The Wholesome Journal

Combating Male Infertility

We here at Wholesome Story are becoming increasingly aware of the challenges facing many men who want to become fathers but who have fertility struggles. Male infertility/subfertility isn’t something we talk about very much, but we’re dedicating this post to our gentlemen. Guys, we get it, you want to be a dad and we’re sure you’ll be a great one, so here is some info to help you get closer to that all-important goal of becoming an amazing father.

Male fertility has been steadily declining over the last few decades. In fact, one recent study showed that the average man’s sperm count has decreased by 59% in the last 40 years. In regular-people speak, this means that, a few decades ago, the average dude’s spunk had almost 60% more sperm in it!1

So, what has led to this precipitous decline in the number of viable sperm the average man produces? While researchers admit that it’s a combination of several things and they probably don’t know about all of them yet, they do point to several, specific changes in our environment and lifestyle over the last fifty years that contribute heavily to male infertility/subfertility. Let’s dive in and see what’s going on so we can talk about what you can do in your own life and body to improve your fertility and increase your chances of making a beautiful baby.

Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress is something most people don’t consider when they think of their health, but it’s super important. This kind of stress refers to submicroscopic damage that occurs from having too many molecules in your body that induce oxidative reactions, i.e., cause damage by literally blowing holes in your cells that your body must then repair. In the last half-century, our environment has been virtually blanketed with sources of oxidative stress. And, if your oxidative stress is high, then your body is overwhelmed with having to fix millions and millions of submicroscopic wounds to your individual cells. As you can imagine, this is not great for fertility since the cells in your reproductive organs, along with the rest of the body, are affected by oxidative stress.

Common sources of oxidative stress include but are not limited to: processed foods and drinks, sun/UV exposure, smoking, and exposure to a variety of chemicals and toxins such as pesticides and cleaning products. The more exposed you are to any of these things, the higher your oxidative stress levels will be, and the greater your chances of experiencing fertility issues. In fact, oxidative stress is reported to be a major factor in 30-80% of male infertility.2

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals

Next on our list of junk messing up your spunk is a little-acknowledged category of chemicals called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Certain compounds in plastics such as bisphenol A (BPA), and additives in hygiene products such as phthalates, may be disrupting your body’s hormonal system and reducing the amount and/or quality of sperm you produce.2 For men in particular, EDCs that mimic estrogen can be especially detrimental, as increased estrogen levels in men are closely tied to fertility issues. If you want to know more about what kinds EDCs may be contributing to your or your partner’s fertility difficulties, follow this link to learn from the experts.

Poor Eating Patterns

Try not to cry, OK? You knew this subject was coming, and now it’s here. Researchers have found that certain foods/food groups are strongly correlated with male infertility/subfertility. Remember when we told you that scary fact about the average man producing almost 60% fewer sperm today than he did just 40 years ago? Researchers believe a big piece of the puzzle is the way the US diet has changed since the 1950s. Most Americans eat far more red meat, processed food, and fatty meats and cheeses, as well as fewer vegetables and fruits than they did just a few decades ago.2 These include processed meats like deli meats and bacon, high-fat dairy like whole milk and cheese, sugary foods such as sodas and desserts, and foods high in unhealthy fats such as chips, packaged cakes, fatty meats, and processed foods.3 These foods have chemicals and other compounds in them that encourage inflammation and microscopic damage throughout the body; they also don’t contain many high-value nutrients to combat these effects. A diet composed mainly of these foods leads to long-term health problems which can often include infertility/subfertility.3

Negative effects from eating patterns aren’t just limited to the foods you eat, but also the way you eat them and whether or not you make space for healthy foods as well. Fertility issues can be exacerbated by things like frequently skipping meals, regularly choosing high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, and by not getting enough antioxidants.3 So, if you have McDonald’s for dinner one night that’s ok, just be sure to counteract that with healthy choices for the next few days.

We also need to talk about booze. Alcohol can be consumed in moderation, up to 5 drinks per week for men, but these drinks should be spaced out and not consumed all in one night. Regularly drinking to intoxication, even if it’s once per week, can have a negative impact on your fertility health.

The good news is that caffeine from coffee, tea, and chocolate has not been shown to have negative effects when consumed in moderation, so you can keep enjoying your morning coffee worry-free!3

Great, Life’s No Fun. Now What?

First of all, that’s a little dramatic, don’t you think? And second, let’s talk about the wonderful ways you can support your health and the health of your all-important swimmers so we can get to the good stuff…making a baby!

Combating Oxidative Stress

Consuming lots of antioxidants can help to bring a more favorable balance to the number of oxidative vs antioxidant molecules in your body, thereby reducing the amount of damage done by oxidative molecules. You see, antioxidant molecules can neutralize oxidative molecules in the body and make them unable to inflict damage. Foods high in antioxidants include lots of fruits and vegetables, especially beans, berries, and dark leafy greens.4 So, if you like southern food, load up on collard greens, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, try your hand at making a reduced-sugar berry crumble, and if you’re a chili guy then by all means indulge in a bean-filled bowl of antioxidant goodness.

And of course, avoiding sources of oxidative stress when possible is best practice. So, wear sunblock, don’t smoke, and eat mostly plant-based foods full of phytochemicals that will nourish and protect your precious cells.

Combating Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals

We recommend buying non-BPA-lined canned goods, buying organic when possible, using glass, ceramic, or stainless steel drinking containers, and reviewing the ingredient list on all your shampoos, soaps, lotions, etc. to ensure that you’re not filling or coating your body with EDCs. Again, if you want more information, follow this link to get tips from the experts on how to reduce EDCs in your life.

Combating Poor Eating Patterns

Just eat healthy foods right? Not always so simple and easy, and we know that. Let’s talk specifics. We already discussed those unhelpful protein sources, the ones our culture thinks of as manly but that can reduce sperm creation and lessen the quality of your sperm…not very manly if you ask us. Manly, protein-rich foods that will help your sperm grow healthy and strong include beans, nuts, seeds, and fish.3 This is because these protein sources are full of things besides protein, like fiber, vitamins, and various nutrients that can help to reduce stress in the body. And, the cold-water fish and certain nuts and seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, zinc, and other micronutrients that are super important in spermatogenesis (sperm creation) and also in fighting inflammation. These should be your go-to protein-rich foods. More neutral sources of protein include lean poultry and low-fat dairy. As for everything else you should put on your plate, get lots of fruits and vegetables every day and choose whole grains over refined ones whenever possible, as these choices will provide even more nutrients, and estrogen-binding fiber to keep your sperm strong and happy.3

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the thought of switching up your whole diet, then start small by adding some good things in. Spaghetti for dinner? Try ground turkey or boiled lentils instead of beef in your red sauce and add on a side of steamed veggies like broccoli or carrots. Usually have bacon for breakfast? Indulge in some healthy, high-fat foods like peanut butter or avocado to satisfy your fat craving. Is Mountain Dew you’re your go-to beverage? Set a limit for how much you’re allowed to have in a day and replace the rest with water, tea, or decaf coffee.

You Can Do It!

Small changes really can make a big difference over time. The key is to view them as permanent lifestyle changes that you will stick to and make manageable steps toward your ultimate goal. And, if your ultimate goal is to become a father, then you’ve got some good motivation to get healthy habits going before your little bundle of joy comes along and learns how to live life by your example.

To Summarize

So, there you have it. To help your body create baby-making sperm that are prepared to swim the great swim and make you a father, you can: combat oxidative stress, reduce exposure to EDCs, and make smarter food choices. This can look like choosing organic foods, opting for healthier protein and fat sources, reducing your intake of processed foods, and ridding your home of all unnecessary chemicals that can cause hormone disruption such as BPA. Simple changes, but admittedly difficult ones for many people to make. So, take it one step at a time and be gracious to yourself. You’ve got this!

 

In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plant foods, is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such a Naturopathic Doctor, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.

 

 

Sources:

  1. Edwin McDonald MD. Diet and male fertility: Foods that affect sperm count. Diet and male fertility: Foods that affect sperm count - UChicago Medicine. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/health-and-wellness-articles/dont-make-the-mistake-of-letting-a-diet-kill-sperm. Published December 10, 2018. Accessed June 3, 2022.
  2. Palmer S. Improving male fertility - research suggests a nutrient-dense diet may play an integral role. Today's Dietitian. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/060113p40.shtml. Published June 2013. Accessed June 3, 2022.
  3. Skoracka K, Eder P, Łykowska-Szuber L, Dobrowolska A, Krela-Kaźmierczak I. Diet and nutritional factors in male (in)fertility-underestimated factors. Journal of clinical medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7291266/. Published May 9, 2020. Accessed June 3, 2022.
  4. Reilly CT. Top 20 foods high in antioxidants - st. john's health. St. John's Health. https://www.stjohns.health/documents/content/top-20-foods-high-in-antioxidants.pdf. Accessed June 3, 2022.

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