Whether you and your partner just decided you want to start trying to conceive or have been trying for some time, you’re probably wondering: how can my partner improve his fertility? If you’re not wondering this, you should be. Fertility is not a female-only issue. In fact, in 35% of couples who experience infertility, a male factor is identified along with a female factor. In 8%, a male factor is the sole cause of infertility.
These male fertility statistics highlight the need for more actionable advice males can take to boost their fertility. Because there’s no one right way to do this, it’s important to understand both the causes of male infertility and all possible solutions to improving sperm count, motility, and morphology. For an in-depth look at the possible causes of male infertility, and why they happen, check out our post The Causes of Male Infertility. Below, we’ll explore different ways your partner can improve his fertility — from simple changes like getting more sleep to more complex solutions like managing chronic conditions.
How to improve male fertility
Flashback to middle school health class: in order to make a baby, the male sperm must fertilize the female egg. To complete this process, the woman must ovulate and release an egg. At the same time, the male must be able to have enough sperm that is the right shape and strong enough to move from his testicles, through an erection, and through the female reproductive tract to meet the egg. If any one of these steps doesn’t work properly, fertility can become a pressing issue.
That being said, when a man experiences infertility it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. Often times, there may be more than one factor at play — anything from lifestyle to genetics to hormones.
Focus on fulfillment, not fertility
When you first begin trying to have a baby, it can feel fun and exciting. If you’ve been trying without success for a while, that excitement tends to give way to frustration and anxiety. It’s easy to become so focused on conceiving that you stop having sex except at the optimal time (during ovulation). While this can seem like the most effective method, it’s not. When fertility becomes more important than connection and intimacy, stress levels rise and a divide can happen in your relationship.
This is more than just an emotional issue — this study found that higher levels of stress have a negative impact on sperm morphology and count. Oh, and because sperm can live inside the female reproductive tract between 3 and 5 days. So even if you have sex in the days before ovulation, you still have a chance of getting pregnant. Switching the focus from fertility to sexual and relationship fulfillment can help reduce stress levels, improve sperm production, and make you both happier in the long run.
Eat a nutrient-rich diet
From the moment a woman starts trying to get pregnant, doctors, friends, and strangers on the internet will preach about all the nutrients she needs to get pregnant and then to maintain a healthy pregnancy. The same goes for men. Research has shown that increasing the amount of certain nutrients he eats can improve sperm production.
Oxidative stress is, according to Dr. Anayal Mandal, MD, an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants. Research has found that sperm can be greatly affected by oxidative stress, making the consumption of antioxidant-rich foods an important part of a healthy reproductive system. These foods include (but are not limited to):
- Blueberries, blackberries, and cranberries
- Dark chocolate
- Kidney beans
Folic acid is one of the most commonly recommended nutrients for a woman to consume to ensure the health of a developing fetus. As it turns out, folate, along with zinc, can improve a male’s sperm production and fertility. Supplements or daily multivitamins are always an option (which we’ll get into a bit later) but having him incorporate foods that are high in folate, like leafy greens and asparagus, into his diet will work, too.
Not all fat is bad fat. When it comes to improving male fertility, omega-3 fats are highly beneficial and can improve sperm concentration, according to this study. Fish and flax seed are two great sources of omega-3 fat.
Foods to limit
Of course, there are certain foods that will harm his fertility, too. While he doesn’t need to eliminate them entirely, cutting back on foods that are high in sugar, saturated fat, and cholesterol can help improve his sperm count.
Exercise regularly (but in moderation)
Exercise can be hugely beneficial to improving male fertility. Not only does it decrease body fat but it can also regulate his hormones by decreasing the amount of testosterone that converts into estrogen. Low testosterone levels can cause a drop in libido, as well as impact how well his body produces sperm. On the same note, it’s important that he doesn’t over do it. Extreme workouts can have the opposite effect, causing prostate irritation, physical stress on the body, and lowered testosterone levels. He should aim for about 1 hour of moderate intensity exercise 3 times a week, incorporating both cardio and strength training.
A 2006 study found that for every 20 pounds a man is overweight, his odds of infertility increase by 10%. The study implies that male obesity can cause lowered testosterone levels, a hormone that is critical in healthy sperm production. Being overweight or obese can cause sperm count and concentration to decline, along with reducing the motility (how well sperm moves) and morphology (the shape) of the sperm. Because men produce new sperm roughly every 74 days, even losing a small percentage of body fat can help balance hormones and improve his fertility. A combination of diet and exercise can help with this but if he’s having trouble losing weight, he should see his doctor.
Get enough (but not too much) sleep
As you can tell, sperm health relies on a lot of different factors working harmoniously. Menshealth.com quotes a study in the Journal of Fertility & Sterility as saying that “men who slept for 6 hours a night were 31 percent less likely to impregnate their partners than men who slept between 7 and 8 hours. Those who slept 9 or more hours a night were less likely to get their partners pregnant, too.” Though more research needs to be done to confirm these findings in terms of sperm count and motility, it’s clear that how much sleep he gets can impact his testosterone levels and, subsequently, his fertility. You can read the full study here.
Talk to his doctor about medication
Though some medications are absolutely necessary, if you’re trying to conceive it’s important that your partner speaks with his doctor about the potential for current or future medications to disrupt sperm production and affect fertility.
Monitor exposure to endocrine disruptors
The hormones his body produces have a lot of jobs to perform — metabolism, sleep, and mood regulation, growth and development, and keeping the reproductive system healthy — and they do so in conjunction with one another. Endocrine disruptors interfere with his body’s ability to naturally produce and balance these hormones, which can result in lowered sperm count, poor sperm motility and morphology, and overall health issues. Some common endocrine disruptors include:
- Bisphenol A (BPA)
- Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT)
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
- Bisphenol S (BPS)
For a more in-depth look at what these endocrine disruptors do and where they are found, check out our guide to male endocrine disruptors.
Keep his testicles cool
No doubt this isn’t the first time you’ve heard that keeping his testes cool — 4 degrees cooler than his normal body temperature — is important. In fact, the reason his testicles contract and expand (using the cremaster muscle) is to do just that. Overheated sperm will begin to die, causing reduced motility. If they are overheated for a long period of time, sperm production can be affected and sperm count and morphology can become abnormal. He should void saunas, hot tubs, and holding his laptop to ensure that his testicles don’t overheat. It’s also smart to wear looser clothing (including underwear).
Cut back on alcohol and quit using tobacco and recreational drugs
Last but definitely not least, sperm production is greatly affected by the substances he puts into his body. While light to moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t seem to affect male fertility, heavy drinking (more than 14 drinks per week) can decrease testosterone production and increase estrogen levels.
Tobacco and marijuana use, no matter how infrequent, are linked to lower testosterone which causes lowered sex drive, poor sperm production, and poor sperm motility. All tobacco use should stop when (if not before) you begin trying to conceive. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can weaken the sex drive. It’s best to avoid these altogether.
Talk to his doctor about fertility testing
That’s a lot of information! The good news here is that even small changes can help improve his fertility. Talk to your partner about implementing changes each week — small steps are often more manageable and sustainable than trying to change everything overnight. If either of you are concerned about his fertility, or if he is struggling to make lifestyle changes, have him talk to his doctor. They can provide fertility testing that can narrow down the cause of male infertility and provide recommendations for improving it.
When we think about nutrition and its impact on fertility, we tend to think about the many recommendations that are given to women who want to conceive. But don’t think that you’re off the hook, gentlemen! Both men and women can suffer from diet related fertility issues, and both can increase their chances of conceiving simply by eating more of the right foods, and fewer unhealthy ones.
Each of these points can help you improve your fertility and health as you prepare to conceive. It’s particularly important to remember that these changes are best put into practice three months before trying to conceive. Since sperm production takes about three months, any changes you make today won’t show up in your semen for at least that long. So if you think you have work to do before you start a family, get started today – and don’t forget to visit a doctor and finalize a list of recommended actions for managing your preconception health!
We caught up with Sara Naab, from http://www.sandstonediagnostics.com/, the makers of Trak (a men’s reproductive health kit that allows couples to monitor and improve sperm quality from the comfort and privacy of home), to answer some of your most important frequently asked questions on male infertility. For the full interview, click here: https://www.storkotc.com/blog/male-fertility-qa-with-sara-naab-from-sandstone-diagnostics/