Whether you’re actively trying to get pregnant or are just looking ahead to the future, you may want to start thinking about the quality of what you’re putting into your body. In this case, we’re not talking about eating organic foods or switching to clean beauty products — we’re talking about some good old-fashioned sperm. If your plans to eventually get pregnant involve having one (or more) of your eggs fertilized by a male partner (possibly the least-sexy way to talk about sex ever), you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to improve your chances of getting knocked up.
When it comes to sperm quality, there are a lot of myths out there about what he should or shouldn’t eat, supplements to take, and certain activities to avoid. But what is truth and what is fiction? Here’s what you need to know.
Does food affect sperm quality?
What he eats can and does have an impact on his sperm quality and quantity. According to Dr. Edwin McDonald at the University of Chicago Medical Center, some foods — like processed meats, trans fats, soy products, pesticides, and high-fat dairy products — are not doing his sperm any favors. On the other hand, foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, and walnuts can all improve the quality of his sperm.
According to Dr. Yetunde Ibrahim, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at CCRM Dallas-Fort Worth, there are several supplements and antioxidants that have been suggested to help improve sperm quality. But the most studied antioxidant that has been shown to help improve sperm motility is Coenzyme Q10. “It is thought to function by reducing free radicals that can cause DNA damage in sperm,” Ibrahim tells Scary Mommy.
Drug and alcohol use
Bad news, party animals and juice heads: drug and alcohol use isn’t great for sperm. As the Mayo Clinic points out, anabolic steroids — which are commonly taken to stimulate muscle growth — can actually cause the testicles to shrink, harming sperm production. In addition, using marijuana and/or cocaine could reduce his sperm count and quality. Even alcohol can decrease testosterone levels and result in fewer sperm being produced.
Cell phones and laptops
It seems like every few years, a new study comes out claiming that carrying cell phones either reduces sperm count or compromises its quality…or that there is no correlation whatsoever. The same is the case for laptops.So what’s the truth? According to Ibrahim, “a few small human studies have suggested some decrease in sperm parameters from multiple exposure to cell phones. However, in the absence of large studies, it is hard to conclude that sperm quality is significantly decreased with having a cell phone in your pocket or sitting with a laptop on one’s lap.”
What we do know is that it comes down to temperature: anything that raises testicular temperature by more than three degrees is bad for sperm quality, she explains. But also keep in mind that moderate use of everyday technology like phones and laptops is usually fine — in order for there to be any major impact on sperm quality, the guy would need to spend a LOT of time with a laptop directly on his scrotum (thought everyone is into different things…).
Does a man’s age impact sperm count?
Women are constantly reminded of our ticking biological clocks and that men can basically be one-foot-in-the-grave and still be able to make babies. But is that really true? And does sperm quality decrease with age? “With regards [to] age, there is some data that describe decreased sperm counts with advanced paternal age,” Ibrahim explains. “However, most significant with increasing paternal age is an increased risk of autism and some neuropsychiatric disorders.”
At this point we probably shouldn’t have to tell you that smoking is bad for sperm quality and count and basically everything else, but it’s worth repeating. If you’re trying to get pregnant and a male partner is smoking, mentioning how the habit can affect his little swimmers may be just the kick in the balls he needs to stop.
Calm the fuck down
Like smoking, we all know that stress is bad for us — though unlike smoking, stress does play an important biological role in managing our fight or flight response. Either way, it’s best to cut down on stress, too. According to the Mayo Clinic, serious or prolonged emotional stress — which yes, includes stressing about fertility and sperm quality — might disrupt the hormones needed to produce sperm.
It’s not just what he puts in his body that counts — sperm quality can also be affected by the environment. Factors like industrial chemicals (like extended exposure to benzenes, toluene, xylene, herbicides, pesticides, organic solvents, painting materials and lead), heavy metal exposure and radiation or X-rays could all result in lower sperm count or quality, according to the Mayo Clinic. So if he happens to have a job where he’s constantly being exposed to these harmful substances, it may be time to think about a career change.