The secret life of sperm

Taking sperm to the peak of good health - Naturopath Tracy Wolf has the inside word on what to eat and how to live.

How does diet affect the health of sperm?
In every way! Nutrition plays a major role in the production of healthy energetic sperm as well as the normal functioning of the male apparatus (penis and testes). Men require hormones for normal function of their reproductive organs, which are dependant on many essential nutrients.

What foods can men eat for healthy sperm?
High zinc foods such as oysters (this is rumoured to be why Casanova was such a fabulous lover. He was said to consume three dozen oysters a day), sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, tahini and ginger.

Selenium-rich food is important, too. Selenium is a potent antioxidant. Its highest concentration (among the reproductive organs) is in the testes. Selenium protects DNA and the nervous system. It also preserves cells. 40 per cent of sperm damage is due to collision with molecular fragments, called 'free radicals'. By mopping up and neutralising free radicals, a man can increase the quality of his sperm.

Men should also stock up on B-group vitamins. These assist with nervous system function, and are beneficial at times of increased physical and mental demand. They're also essential for the conversion of carbohydrates and fats to energy. Vitamin B6 modulates the effects of hormones, including male sex hormones, and vitamin B2 assists in the production and regulation of hormones.

What other lifestyle factors should men consider for healthy sperm?
Firstly, diet. A good 'whole foods' naturopathic diet should start with a decrease in tea, coffee and smoking. All these deprive the body of vitamin C, so it's more difficult to detoxify the body. Also, cigarette smoking, alcohol, caffeine and junk food have all been associated with prostate and fertility problems. Avoid these and try to eat a diet rich in whole unprocessed foods (whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts & seeds).

Reduce alcohol, especially beer. Beer consumption causes an increase in the production of the hormone prolactin. Eat more fruit and vegetables rich in phytonutrients. Eat tomatoes: these are rich in lycopene, a chemical component released from cooked tomatoes or tomatoes in olive oil. Consumption of lycopene has been linked to a decrease in prostate problems. Choose fish instead of red meat especially cold-water fish which are rich in omega - 3 fatty acids. Good examples are tuna, salmon, mackerel and anchovies.

Raw pumpkin seeds or pepitas are a valuable addition to your diet as they are rich in zinc and essential fatty acids which are necessary for a healthy sperm and reproductive organs. One selenium-rich food is Brazil nuts. I often recommend ground up sunflower seeds and tahini (ground sesame seeds) instead of peanut butter on toast.

How does the health of sperm differ with age?
Men are lucky in that they can procreate throughout their lives. The older the person is, the higher the chance of free radical damage and/or nutrient deficiencies though - both of which can affect the health of the sperm. These occur due to age, poor diet and bad living habits, such as stress, lack of sleep, smoking, too little exercise, too much exercise, etc.

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Remember every time a man/boy ejaculates, he looses 5mg of zinc. I always check every male I see in clinic for a zinc deficiency, as it's a likely deficiency to occur.

What are the optimum conditions for conception?
The best time has to be when the women is ovulating and when the male has been eating well, relaxing and looking after his general health for at least three months prior to conception. A fresh batch of sperm takes three months to develop, so good living needs to take place at least a month prior to conception for the best outcome - a full-term healthy baby. Sometimes a detox is recommended prior to trying to conceive if there have been conception problems or medically diagnosed 'faulty swimmers'.

If you are consciously trying to conceive, the day before ovulation is the best time to have intercourse. This means the sperm will be fresh, energetic, enthusiastic and strong. They will be literally waiting for the egg to be released. The strongest swimmers will be there on the front line and these are the ones we want to fertilise the egg. A leading expert on natural fertility Francesca Naish taught me that preceding this, the male should spend several days building the sperm count. This means three to five days of not ejaculating, which can create a high count of healthy sperm.

Sperm friendly foods:

  • oats, rye, wheat, buckwheat,
  • egg yolks
  • fish, oysters, sardines, shrimp, anchovies, haddock, tuna
  • bananas, bilberry
  • ginger, parsley
  • butter beans, green peas, black beans
  • liver, chicken
  • brazil nuts, coconuts, almonds, cashew nuts, chestnuts, hazel nuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachio nuts, walnuts, almonds
  • pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
  • fennel, garlic, turnip, potato, carrot


Foods to avoid:

  • white flour or sugar
  • green potatoes
  • fried foods
  • excess salt, use iodised salt in small amounts
  • more than one cup of coffee a day
  • known allergen foods
  • foods which contain artificial additives
  • foods which has been reheated or left standing

Tips to improve sperm count
Sometimes just few simple lifestyle changes can tip the balance between sub fertility and fertility.

  • Avoid hot baths and saunas
  • Wear loose, cotton boxer shorts
  • Regularly splash the testicles with cold water
  • Reduce alcohol intake - preferably to zilch. 40 per cent of male sub-fertility is linked with drinking four units of alcohol per day.
  • Reduce caffeine intake to no more than two drinks of coffee/tea/cola a day
  • Stop smoking to reduce the amount of free radicals generated
  • Lose any excess weight which tends to cause testosterone/oestrogen imbalances
  • Reduce stress levels by learning relaxation techniques

Nutrients known to improve male fertility

  • Vitamin C with bioflavins
  • Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols)
  • Betacarotene (mixed carotenoids)
  • Selenium
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin B12
  • Arginine, histidine, carnitine

Blackmores Men's Performance Multi helps provide an optimum intake of vitamins, minerals and herbs specifically beneficial for men's health. It helps men perform at their peak, both mentally and physically.

The formula contains:

  • Zinc that plays an essential role in male reproductive health and in the production of healthy sperm
  • Tribulus that has been traditionally used to assist male sexual performance, to improve male stamina and relieve stress and anxiety
  • Antioxidants that may help protect cells from free radical damage induced by exercise

For more the latest information and advice on optimum health and nutrition for pregnancy, plus interactive tools and a support network, visit the Blackmores Pregnancy Companion website www.blackmores.com.au/pregnancy. You can also contact the free Blackmores naturopathic health advisory service on 1800 803 760.

Blackmores keep you informed of natural and safe ways to manage symptoms and conditions that may be experienced while pregnant and breastfeeding.

Visit the Essential Baby Forums to chat about conception.