The fertility process can cause mixed emotions for men and women both. Feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety and helplessness arise, which can affect everyday life including productivity at work and strain on a relationship. Often perceived as a women’s health issue, infertility is actually largely a men’s issue too. Statistics show that indeed, men contribute to nearly half of all fertility issues. It is also a problem that continues to expand. According to the CDC and Office on Women’s Health, infertility is increasing and nearly 9% of men and 10% of women under the age of 44 have reported fertility issues.

Men Have a Biological Clock Too

It’s commonly known that women have a biological clock with peak reproductive years. While it’s true that once women hit their 30s, fertility starts to decline, a retrospective cohort study found that a man’s age makes a difference too and increased paternal age has negative effects on offspring and their mothers. It was found that babies born from fathers ages 45 and up were more likely to be birthed prematurely and chance of seizures as compared to fathers ages 25 to 34. While women have an increased risk of premature birth and gestational diabetes. Despite the biological clock that men and women are fighting against, it’s still possible to
become pregnant later in life, however couples often skip the step of targeted nutrition and lifestyle changes, which is the less-stressful option men can take to help improve sperm quality before exploring more invasive fertility options.

Less Stressful Solutions

If couples don’t have luck conceiving within the first 3-6 months of trying, many will turn to medical procedures. While this may seem like the most obvious next step, using medical interventions can be extremely stressful and very costly. The average couple will often attempt two in vitro fertilization cycles, bringing the total cost of IVF, including procedures and medications, somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 (SingleCare, 2020). Add to that an estimated 85% of IVF costs are often paid out of pocket (Fertility and Sterility, 2011). IVF may seem worth it despite the stress and money it costs when couples are under pressure to start a family. However, many men are unaware of the cost-effective option of first improving their lifestyle choices, such as adequate exercise and sleep, targeted nutritional support and reducing
environmental exposures.

Eat, Sleep, Exercise (Repeat)

Research shows that there’s a direct connection between good nutrition and lifestyle choices and improved male fertility. Lifestyle changes men should implement right first include exercising regularly and getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep daily. The nutrition component may seem harder to tackle since it’s not talked about as often, however, there are key nutrients men should know
about that can positively impact sperm quality.

What you eat is an important factor for men if they want to have a positive influence on a baby’s health. An animal model study found that when male mice ate low-protein diets, ATF7, which is a protein responsible for fat metabolism and cholesterol production, turned on, and led to metabolic reprogramming in offspring.

Does my Weight Affect things?

Another key study found that sperm and semen from male mice that were fed a poor-quality diet, resulted in their offspring becoming overweight with symptoms of Type 2 diabetes and reduced expression of genes that regulate fat metabolism.

The Mediterranean diet is popular and highly recommended for increasing fertility as it focuses on foods high in antioxidants (such as selenium and vitamins E and C) and omega-3 fatty acids, managing chronic inflammation. The Mediterranean diet often includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, nuts and legumes, and olive oil; and lesser amounts of poultry, eggs, cheese and dairy.

No One Is Perfect – So Supplement

Even with a near-perfect diet, some nutrients can fall through the cracks and need to be obtained through dietary supplements. Some of the most effective supplements for supporting male fertility include choline, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B12, magnesium, selenium and folate. Knowing which supplements to take and the right amounts of them may seem overwhelming. This is why I created FullWell, a fertility wellness and education brand, to take the guesswork out of knowing which fertility supplements and what amounts were most effective. FullWell’s Vitality + Virility supplement helps men flood their bodies with all the right nutrients as it contains familiar antioxidants like vitamin E, C, and selenium plus a unique antioxidant blend to offer more support than the typical men’s multivitamin. Beyond these antioxidants, this nutrient- packed formula helps support the very nutrient-intensive liver detoxification process, which in turn can encourage the healthy formation of sperm and the DNA contained within it.

Obviously, some factors with sperm health are out of a man’s control, however nutrition is something that can be controlled. If men focus on loading up with the right levels of these nutrients, through diet and supplementation, they can play a critical role in conception, pregnancy health and the baby’s long-term health. The role of fertile, healthy sperm goes far beyond conception. Sperm quality, motility (movement), and morphology (shape and size) all play a major role in fertility.

Your Environment Matters

Factors that have been known to affect women’s fertility such as smoking, alcohol, and exposure to chemicals during pregnancy and preconception aren’t just limited to women; they contribute to men’s fertility too.

Consider the evidence:

● In this longitudinal study, findings revealed that paternal smoking and welding exposure prior to conception was independently associated with non-allergic asthma in offspring, even if smoking stopped five years prior to conception;
● Another study looking at sex-specific changes found that parental smoking at an early age also increased the risk of obesity in male adolescent offspring; and
● A meta-analysis looking at paternal occupational exposure to herbicides, such as pentachlorophenol (PCP) used in wood-related industries, demonstrated that exposure increased the risk of lymphoma and leukemia in the father and their offspring.

Despite the obvious adverse effects that smoking and pollution are known to have, there are other negative environmental factors beyond this. Men could be exposing themselves to hidden environmental toxins in their own homes and cars without even knowing it. Scented candles, air fresheners, colognes and even heavy metals that could be present in daily supplements are all toxic culprits that could be negative for sperm quality and fertility. Make sure to check the label of dietary supplements for seals that indicate the company uses third-party independent testing. FullWell uses third-party independent testing to ensure that there are no harmful contaminants, including heavy metals, present in its fertility supplements for both men and women.

Healthy Sperm = Healthy Men (Baby or Not)

Even if men aren’t trying to conceive, male reproductive factors are important for everyday health. Issues such as low sperm count have been associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome for men. Researchers discovered in the largest study to date evaluating semen quality, reproductive function, and metabolic risk, that men with low sperm counts had a higher risk of greater body fat, higher blood pressure, insulin resistance, and abnormally elevated cholesterol. This study, along with others, have given greater insight on how fertility status can act as a biomarker for future health whether men are trying to conceive or not.

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Written by Ayla Barmmer, MS, RDN, LDN

Ayla Barmmer, MS, RDN, LDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, functional medicine practitioner and the founder, and CEO, of FullWell, a fertility wellness and education brand. Her entire career focus has been to advance the health and empowerment of practitioners, patients and families through nutritional science, functional medicine and evidence-based holistic solutions. Barmmer launched FullWell to provide all families access to the same evidence-based, effective, high-quality prenatal and fertility supplements that she successfully uses with her own patients. Barmmer earned her undergraduate degree in dietetics and completed her dietetic internship at the University of Connecticut; a Master of Science in Health Communications from Boston University and has additional training in clinical nutrition, functional medicine, women’s health, herbal medicine and holistic and integrative therapies.

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