There is potential for sperm to be damaged from the stem cell to mature sperm phase which takes 65-75 days. Changing your diet, your lifestyle choices and losing weight can help.
The Nutrients needed to Make & Protect Sperm
As cells divide and multiply, folic acid and zinc are essential for healthy replication e.g. future mothers take folic acid to ensure an amazing bundle of cells divide and multiply healthily to produce a foetus. Therefore the first ‘food’ you need for improved sperm production is food rich in folic acid and zinc.
Sperm is made from different types of fats. Polyunsaturated fats play an important role in the mobility of the sperm and normality of the sperm.2
Omega-3 is the most important fat, protecting the sperm from damage and adding to its fluidity. Therefore eating omega-3 foods may help to improve the health of your sperm.
Inside our body there is a continual build-up and breakdown process that creates heat but also some damaging gases, known as free radicals. Anything that adds to the level of free radicals is potentially damaging to sperm. Well known culprits are cigarettes, fried foods, sunburn, excessive food and alcohol, drugs, too much caffeine, excessive exercise or training, excessive and ongoing stress along with bacterial or viral infections. If you are trying for a baby, make these lifestyle changes to improve your chances.
Interior body fats are the most vulnerable to damage from free radicals. Sperm is rich in fats therefore needs protection. Nutritionally, I use the analogy of Firemen to explain protective foods in my live presentations. The chief firemen in the body are Vitamin A, E and C. Vitamin A & E dissolve into the fatty membranes of the sperm and protect the sperm from damage. Vitamin C dissolves into the fluids such as semen and blood, dampening down potential inflammation. These 3 nutrients, A, C and E are vital to protect sperm in healthy men. 1
Then we have the Special Ops team of firefighters that go when and where they are needed. They are our 3 major anti-oxidant enzymes – Superoxide Dimutase (SOD), Catalyse and Glutathione Peroxidase (Gpx). Several studies have demonstrated that, in contrast to other body fluids, semen contains significant levels of these 3 special ops enzymes.2 These 3 enzymes depend on 5 nutrients to function – iron, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium. Zinc is also found in high concentrations in the sperm which most of us are aware of, as certain foods have been termed as aphrodisiac due to their zinc content e.g. oysters are rich in zinc
Enzymes are made from protein therefore ensure you are having adequate protein in your diet. Eat 1g of protein per kg of your bodyweight. If you are 86kg, eat 86g of protein per day. A Food APP can help you check if you are eating adequate protein.
Mobile sperm use up a lot of energy and are packed with little factories called mitochondria, which burn fat and sugar for energy. Carnitine has been found in high concentrations in sperm and in the heart. Carnitine is used to take fat across a cell wall to be burnt confirming that sperm uses fat as an energy source. Carnitine is made inside your body from two other protein amino acids (lysine and methionine) and you need adequate vitamin C, B1, B3, B6, iron and manganese to make it.
What controls the production process
This sperm production process is under the control of the male hormone testosterone (and another hormone called follicle-stimulating-hormone (FSH)). This is a complex process with hormones communicating back and forth between the brain and testes. A GP can order a hormonal screen.
As discussed in an earlier blog on men’s weight, carrying excess weight has a knock-on effect on the production of sperm. It is important to maintain a healthy weight as oestrogen levels may increase in obese men and reduce testosterone levels. In addition, being underweight is also a risk as testosterone needs cholesterol to make it. As discussed above, sperm is fat-rich and therefore relies on your diet for adequate building raw-materials such as fat, protein and micro-nutrients.
In summary, ensure your diet is rich in protein, chief firemen (A,E,C), special ops (protein, Zinc, Selenium, Iron and Copper) folic acid and omega-3 to protect the sperm production process and improve its quality. Maintain a healthy weight and avoid excesses.
A baby is produced from a healthy sperm and a healthy egg and that is a great motivation to make lifestyle changes.
1. Eskenazi B et al (2004) Antioxidant intake is associated with semen quality in healthy men. Hum. Reprod:20(4):1006-1012.
2. Dautner, B. et al. (1981) Preliminary report: a possible mechanism for the liquefaction of human seminal plasma and its relationship to spermatozoal motility. Andrologia:13,131–141.