Successful conception and a healthy child depends 50% on the woman and 50% on the man. Your state of health at the moment of conception will greatly influence the strength of the zygote (affecting whether the pregnancy will “hold”) and the DNA of your child. Since approximately 35% of the causes for infertility (or sub-fertility) are due to the health of the male partner, we need to thoroughly evaluate and treat men like we do women.
In order to optimize healthy sperm production and overall health, the following should be considered:
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
Sperm production takes 74 days with an additional 14 days to mature. Yes, amazingly, it takes about 3 months for a baby sperm to mature to a strong, excited swimmer. Therefore, healthy habits are encouraged for at least 3 months prior to desired conception time. For some men, it will take 2-3x that time to clean up their bodies from toxins and get health to an ideal level for healthy conception. I often meet with couples having trouble with fertility, and I may tell them (to their surprise): "The first thing I want you to do is stop trying. We need to clean up your act before we move on." This brief conception respite, to focus on restoring health, is often all we need to do to achieve healthy fertility.
Fertility is Related to All Areas of our Health
Our fertility is extremely sensitive to our state of health. Some things are more obvious, like obesity, which is related to low testosterone, higher estrogen, DNA-damaged sperm, and lower sperm count. Other health detractors, like stress alone, are harder to blame for infertility. However, research shows that stress reduces the health of sperm and even the health of the child conceived under stressful times. The study of epigenetics, or how our behaviors can influence our DNA, reflects that aspects of our lifestyle will literally imprint on our DNA and affect the generations to come!
“Parental stress before, during and after conception (i.e. the periconception period) induces epigenetic changes in gametes and embryos. Such epigenetic changes may adversely affect the future health, development, productivity and fertility of those offspring.” (http://www.cost.eu/fa june 2012)
This quote is from an agricultural journal, where they report their observation that cows living in stressful environments produce more anxious calves.
I think most people feel that women should be treated like China Dolls before and during pregnancy while men are free to do as they please. Well, our understanding of epigenetics has leveled the playing field. Behaviors like smoking, drinking, exposure to toxins, and eating improperly (too much or poor choices) can imprint a little mark on your genes that may then imprint on your future child’s genes. In a fascinating article from the September 2012 NY Times, “Why Fathers Really Matter,” the author explains:
“Epigenetics brings both good news and bad. Bad news first: there’s evidence that lifestyle choices like smoking and eating too much can change the epigenetic marks atop your DNA in ways that cause the genes for obesity to express themselves too strongly and the genes for longevity to express themselves too weakly. We all know that you can truncate your own life if you smoke or overeat, but it’s becoming clear that those same bad behaviors can also predispose your kids — before they are even conceived — to disease and early death.”
Although hard for some men to acknowledge, it does make sense that sperm, as little packages of genetic material, would act as the canary in the coal mine: reflecting a man’s exposure to stress, nutrient deficiencies and environmental toxins.
SO, now what to do?
The “No No” List
Eliminate or greatly reduce exposure to things that have been shown to decrease sperm production and negatively effect reproductive health, such as:
Tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, caffeine (greater than 200 mg daily, or about 1 strong cup, damages DNA of sperm)
Pesticides, heavy metals and chemicals found in food, home or work-place. These have various deleterious effects on testosterone, sperm health and well-being of the child. Even cleaning, hair care and cosmetic products can carry a daily dose of hidden noxious chemicals! (Hint: if something has a strong odor, it is likely toxic, unless the smell specifically comes from an “essential plant oil”.)
Hormone disrupters in food and storage containers. Eat hormone-free meat, poultry and dairy. Avoid plastic as much as possible. Use glass and stainless steel for drinking and food storage. Even canned food is lined with BPA-laden plastic. (Eden and Amy’s organics use BPA-free liners)
Nutrient-poor or unhealthy food such as:
White or brown sugar, artificial sweeteners (aspartame, splenda)
Excess soy, which is linked to lower sperm counts (especially conventionally grown)
Processed grains, GMO corn and corn products (this means all non-organic tortilla chips!)
Hydrogenated fats, margarine
Farmed fish, tuna (high in mercury)
Preservatives, dyes (read your vitamin bottles; some have nasty food coloring!)
Any non-organic fruits and veggies on the EWG dirty dozen list
Hormone and antibiotic-laden meats and dairy (the drugs concentrate in the fat of all non-organic dairy products).
Alcohol (>1 serving daily )
The Basics That All Super Sperm Need: (aka the “Yes Yes” list)
Basic sperm production requires essential vitamins and minerals. Many infertile (or sub-fertile) men have poor nutrient levels because of deficient (bachelor-esque) diets and exposure to chemicals in their environments. In order to make sure your body is getting all of the necessary building blocks, consider taking a good quality, iron-free multi-vitamin with:
Zinc- 30 mg
Copper- 6 mg
Vit E- 200- 400IU
Vit C- 1000 mg
Good Food Makes for Good Sperm
Our food choices are the single biggest predictors of our health. Nourishing, whole-food diets, rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, cleanly-sourced animal proteins and essential fats, have been shown to effectively reduce toxic effects and increase fertility. Every day, every meal, you have a choice for the path you want to go down.
Enjoy foods rich in:
Antioxidants: berries, acai (powder and pulp available), greens, pomegranate, broccoli (sprouts are the best!), Nourish Me Superfood Powder
Selenium: Brazil nuts, 4 daily
Vitamin C: berries, spinach, citrus, bell peppers
Zinc: pumpkin seeds, lamb, tahini
Omega 3 fats: wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, walnuts, hemp oil
Healthy saturated fats: coconut oil, organic pasture butter
Fiber: flax seeds, oats, psyllium, veggies, fruit
Adaptogenic herbs (help the body adapt to stress and mitigate effects)~ rhodiolla, oats, maca (amazing hormone balancing effect).
Support the Organs of Detoxification and Elimination!
Check out my detox article here!
Get regular exercise (really, do it!)
Drink at least 8 cups of water daily
Drink detox tea (Yogi or Traditional Medicinals), 2 cups daily for 3 months
Eat fiber: flax seeds, psyllium, oats, veggies
Test Your Testes and Keep Them Happy
Go to a urologist for a semen analysis and a clean bill of scrotum health. There may be something easily treatable, like a varicocele, standing in the way of your fertility, as it does in up to 40% of men with fertility trouble.
Avoid excessive heat to scrotum (hot tubs, sauna, steam, tight fitting underwear).
If sperm analysis reflects a decrease in the number or health of the sperm, it is recommended to check for hypothyroidism and other endocrine disorders as well as toxic exposure and genetic variances in detoxification (SNP testing).
Can Vitamins Really Help?
Well, studies say yes! In one study of 38 males with significant DNA-fragmented sperm (over 15% of the sperm were funny looking), participants were given 1 gram of vitamin C and 1 gram Vitamin E for 2 months. RESULT: 76% had significantly improved sperm and a 48% pregnancy rate soon after the test.
Here’s another study: 60 “infertile” men with sperm motility problems were given 3 grams of L-Acetyl Carnitine for 3 months. After the test, a significant amount of the men had improved sperm motility.
And one more. One hundred “infertile” and 100 “subfertile” men were given 5 mg of folic acid and 66 mg of zinc daily for 3 months. Both groups had an average of 74% increase in total normal sperm count.
Exciting research supports that the following nutrients increases sperm health. Daily dose of:
Quercitin 3 grams,
Fish oil 2 grams,
L-arginine 200 mg,
Vit C 1 gram,
Vit E 1 gram,
Zinc 30 mg,
CoQ 200 mg,
L-carnitine 3 grams,
& weekly B12 shots.
Treatment should last 3-6 months minimum.
NOTE: This is not a recommended protocol but a list of effective studied nutrients.
Consult your holistic physician for guidance in fertility. It can be an emotional and challenging course to navigate on your own.
Dr. Erika Siegel has the honor to work with couples desiring conception in Portland Oregon at Bambu Clinic. She hopes that through education and inspiration, our next generation will thrive with vital health. Learn more here.