Becoming pregnant and having a healthy baby is for many couples the most important time of their life. Preconception care can have a positive influence on your health and the health of your child. It explores diet, health, lifestyle and environmental issues that may be affecting your chances of conceiving a healthy baby.
Evidence suggests that the way we were nourished and grew in our mother’s womb can have an impact on our health as an adult. It takes up to 3 ½ months for sperm to generate and eggs to mature. During this time the sperm and eggs are highly susceptible to DNA damage. Sperm, in particular, are highly vulnerable to damage.
Often, we forget that infertility can be caused by both women and men. In Australia infertility due to male factor only accounts for 20%, and 30% of infertility is due to combine male and female factor. Male factor contributes to around half of all cases of infertility.
Damage to the sperm can be caused by the following:
- Age of the male partner
- Metabolic disorders – weight, blood glucose, exercise,
- Excessive alcohol or caffeine intake
- Recreational and some prescription drugs
- Chemical and radiation exposure
- Stress and sleep quality and quantity
After the age of 40 there are a greater number of DNA abnormalities that occur in sperm.
Metabolic disorders such as weight, blood glucose and exercise are known to effect sperm health. Overweight men are 3 times more likely to exhibit a reduction in semen quality – decrease in sperm concentration and motility as well as an increase in DNA damage. There is also a relationship between obesity and erectile dysfunction, due to hormone balance issues. Exercising for around 60 minutes per day is recommended. A combination of cardio, weight bearing and stretching is ideal.
Alcohol, cigarette smoke, recreational and prescription drugs and caffeine are linked to damaged DNA in sperm and eggs, reduced fertility and increased risk of miscarriage.
Alcohol in males reduces testosterone levels, decreases sperm count, increases abnormal sperm and lowers the proportion of motile sperm.
Smoking damages sperm DNA and increases the chances of miscarriage. The use of recreational drugs and some prescription drugs can decrease sperm quantity and increase the number of abnormal sperm and even halt sperm production.
Caffeine is linked to damaged DNA in sperm and increased risk of miscarriage and is found in coffee, black and green tea, chocolate and caffeinated soft drinks.
We are exposed to many environmental agents that are hazardous to reproduction. Research shows that male reproductive function is known to be highly sensitive to many chemicals and physical agents that are present in both occupational activities and in the general environment.
These include pesticides, solvents,
chemicals, heat, plastics. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s)from the environment interact with our endocrine system and mimic our hormones interfering with their biosynthesis, metabolism and normal functions. Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), dioxin, and some pesticides are representative of EDCs. Endocrine disruptors in your home include:
- Plastics, cookware
- Detergents, cleaning products
- Cosmetics, personal care products
- Air fresheners
- Flame retardants
- Dry cleaning solvents
Heat stress is important to avoid, especially for sperm health. The testicles need to be able to move freely to regulate a healthy temperature for sperm development. Avoid long distance bicycle and motorbike rides, long distance driving, saunas/spas and electric blankets. Avoid tight fitting underwear, go for cotton or silk boxers, and avoid synthetic fabrics.
Stress affects all aspects of fertility. Stress from jobs, life events and social strain have been shown to impact fertility for women and men. Cortisol (the main stress hormone) inhibits the release of hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. For men stress and depression are thought to affect testosterone and luteinizing hormone levels thus reducing spermatogenesis and sperm parameters. Stress has a huge impact on sperm parameters in particular motility and morphology. This is due in part to the impact of cortisol on hormone levels. So, managing your stress levels is vital for healthy hormones.
Research shows that when a male follows a healthy diet in the preconception period it improves all semen parameters and time to conception. A healthy diet is one that is:
- high in vegetables and therefore antioxidants,
- raw nuts and seeds,
- organic eggs,
- organic dairy,
- grass fed meats, organic chicken,
- small, oily cold-water fish,
- good fats such olive oil, coconut oil, avocado
- legumes and pulses,
- wholegrains and
- low levels of processed foods and sugars
- plenty of water and herbal teas
If you have been experiencing issues with infertility, other than following the above suggestions, then organising some testing would be the next step. Several medical tests are important prior to conceiving, these include testing for certain infections, thyroid, immune issues and nutritional deficiencies that can affect fertility. It might also include screening for genito-urinary infections as well as blood tests and urine screens. If you are to get a semen analysis done, then getting one through a specialised andrology clinic is very important to ensure quality and meaningful
results. They will test for the major sperm parameters such as semen volume, sperm concentration, motility, morphology, DNA fragmentation and anti-sperm antibodies.
Nicole Haak is an experienced Melbourne Naturopath whose gentle approach and warm nature enable her to be an empathetic and supportive practitioner who takes a genuine interest in her clients’ needs. She has a deep passion for what she does. This is evident by her holistic approach to helping her patients find solutions to their health concerns and improve their quality of life.