Having sex every other day may be optimum, says Dr Raghuveer Karne.
Prolonged abstinence can increase the number of dead sperm.
Male infertility is a very common condition across the world.
According to a 2019 report by the World Health Organisation, in approximately 50% infertility cases in the world, the reason is male infertility.
According to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, over 12 million-18 million couples in India are diagnosed with infertility or reproductive issues every year. The report states how the sperm count of a normal Indian adult has come down by 1/3rd in the last 30 years.
While male infertility can be attributed to multiple reasons, let's try and understand how we can tweak our lifestyle to improve semen parameters.
1. Change your diet
Food sources of nutrients which support sperm quality
- Zinc: Oysters, cashew nuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, oats, chickpeas, kidney beans, peas, shiitake mushrooms
- Selenium: Brazil nuts, tuna, salmon, white fish, shellfish, chicken, eggs, sunflower seeds
- Iron: Oysters, tofu, oats, pumpkin seeds, lentils, beans, chickpeas
- Copper: Oysters, kale, shiitake mushroom, sesame seeds, chickpeas, cashew nuts, soybeans or tofu, spinach
- Vitamin C: Red and yellow peppers, guava, papaya, kiwi, oranges, strawberries, pineapple, broccoli, red cabbage
- Vitamin E: Almonds, almond butter, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, peanut butter, egg, avocado, spinach, chard
- Omega-3: Anchovies, sardines, salmon, mackerel, trout, halibut
- Folic Acid: Edamame beans, spinach, artichoke, asparagus, lentils, beans, chickpeas, fortified cereals
- Vitamin D: Sunshine, salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, trout, fortified dairy, fortified bread, eggs
Dietary patterns associated with improved sperm quality and quantity
Fruits and vegetables
Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are particularly high in antioxidant vitamins including vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene and a wide range of polyphenols.
Antioxidants neutralise reactive oxygen species (ROS) and thus may prevent damage to sperm from high levels of oxidative stress which may cause reduced concentration, motility, morphology and higher levels of DNA fragmentation.
Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fibre. High fibre diets are associated with reduction in.
Fibre also binds to oestrogen in the digestive tract, which may support a healthy testosterone/oestrogen ratio necessary for spermatogenesis.
Brassica vegetables in particular (cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choi) are high in indole-3-carbinol, a phytochemical that may inhibit aromatase.
Fish is very low in saturated fat which may contribute to a reduction in weight and risk factors associated with the metabolic syndrome.
A diet high in fish is also by default likely to be lower in meat so there is a reduction in overall saturated fat intake.
Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines and anchovies, are an excellent source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats
Meat, processed meats and saturated fats
Red meat is high in saturated fat and omega-6 arachidonic acid.
A dose-response association between increased intake of saturated fat and a lower total sperm count and sperm concentration has been observed.
A balanced diet that includes more fish and less meat will have greater overall anti-inflammatory potential.
It may be that soy containing additives have oestrogenic activity and there may be other unknown effects of artificial preservatives, colourings or flavourings.
Pulses or legumes such as beans, lentils and peas are high fibre, low fat foods.
Again, by default, a diet higher in pulses and fish is likely to be low in meat, but also may be high in vegetables due to their incorporation into vegetable-based meals.
Trans fats are known to be pro-inflammatory and may increase markers of oxidation.
Trans fats in young men caused a marked decrease in sperm concentration.
Trans fats are also found in foods high in saturated fat, omega-6 oils and sugar such as confectionary, pastries, biscuits, cakes and processed foods.
High sugar foods and sugar sweetened beverages
High sugar diets contribute to weight gain, obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation and other hallmarks of the metabolic syndrome.
Sugar sweetened beverages (SSB) in particular have been highlighted as a source of additional calories that has largely been blamed for the over-consumption of sugar by the consumer.
2. Improve your sleep schedule
It is possible that men with a high degree of sleep disturbance will have lower sperm count.
Shift work has been associated with reduced semen parameters and fertility, in particular where associated with disordered sleep.
3. Invest in exercise and hobbies
Exercise is expected to be beneficial and positive correlations with exercise and sperm count with the notable exception of bicycling.
Cycling has been identified as a particular risk due to increased testicular heat or friction which may cause DNA fragmentation.
It can also increase seminal pro-inflammatory cytokines and a reduction in sperm parameters.
Exercise should be encouraged as part of a healthy lifestyle and to promote weight reduction, but bicycling either as a leisure or competitive activity should be avoided.
4. Lose weight
Losing weight if you’re overweight is one of the single-most effective things you can do to increase sperm count.
Studies have shown that weight loss can significantly increase semen volume, concentration, and mobility, as well as the overall health of sperm.
The changes in sperm count have been found to be most significant in men who have a higher body mass index, so if you have a large amount of weight to lose, even losing a small amount of weight may help.
5. Control consumption of mobiles and laptops
Activities that cause an increase in scrotal heat should also be avoided due to the negative effect on sperm quality, local inflammation and increased DNA fragmentation.
This might include saunas, hot baths, heated car seats or using a laptop on the lap.
Carrying a mobile phone in the pocket may reduce motility and viability of sperm and should also be avoided where possible.
6. Avoid substance abuse
Low sperm counts and unhealthy sperm have been linked to people with a history of:
- Heavy drinking
- Tobacco use of any kind
- Illegal drug use, including cocaine and anabolic steroids
If you use any of these substances and are having trouble quitting, talk to your doctor. They can recommend programs to help manage and treat addiction.
7. Check your environment
Consider changing your clothes and showering as soon as possible if you've been exposed to:
- Paint strippers
- Non-water based glues or paints
Those toxins may affect sperm count. If you’re exposed to any of these things because of a hobby, consider putting your hobby on hold until after you've successfully conceived.
Jobs that expose you to excess heat or radiation, or even extreme sedentary work can also affect sperm count.
8. Wear loose, cotton boxers
Keeping your sperm at an adequate temperature and allowing lots of air flow to the scrotum can help cultivate the right environment for healthy sperm.
If you don't feel comfortable wearing boxers, choose cotton briefs instead of synthetic ones. That will still help control air flow and temperature.
9. Manage stress
Erratic schedules, busy lifestyle or underlying problems are all contributors to stress and if not treated in time, the issues can become chronic.
When the body is under stress, hormone production goes for a toss too.
Cortisol and adrenaline, the body's two fighters in an emergency get disturbed too and when they are not controlled in time, they can wreak havoc.
Hence, proper stress management is crucial. Meditation, yoga, aromatherapy or simply just working out need to be brought into use to promote hormonal balance.
10 Have regular intercourse
Having regular sexual intercourse every other day may be optimum. Prolonged abstinence can increase the number of dead sperms.
Dr Raghuveer Karne is an andrologist at AndroLife, a male fertility care clinic.