There is increasing evidence of the effects of diet on sperm quality, and male factor infertility. While some of the research has been done on infertile men there are quite a number of studies showing the effects of diet on sperm quality of young healthy men. So even if your count looks normal it may still be possible to improve it with some diet changes.
diet for improving sperm health includes
- lean protein - from poultry, fish, eggs, low fat dairy, beans
- fruit and vegetables - organic where reasonable
- healthy fats - from nuts, seeds, oily fish
- saturated fat
- full fat dairy - the fat in dairy contains female hormones, skimmed milk has a higher ratio of testosterone
- processed meats
- trans fats - look for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil on labels
how food affects sperms counts, motility and morphology
Sperm counts appear to be affected by the type of fat we eat. Saturated fat (mostly fats that are solid at room temperature) and trans-fats (found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, baked goods, margarines, and deep fried takeaways) can reduce sperm counts. Antioxidants supplements and coenzyme Q10 can improve counts, and a diet with more fish can be beneficial.
Sperm motility may be reduced by eating processed meats, full fat dairy, sweets, and sugar sweetened drinks. Motility may improve with higher intake of fruit and vegetables, fish, chicken, walnuts, beans, antioxidants and coenzyme Q10.
Sperm morphology may be reduced by higher intake of full fat dairy foods and processed meats. Morphology may improve with higher intake of omega-3 fats, fish, walnuts, antioxidants and coenzyme Q10.
A July 2015 questionnaire study showed decreased fertilisation rates during conventional IVF with men who ate higher levels of processed meat, but fertilisation rates improved by up to 13% in men who reported eating higher levels of poultry.
Lycopene which is an antioxidant found in tomatoes, and which is especially rich in cooked tomatoes, has recently attracted attention as studies show that it may reduce damage to DNA in sperm and improve sperm counts, morphology and viability.
Higher pesticide residues from fruit and vegetables have been linked to lower sperm counts and reduced morphology in a recent study.
A frequently asked question is whether soya products can affect sperm quality. A 2008 study of 99 men showed a relationship between higher soya intake and lower sperm counts, though motility and morphology showed no change. However a 2010 study of 32 healthy young men showed no effect of soya consumption on sperm health, and a July 2015 of 184 men going through IVF showed no difference in fertilisation or live birth rates in relation to soya consumption. While this isn't a lot of evidence to go on it seems reasonable to include soya in the man's diet.
supplements to benefit sperm health
- a good quality preconception multivitamin and mineral - will provide the antioxidant and zinc levels needed
- coenzyme Q10 has been shown to improve sperm counts, motility and morphology - see research below
For information on diet to improve egg quality, ovarian reserve and IVF success see diet to improve egg quality.
The nutrition and lifestyle research listed below is from recent human studies on sperm quality published in western medical journals. For research on the effects of acupuncture on sperm motility, morphology, and IVF fertilisation rates please see fertility
nutrition research on sperm health
benefits of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats on sperm quality
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24850626 higher intake of processed meats associated with lower sperm morphology, high fish intake associated with higher sperm counts and morphology
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24094424 higher antioxidant intake associated with improved sperm in healthy university age men, betacarotene was associated with higher progressive motility, and lycopene with higher morphology
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24636397 low fat milk associated with higher sperm counts and progressive motility
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22940769 low sperm motility associated with higher intake of processed meats and sweets, higher sperm motility was associated with higher intake of fruit and vegetable, skimmed milk, poultry and seafood
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22888168 high intake of fish, chicken, fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains associated with higher rapidly progressive sperm motility in young men
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22752607 diet containing high levels of antioxidants associated with higher sperm motility in young men
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22935557 higher intake of vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc from diet and supplements was associated with 20% less sperm DNA damage in older men
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=walnuts+sperm 75g (2.5 oz.) of walnuts daily improved sperm vitality, motility and morphology in healthy young men
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22416013 higher intake of omega 3 fats were associated with better sperm morphology, while high intake of saturated fat were associated with lower sperm counts
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24675655 review study looking at the effects of lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, on reducing DNA damage to sperm and improving sperm counts and viability
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26206344 small 2015 study showing 13% higher fertilisation rate during conventional IVF with men eating the highest levels of poultry, and decreased fertilisation in men eating more processed meat, the study showed that ICSI overcame these fertilisation differences however the findings still suggest that type of meat eaten affects sperm quality.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25824023 organic fruit and vegetables may be preferral - higher pesticide residues were linked to lower sperm counts and reduced morphology in this study.
negative effects of saturated fat, full fat dairy, trans-fats, sugar and alcohol on sperm quality
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23269819 higher saturated fat intake associated with reduced sperm counts in healthy young men
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23670169 higher intake of full fat dairy food associated with reduced sperm morphology and motility in healthy young men
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3062652/ trans-fats levels in sperm are associated with lower sperm count in infertile men, the body doesn't manufacture trans-fats so they can be assumed to come from diet
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24419496 trans-fats intake related to lower sperm counts in health university age men
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=sugar+sweetened+beverages+sperm sugar sweetened drinks associated with lower sperm motility
http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/9/e005462 5 units of alcohol a week affected sperm count and morphology in healthy young men
supplements affecting sperm quality
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19285597 small study, higher zinc levels related to better sperm count and morphology
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23775385 antioxidant supplements formale factor infertility improved IVF chances fourfold
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22943406 antioxidant supplement treatment increased sperm count, motility, vitality and morphology, and reduced sperm DNA damage in infertile men
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23210405 antioxidant supplements improved sperm motility
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23289958 coenzyme Q10 may improve low sperm morphology
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22704112 coenzyme Q10 improves sperm count, motility and morphology in infertile men
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22081410 coenzyme Q10 improves sperm count, motility and morphology in infertile men
the effects of lifestyle and weight on sperm quality
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23792341 increased levels of sperm DNA damage in obese men
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23265183 increased age, BMI, and coffee intake associated with decreased sperm quality - but the effects were reversed by increased frequency of ejaculation
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22884013 couples undergoing ICSI had 84% lower rate of birth rate when the male partner was obese, compared to men with normal weight
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23380634 inactivity - TV watching - lowers sperm counts