you are getting up and moving around at least once per hour to improve circulation and cooling for your testicles.
- Make sure you ejaculate regularly at least twice per week. The longer sperm sits the more likely it is to become damaged by ROS. Regular ejaculation is key to keeping the pipes cleaned out!!! Please feel free to share this one with your partner in case they don’t believe you!
- Reduce stress levels- Often times when speaking about fertility the male partner is left feeling they are just along for the ride. When test results come back that show there is a concern with the sperm this can leave thru male partner feeling very stressed.
Starting with a simple daily practice of doing diaphragm or yoga breathing for 5-10 minutes can go a long way to helping regulate your stress hormones. It can also be extremely helpful to begin a regular yoga practice or seek the guidance of fertility counsellor.
- Exercise regularly but not excessively (now is not the time to start Ironman training this can divert testosterone away from the testicles). When it is comes to exercise and its impact on testosterone more is not necessarily better. For the purposes of fertility, it is recommended to exercise 5-6 times per week for 30-60 minutes.
- Make sure you don’t carry your cell phone in your pocket or sit with a computer on your lap these can lead to DNA damage. Any type of heat or device that send or emits data shouldn’t be near your testicles.
- Reduce your alcohol intake. Alcohol is a toxin in the body any toxins can result in more oxidative damage. If you are using alcohol as your stress reliever try to look for alternative options to help your stress.
- Clean up your diet. The more you focus on fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats the better your overall health will be. This will also add more antioxidants into your body to help quench ROS and protect your sperm.
- Consider adding well researched nutrients that can improve your sperm parameters. Some of these nutrients include N-acetyl-l-carnitine, zinc, vitamin E and C and CoQ10.
N-Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALCAR), is an amino acid that is found in the highest concentration in the epididymis and plays a major role in the energy production and maturation of sperm. It helps move fatty acids into mitochondria to allow your cells to produce energy. If you are deficient in carnitine this reduces to amount of energy available to your sperm which doesn’t give them enough energy to swim and meet the egg.
Zinc is a crucial mineral for healthy sperm motility and production. A deficiency in zinc is related to lower testosterone levels and sperm count, as zinc is essential for proper sperm motility and production. Infertile men are usually characterized by lower zinc levels; therefore, zinc supplementation could be very useful in improving male infertility. Two individual studies have shown that zinc supplementation (24 and 89 mg of elemental zinc) resulted in an increase in testosterone levels and sperm count, along with successful pregnancies.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects sensitive cell membranes by neutralizing free radicals (ROS). Vitamin E supplementation has been shown to significantly sperm motility and DNA damage. In infertile men, vitamin E inhibits the production of ROS.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble antioxidant and a key nutrient to supporting immune function and inhibiting production of ROS. High concentrations of vitamin C are found in seminal plasma and when used alone or in combination with other antioxidants, has been shown to improve sperm quality and reduce DNA damage.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), also known as ubiquinone, is a potent antioxidant and has gained wide attention for its beneficial effects in improving male infertility. In a double-blind study, coQ10 supplementation (200 mg/d) in 60 men with idiopathic asthenoteratospermia for six months improved sperm motility, and 12 spontaneous pregnancies occurred. Another study, in 228 infertile men with 28-week CoQ10 treatment, showed improvement in sperm count, motility, and morphology.
If you are trying to conceive ensuring you are incorporating these changes in your lifestyle will go a long way to improving the health of your sperm and ultimately the health your children.
For more information on improving your fertility follow us on instagram @enhancefertility or visit our website www.enhancefertility.ca or pick up a copy of Preconceived to help guide you through the preconception process.