Here’s what to know about a healthy diet for fertility.
If you’ve been keeping up with the news recently, you may have noticed there’s a bit of a crisis with the birds and the bees. Men’s sperm, it seems, has been swimming upstream.
In the past 40 years, sperm counts among men have dropped nearly 52 percent according to research. Health experts are pointing fingers at the pollution, smoking, and Western-style diets found in industrialized countries.
However, a new study has revealed that eating nuts could provide men with a much-needed fertility boost.
Researchers at Rovira i Virgili University in Spain teamed up with 119 men between the ages of 18 and 35 and divided them into two groups. The first group made no changes to how they ate and stuck to their normal Western-style diet. The second group added 60 grams of nuts — which is about two handfuls — to their diet.
The researchers collected blood and sperm samples from the men before and after the 14-week study to measure the impact nut consumption has on sperm health.
The group that ate walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts saw a 16 percent increase in sperm count along with notable improvements in sperm vitality, motility, and morphology (shape and size). Additionally, these men had less fragmented sperm DNA. In other words, their sperm was better equipped to make the long swim north.
The findings were presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting in Barcelona early July.
Almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts are packed with nutrients that have been previously linked to healthier sperm — such as omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and antioxidants like vitamin E, zinc, and selenium.
These nutrients are known to protect sperm from free-radical damage and maintain the structural integrity of sperm. Healthy sperm have oval heads and long tails, which allow them to reach and fertilize an egg.
These sperm-friendly nutrients also assist in hormone regulation, which is essential for the development of strong, healthy sperm.
This isn’t the first study to suggest that a healthy diet can have a profound impact on fertility and conception.
One study indicated that men who consumed antioxidant-rich foods — such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and mangos — have healthier sperm. Another suggested that a diet full of omega-3 fatty acids — which are found in certain fish and veggies — improves sperm parameters.
“Eating more legumes, nuts, seafood, and chicken instead of red and processed meats has been linked to enhanced fertility in men,” Lauren Manaker, a registered dietitian and founder of the virtual counseling service Nutrition Now, told Healthline.
“Men should focus on eating a well-balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables (organic if that is an option), and low in trans fats and processed food. Sodas should be avoided, as soda is linked to poor fertility,” Manaker added.
If you’re looking to boost fertility, Manaker recommends trying out the Mediterranean or Dutch diet. Both include plenty of vegetables, fruit, seafood, poultry, whole grains, legumes, and monounsaturated fats — all of which can help boost semen quality and fertility.
“As a good rule of thumb, what’s good for your heart is good for your sperm,” Greg J. Sommer, co-founder of the male fertility app Trak, mentioned.
He recommends that men keep their weight in check by staying physically active and steering clear of alcohol and cigarettes. In addition, it’s important to get a good night’s sleep every night as stress and sleep deprivation have been linked to infertility.
Lastly, men should avoid exposing the groin to excessive heat.
“The testicles need to stay cooler than the rest of the body to make sperm, so avoiding hot tubs, saunas, and even tight bicycle [shorts] is important,” Sommer advised.
Well, it can’t hurt, but some experts are hesitant about recommending nuts as a solution for infertility issues just yet.
Because the study’s sample size was small, limited to healthy, fertile men, and didn’t include men who have infertility issues or abnormal sperm, the researchers warn that the results can’t be applied to all men.
While more research is needed to better understand how diet can impact semen quality in a larger population, this study adds to the growing pile of evidence that what we eat can have a monumental impact on our overall health and our ability to conceive.
If you’re looking to start a family, Sommer recommends you take stock of your overall health and lifestyle and start making smarter choices. The body is quite connected, and the healthier your body is, the healthier your sperm and hormone levels will be.
“Taking a few months to make meaningful improvements in your health is not only going to help you become a dad,” he said, “but it’s also going to make you a healthier, happier, and more energetic man in the long run. All qualities that you are going to need once those kids arrive.”