Friday, June 21, 2013

Sperm Health - what's in and what's out!

Ice cream, tofu, low-fat milk, to use or not to use fish oils, Vitamin C?There is a wealth of information on this about and I have put together most of the more prevalent and researched arguments around food vitamins and minerals and environmental issues that can have an effect on sperm health.

Fish oils

Almost every aspect of our health is related to the types of fatty acids that make up our cells and tissue. And it appears that most of us are not having the right kinds of fatty acid or enough. There is debate among the medical community as to the benefits of fish oils obtained as a supplement  rather than through food. Studies have shown conflicting results. I think the benefits of these supplements could well be enhanced when dietary changes are made that reduce sugar intake or other simple carbohydrates and unhealthy foods.

Fish oil is harvested from cold-water fish. Some great examples of this are salmon, trout, sardines and anchovies. These oils contain high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, which is made up of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid.(DHA) These two major hitters play a role together with other key nutrients in overall fertility for both women and Men, however today is all about the Men! Often neglected in fertility but with recent reports on the ever decreasing sperm levels in the Western  world, it is time we looked into this fully!

Omega 3 for the Men

Docosahexanoic acid, which is a component of omega-3 fatty acids, play a key role in movement of sperm or its motility – often measured on sperm test.  The journey sperm face which was recorded in a recent Channel Four production’ The Great Sperm Race’ was likened to climbing Everest with a super heavy load!  Sperm hasn’t been studied at great depths until more recently in the last few decades but during these studies it is calculated that of the many million produced in ejaculation only a hundred or so make the long and arduous journey and like any budding Mountain climber, preparation is key!
Docosahexanoic acid plays an huge role in the development of healthy sperm. Studies have found that males deficient in this Fatty Acid produce poor sperm that are less able to fertilise the egg. Other studies also noted the role of omega-3 fatty acids in thinning the blood which then allows blood flow to the genitals which leads to better production of sperm and also better performance during sex.

Omega 3 - Fish oil versus flaxseed oil

There are several Omega 3 fatty acids. They are named ALA (alpha linolenic acid ), EPA    (eicosapentaenoic acid ) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid). ALA is found in flaxseed oil whereas EPA and DHA are found in fish oils. ALA is able to convert into EPA and then into DHA, but this takes several enzymatic steps in the body, and not everyone efficiently converts ALA into EPA and DHA, particularly with aging. So, the bottom line, I prefer fish oils to flaxseed oil, although a small amount of flaxseed oil are useful. For those of you who don't want to take any fish products, DHA, extracted from algae, is sold by itself.

 DHA from algae

Whether marine algae supplements provide the same health benefits as fish oil is still unclear. There are certainly  lots of alternatives if Vegan, however Marine algae and Fish oil  vary so greatly in both the amount and ratio of EPA and DHA. Most marine algae supplements provide more DHA than EPA.

Although DHA is the predominant fatty acid recommended for fertility, some EPA is needed as well, and algae oil does not have any so often they will add another plant oil fatty acid not from algae - SDA - which can be converted in a smaller amount to EPA. Due to this, it may not be quite as good as a very high quality fish oil since the ratio of the two might not be as optimal

Vitamin C, Vitamin E and folate for sperm health

In a study of 80 healthy men, aged 22 to 80, those older than 40 who consumed the most vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and folate had less sperm DNA damage than those who consumed the lowest amounts.

Diet and sperm, role of food intake

Diet may also play a role in sperm count. It is possible that high sugar intake or high blood sugar may damage sperm. A diet heavy in soya products could also reduce sperm count. 

Sperm count and beef consumption
In a recent study - U.S. women who eat a lot of beef while pregnant gave birth to sons who grew up to have low sperm counts. This may be down to hormones or contaminants in cattle feed, as well as the GMO soya that is fed to cattle in larger farms. Chemicals can build up in the fat of animals that eat contaminated feed or grass, and cattle are routinely given hormones to boost their growth. In sons of 'high beef consumers' (more than seven beef meals a week), sperm concentration was lower.

Cola as a cause or just bad diet and lifestyle?

Dr. Tina Kold Jensen of Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark  included 2,500 young men in their study. Those who didn't drink cola had better sperm quality, averaging 50 million sperm per millilitre semen and tended to have a healthier lifestyle. In contrast, the 93 men who drank more than one litre a day had only 35 million sperm per millilitre.
They also ate more fast foods, and less fruit and vegetables. When looking at caffeine from other sources, such as coffee and tea, the decrease in sperm quality was much less pronounced. It is still not clear if the cola or the unhealthy lifestyle, or both, is to blame. American Journal of Epidemiology, online March 25, 2010

Overweight? -  shed those extra pounds

Obese men tend to have less motile sperm than the thinner males in a study of. 'Fertility and Sterility, online January 7, 2010'.Fertility and Sterility, online July 29, 2010.


Men who get moderate amounts of exercise have better motility than men who are less active. Sitting for prolonged periods, such as watching TV, reduces sperm count.

Soya products and sperm count

Eating excessive amounts of soya based foods could  also lower a man's sperm count. Soya based foods contain phytoestrogens which has an affect on sperm health. Dr. Jorge Chavarro of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, found that men that consumed the highest amounts of soya foods had a lower sperm count compared to those who did not consume soya foods. Men in the highest intake category of soya products had 40 million sperm per millilitre less than men who ate no soya foods. 

Overweight men tended to have lower sperm counts which could be due to oestrogen production by fat cells. Journal Human Reproduction, 2008.

Eat more vegetables and fruits

Dr. Jaime Mendiola, of Instituto Bernabeu in Alicante, Spain believes men who eat lots of processed meat and full-fat dairy have poorer quality sperm than those who eat more fruit, vegetables and low-fat diary. He did a study with 61 Spanish men visiting a fertility clinic. Half of the men had poor semen quality and generally had a higher intake of processed meat and high-fat dairy than did the 31 men with normal sperm counts. The men with higher-quality sperm tended to consume more fruits, vegetables and skim milk. The antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables may help protect sperm from damage. Meat and high-fat foods may expose men to higher levels of substances known as xenobiotics -- including steroids and various chemicals in the environment that have oestrogen-like effects, such as certain pesticides and PCBs. Xenobiotics tend to accumulate in high-fat foods, which in turn accumulate in men with high-fat diets. Fertility and Sterility, March 2009.