Improving your fertility – top tips for men

If you are a couple who is finding it difficult to conceive, it’s important to recognise that it truly does take ‘two to tango’ – and that fertility issues could be affecting one or both of you. As a man, there may be a specific medical or physical problem impeding your ability as a couple to fall pregnant. We call this ‘male factor infertility’.

The most common fertility issues males encounter include a physical obstruction to the passage of sperm (the sperm simply can’t get to the woman’s egg), problems with sperm production or function (a low sperm count or large numbers of sperm with abnormal shape or movement), functional issues (such as impotence) and hormonal problems (which may impact the production of sperm and/or your libido).

Male factor infertility is more common than you may think – it plays a role in over a third of cases where couples can’t conceive, and affects one in 20 men.1,2

However, beyond a specific medical or physical problem, there are also certain diet and lifestyle changes you can make as a man to improve your overall fertility and chances of conceiving. This is because what we eat and how we live can actually have a big impact on our sex hormones and sperm quality, as well as our libido (sexual drive).

Below, we describe some adjustments you can make to your daily routines to help improve your fertility and overall reproductive health.

Exercise regularly

male in exercise shirt and headphones smiling with waterfront in backgroundNumerous studies have shown that exercise can boost testosterone levels.3 Testosterone is the key male sex hormone that regulates fertility. It is mainly produced in the testicles and is linked to both the development of sperm and sexual function.

It’s also important to be aware that exercising too much can sometimes have the reverse effect and lead to a reduction in testosterone levels. Taking zinc supplements can help mitigate this effect; however, in general you should aim to exercise regularly but not excessively.

Quit smoking

We all know that smoking is bad for our health but what many men don’t know is that smoking can affect every stage of the reproduction process in men. This includes the development of the DNA (genetic material) in sperm, as well as the production of important reproductive hormones. Men who smoke may also experience difficulties in getting and maintaining erections because smoking can cause damage to the small blood vessels that supply the penis with blood.

There is now extensive evidence that smokers are more likely to have fertility problems and take longer to conceive than non-smokers.4,5,6 Therefore, the best way to improve your chances of conceiving is to quit smoking. It’s well established that smoking decreases quality of life and shortens lifespan.  As a motivator, think about the child you are hoping to create and how much quality time you hope to spend with them in the future.

Reduce your alcohol intake

Excessive alcohol consumption can harm sperm count, shape and motility (i.e. how well the sperm can ‘swim’).

Studies have found increased sperm abnormalities in men who drink more than three-and-a-half standard drinks per day.7,8 Alcohol can also disrupt testosterone levels and even turn the testosterone precursor chemicals into oestrogen, leading to increased oestrogen levels (and the dreaded ‘man boobs’!).9 Therefore, reducing or even ceasing alcohol intake can improve your reproductive health.

Stop taking recreational drugs or steroids

Taking certain drugs, both legal and illegal, can affect your fertility. The main ones are:

  • Anabolic steroids – often taken to reduce fat and increase muscle mass, these drugs can actually lead to testicular shrinkage and interfere with the hormones that affect sperm production.
  • Marijuana – the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, THC, can disrupt testosterone production, leading to a lowered libido as well as reduced quantity and quality of sperm.
  • Opioids – both prescription opioids (for treating pain and addiction) and illegal narcotics (such as heroin), can impact male fertility by affecting testosterone levels.
  • Testosterone – replacement testosterone can impair sperm production by blocking the hormonal signals that tell the testicles to make testosterone.

Manage your stress levels

High stress levels, particularly ongoing, can have a negative impact on your fertility by interfering with certain hormones. It is thought that stress may activate steroid hormones involved in the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, which may, in turn, affect testosterone levels and the production of sperm.10,11

Get enough sleep

Sleep may be just as important for fertility as other bedroom activities (!), according to a growing body of research. A recent study suggests that 7–8 hours of sleep a night is the ideal, while too little or even too much sleep can reduce your chances of conceiving.12

Eat a healthy diet

A healthy, balanced diet is essential for your overall health. But did you know that choosing the right foods can enhance sperm function and, in turn, your fertility? Nutrients that can improve the quality of your sperm include:

  • Vitamin D (tuna, salmon, cheese, egg yolk)
  • Vitamin E (vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables)
  • D-aspartic acid (oysters, avocado, asparagus, oat flakes)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (mackerel, chia seeds, walnuts, plant oils)
  • L-arginine (pumpkin seeds, turkey breast, chickpeas, seaweed).13,14,15,16

It’s also important to keep your weight in check, as being overweight can reduce your fertility by affecting sperm and leading to hormonal changes.17

The bottom line

If you or your partner are having difficulties conceiving, there are a number of steps you can take as a man to improve your fertility and overall health, thereby maximising your chances of having a baby. Seeking professional help to rule out a specific physical or medical problem is also prudent. At Newlife IVF, we conduct both male and female fertility testing, including the highest quality semen analysis currently available in Victoria.

To make an appointment with one of our fertility specialists or to get a second opinion, call Newlife IVF on (03) 8080 8933. Alternatively, you can book online via our appointments page.

Further reading

References


  1. Hirsh A. BMJ. 2003;32:669. 
  2. Winters BR, Walsh TJ. Urol Clin North Am. 2014;41:195­–204. 
  3. Kumagai H et al. J Clin Biochem Nurt. 2016;58:1:84–89. 
  4. Mitra et al. Syst Biol Reprod Med. 2012;58: 255–262. 
  5. Al-Turki HA et al. Urol Ann. 2015;7:63–66. 
  6. Cui X et al. Mol Med Rep. 2016;14:753–761. 
  7. Jensen TK et al. BMJ Open. 2014;4:e005462. 
  8. Martini AC et al. Fert Ster. 2004;82:374–377. 
  9. Emmanuele MA et al. Alcohol Health Res World. 1998;22:195–201. 
  10. Ragni G, Caccamo A. Acta Eur Fertil. 1992;23:21–23. 
  11. IIacqua A et al. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 
  12. Liu MM et al. Med Sci Monit. 2017;23:1842–1848. 
  13. Blomberg JM et al. Hum Reprod. 2011;26:1307–1317. 
  14. Sedigheh A et al. Int J Reprod Biomed. 2016;14:729–736. 
  15. Topo E et al. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2009;27:120. 
  16. Safarinejad RM. Asian J Androl. 2012;14:514–515. 
  17. Martini AC et al. Fert Ster. 2010;94:1739–1743.