It might sound obvious, but your chances of getting pregnant are better if both you and your partner are in good health. Poor health can impact on the quality and viability of sperm and, in 40% of cases where the cause of infertility is known, it’s an issue with male fertility – that’s the same percentage as problems relating to female fertility.
So what can men do to help ensure that their sperm are fighting fit? Here are a few areas where some simple health-boosting lifestyle changes could help to put you in the best position to conceive as a couple.
Weight and exercise
Research seems to show that being overweight can affect both sperm quality and the volume of ejaculate, which carries the sperm. It’s not just about diet – a lack of exercise could potentially halve a man's sperm count, according to one study, which linked watching too much TV to decreased fertility. That’s bad news for the couch potatoes, so regular moderate exercise and easing back on unhealthy food could be a good idea…
Low levels of folic acid
If you thought folic acid was a 'woman’s thing' you might be wrong. In fact, some research appears to show that folic acid boosts sperm. Folate occurs naturally in foods such as dark green vegetables like broccoli and spinach and dried legumes such as chickpeas, beans and lentils, worth bearing in mind if you’re looking to improve your diet together. Anyone for hummus?
We all know that smoking isn’t great for your health in general. But if you’re trying for a baby it could be a good time to kick the habit altogether, as there’s a link between smoking and poorer quality sperm. Quitting smoking also has the effect of improving blood flow, which means better sex – all to the good when you’re trying to conceive.
More bad news: alcohol can affect sperm quality, although it’s not clear to what exact degree. As few as five drinks a week could have an impact, according to one research project. So what’s the best course of action? The NHS advises men to have a few alcohol-free days a week as a sensible alternative to going completely teetotal when they’re trying for a baby.
There’s some good news for men who are caffeine fans, though: while some studies appear to show a link between excessive caffeine consumption and male fertility issues, the NHS advises that caffeinated drinks aren’t a factor for men to worry about. Cutting down on caffeine might be part of a general ‘get healthy’ regime but it’s not likely to make or break your chances of conceiving.
There’s some conflicting information out there on whether or not stress affects the health of sperm. While it’s not clear whether stress can decrease sperm count, high stress levels are certainly likely to put a relationship under strain, which could in turn make the process of trying to conceive more fraught.
Medication and drugs
Certain prescribed medications can affect male fertility, as can drugs taken to enhance sporting performance (anabolic steroids), while recreational drugs can also affect sperm quality. Certain herbal remedies can also cause problems.
This one isn’t an old wives’ tale: overheating the testicles can result in a low sperm count. This is a reversible problem, luckily – but going easy on the saunas, hot baths and tight underwear is a wise precaution!
Ongoing contact with environmental toxins or poisons (pesticides, insecticides, lead, radiation, or heavy metals) can put men at risk of infertility. This could be a particular factor for men working as landscapers, building contractors or manufacturing operatives, for instance.
While male infertility can be complex, with a range of contributing factors, these are just a few health factors to be aware of where a few lifestyle changes could help make for healthier sperm.
If you and your partner have been trying for a baby for more than a year, you might want to make an appointment to see your GP or a specialist to see if there are any underlying problems.
Now that you’re clued up on male health and fertility, why not download our Guide to the Best Fertility Apps?