Nearly 1 in 6 couples will face fertility problems in their lifetime, and 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Studies show that nearly 40% of all infertility in couples is due to male factors, with nearly 25% of couples having both male and female infertility factors. Even if IVF or other more invasive fertility treatments aren’t required, sperm factors play a large role in a couple’s ability to conceive. Here are six ways that men can make sure their sperm are in the best shape possible.

Use Food As Medicine

The fertility diet is often talked about for women, but it’s equally as important for men. Sperm is produced and then matures over the course of several months, so just changing a man’s diet a few weeks before trying to conceive won’t get the job done. Just as a woman needs to prepare her body for months in advance to ensure the best quality eggs, men need to prepare in advance to have high quality sperm. Sperm production directly reflects the body’s environment, so in the presence of poor nutrition and other detrimental lifestyle habits, sperm can be improperly formed, may not fully mature, may have low motility or simply be low in count.

Sperm superfoods are rich in the nutrients that semen is comprised of. Without high quality seminal fluid, sperm will suffer and perhaps prematurely die before making it past the cervix where fertilization takes place. The best foods that men should eat regularly while trying to build sperm quality include pomegranates, nuts, seeds, and green veggies.

Pomegranates: This fruit is rich in antioxidants that help to protect sperm from DNA and cellular damage. It also encourages sperm health and mobility, which means it makes them swim faster and more efficiently, while also increasing sperm count. Pomegranates can be eaten raw or juiced for a more concentrated effect.

Nuts & Seeds: Rich in zinc, which is a large component of seminal fluid, nuts and seeds can directly impact a man’s fertility. Cashews, pine nuts, and Brazil nuts contain higher concentrations of zinc, but all nuts and seeds are a beneficial part of a man’s fertility diet. Just make sure they’re unsalted and not cooked in oils.

Green Veggies: Folate (B9) is an important vitamin for both male and female fertility. Since at least 40% of the population carry genetic mutations that make it harder for the body to metabolize folate, it’s important to include plenty of this nutrient in the diet. Without enough folate, sperm can be defective and pass on damaged genetic material, making it harder to conceive or contributing to chromosome abnormalities. Green veggies are very high in folate, and should be eaten raw or lightly steamed to protect the vitamin. Overcooking can destroy vitamin content.

Don’t Overload Your Liver

The liver is arguably the most important organ in the body since it processes and expels every toxin that we take in. In an environment overburdened with toxic sources, it’s got a full time job. Toxins can impair sperm production and reduce sperm quality by causing inflammation in the body. To best support the liver, eat a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts) and drink some organic green tea every day. These are filled with nutrients that help the liver escort toxins from the body, and contribute to proper hormonal balance which is supportive of reproductive health.

Get Moving

We all know that exercise is good for us, but it directly contributes to male fertility by boosting the body’s ability to more efficiently produce sperm. Men who exercise regularly have been found to have nearly 50% more sperm than men who don’t. It also helps to control weight which benefits fertility. Obesity can reduce sperm counts, increase inflammation, and disrupt hormone production, so regular exercise helps to stave off those side effects. Ideally, men will get one hour of exercise daily, or at least 5 days per week.

Avoid Hormone Disruptors

Plastics are seemingly everywhere in our society, but not everyone knows that they can have a detrimental effect on both male and female fertility. Phthalates in plastics, as well as BPA and other chemicals that are found in everyday life, can mess with hormone levels and make it harder to get pregnant. Many of these chemicals have an estrogenic effect in the body, meaning that the body reads them as sources of estrogen. This can cause other hormones, like testosterone, to not be produced in the proper quantities and can reduce a man’s fertility. Avoid plastic bottles, plastic containers, and plastic wraps, as well as receipts (a source of BPA), and canned foods to reduce encounters with hormone disruptors. Supporting the liver will also help the body efficiently remove these toxins.

Selectively Supplement

While diet should always be paramount—since no amount of supplements can undo poor nutrition—men should consider boosting intake with high quality nutrients that have been shown to increase fertility. These can include amino acids (l-arginine, l-carnitine), enzymes (protease), vitamins (B12, folate, E), minerals (zinc, magnesium), or herbs (turmeric, green tea, rosemary). The benefits are wide-ranging and can include boosting fertility by increasing components found in seminal fluid, reducing inflammation, improving digestion, optimizing clotting factors, and supporting detox pathways. As always, no supplements should be taken without approval from a qualified doctor or nutritionist.

Talk About Your Feelings

As unmanly as that sounds, it’s important to use every outlet possible to reduce stress levels since tension, anxiety, and stress have been shown to directly impact quality and quantity of sperm in negative ways. Seeing a counselor, attending a support group, or even just being open with your spouse about sources of stress can all help to promote contentment and total mind/body health.

About This Blogger: Aimee McNew

aimee-photoAimee McNew, MNT is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, fertility, and autoimmune disorders. She has been in private practice since 2010 and runs a website and blog devoted to women’s health and wellness. Aimee specialized in women’s health and fertility after discovering she had multiple autoimmune and genetic disorders, some of which have contributed to her multiple pregnancy losses. In her free time, she likes creating recipes, cuddling her Boston Terrier, and going on sushi dates with her husband.