by Melanie Brown Nutritionist specialising in male fertility and Jonathan Ramsey Consultant Urologist
We are certain you already know about the amazing Melanie Brown, but for those that don’t, Mel is the nutritional goddess who consults her clients on both improving their natural fertility and preparing for IVF
For eight years, she was the Senior Nutritional Therapist at London’s prestigious fertility Zita West Clinic, designing the nutrition programmes for the clinic, and seeing thousands of clients.
So we turned to Mel to ask her advice on whether eating the right foods can improve a man’s fertility.
“Whilst there is a mass of information on how to improve a woman’s fertility, sadly there is little for the male (after all half the embryo is from the man). My clients often tell me that they ask their clinics if there is anything they can do to improve their sperm, only to be given a shrug of the shoulders and a resounding no! But this is just not true. Just look at farmers; when they are breeding their prize bulls, rams, stallions and other alpha male animals they give them the best diet rich in nutrients and healthy fats. A phial of good bull sperm is worth a lot of money!
It is suggested that one of the main culprits of the massive decline in male sperm counts since the 1970s is obesity.
As far back as the Romans they knew that ‘fatness’ messed up fertility. And then in addition what the man has eaten in order to become obese; fast foods, cheap processed foods, salty, fatty, sugary snacks, poor quality industrial cooking oils. Piled with inflammatory free radicals, molecules that set about damaging all cells, especially DNA. And sperm is a very fragile cell; that’s probably why men make so many, because so few are good quality. Where else would you conclude that if only 4% of your cells were OK you would be in the normal range?! But that’s where we are with sperm now.
The most dangerous area to be overweight for male fertility is around the middle.
This abdominal fat has a life of its own, firing out inflammatory chemicals and converting the male hormone testosterone into the female hormone oestrogen. So, using a Mediterranean style diet, stuffed with vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds, pulses, fish and olive oil, with some chicken and eggs and very little red meat, sugar and alcohol we can set about both reducing the fat and increasing the nutrients in the food.
Sperm cells are very fragile and it is their precious DNA that must be protected, and that’s where antioxidants come in.
Found in the rich colours of fruit and vegetables, for example red tomatoes, dark green watercress, red onion and blueberries; antioxidants are the sperms defence against free radical damage. So, the more colours, the better sperm.
I always add plain nuts to the diet, a good way of filling up and replacing snacks. Walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds have been shown to significantly improve all sperm parameters in the FERTINUT STUDY (Salas-Huetos et al 2018). And mix with zinc-rich seeds like sunflower and pumpkin. Nuts and seeds are also one of the best sources of natural vitamin E, one of the most important antioxidants for protecting the delicate DNA of the sperm. Add a couple of Brazil nuts and you have your daily dose of selenium, another sperm antioxidant.
Good fats are vital for good sperm, and oily fish, nuts, seeds and dark green vegetables provide them in abundance and milk in the diet should be low fat not full fat.
So that leaves alcohol and caffeine; the two big questions that come up in the consultation!
Personally, I am not a fan of complete, hard core abstinence from everything when you are trying to conceive. Perhaps quality over quantity is the key here. A glass of very expensive, preferably organic red wine at the weekend or a good craft beer just helps you to feel part of ‘life’. And the same for coffee; there is some evidence that a little caffeine may be good for sperm, but one cup only and the best quality you can find. And a bit of dark chocolate, absolutely!
I see it time and time again, the differences a good diet makes is reflected in better semen analyses and sperm DNA fragmentation tests; it’s not rocket science; what you put in, you get out!
We also turned to Melanie’s good friend Jonathan Ramsay, Consultant Urologist, specialising in male fertility investigation and treatment. Jonathan works closely with men of all ages and particularly supports their health and well-being on their fertility journey
“Expert nutritional advice has become even more important in the management of male infertility. It’s not just about antioxidants, because nutritional balance is equally important. Now that we can measure the level of oxidising substances in the seminal fluid, known as oxidative stress, we can tailor a nutritional programme to each man.
Sometimes, even when the DNA quality of the Sperm is poor, or ‘fragmented ‘ the cause may not be related to oxidative stress, but to too many antioxidants which may be counterproductive – further investigations are necessary in these cases.
So, in my experience, a good, specialised Nutritionist will improve most cases and spot those that need further tests.
A multidisciplinary approach is almost always the best . There are now so many supplements easily available, and because we can now measure improvements, I increasingly depend on specialist nutritional advice”
If you have any questions regarding male fertility, drop us a line and we will ask the experts! firstname.lastname@example.org. Huge thanks to the brilliant Melanie and Jonathan for their guidance.