Diet, Exercise and Lifestyle 101
There is nothing “en fuego” about inflammation!
Anything that throws off our psychological or physical equilibrium is considered a stress and induces an immune response called inflammation. When inflammation is continuous and chronic it can actually damage body tissues — including sperm.
Part of the inflammatory response includes white blood cells which carry little “bombs” called oxygen radicals that are great for killing bacteria, but also great at killing sperm. Adopting certain dietary, exercise and stress reduction activities can help diffuse these “bombs.”
You can lower inflammation and improve sperm quality by eating a diet that includes foods with high anti-oxidant content, good fats and high fiber. Try to eat lots of brightly-colored fruits (cherries, berries), vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage), whole grains (oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat bread), plant-based proteins (beans, nuts, avocados, olive oil), fatty fish high in Omega-3 (salmon, tuna, sardines), and fresh herbs and spices.
Foods high in saturated and trans fat, fried in vegetable oil, processed or those that cause blood sugar spikes all increase inflammation. Some common foods to avoid include french fries, high-fat meats and processed meat like hot dogs, sugary snacks like candy and pastries, soda and energy drinks, whole-fat dairy products, coffee creamers and margarine.
The goal is to lower inflammatory foods and increase anti-inflammatory foods. These dietary guidelines can also help weight loss which also lowers inflammation.
Vitamins supplementation is just that – a supplement to a well-balanced diet. Anti-oxidants are molecules that neutralize oxygen radicals preventing them from doing harm. Vitamins C and E, Co-Q10, beta-carotene, zinc and selenium are among the most powerful antioxidants.
Taking a daily supplement for at least 8-12 weeks before conception helps to optimize sperm quality.
Alcohol provides some anti-oxidant and health benefits in moderation but in excess can cause inflammation. The term “moderation” is probably different for each person. We know that the effect of drinking excess alcohol can be transmitted genetically and possibly epigenetically to children through sperm, leading to abnormal physical features and cognitive deficiencies as seen in fetal alcohol syndrome. We may be able to better define a “safe” level of alcohol intake once we learn more about these phenomena. Until such time, it’s best to limit alcohol intake for the 3-6 months prior to conception to optimize sperm development.
Stimulants; Caffeine and Cigarettes
Like alcohol, caffeine in moderation may help by kick-starting your day and giving you more energy. In excess it becomes inflammatory and may disrupt your sleep, especially if you add sugar or down too many energy drinks.
Cigarettes – have been scientifically shown to diminish sperm quality and delay the time to conception. Nothing good here for a future father.
Moderate exercise at least three times a week provides tremendous benefits for fertility. It decreases inflammation, helps weight loss, lowers insulin and improves blood sugar levels, and helps you sleep. One study demonstrated that a 12 week program of High Intensity Interval Training actually improved the epigenetic profile of sperm. Exercise also leads to an increase in testosterone, a hormone critical for sperm production, and improved sexual function.
Stress occurs when your normal equilibrium is thrown off. Some men function well with incredible stress levels – because this is their equilibrium and their body knows how to compensate. Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation which over time becomes damaging to sperm. The use of coffee, cigarettes and energy drinks to combat stress only worsen inflammation and diminish sperm health. Better to break the cycle of inflammation by introducing anti-inflammatory activities that are also enjoyable and achievable. Exercise, yoga, acupuncture, time off work or just 10-15 minute mindful sessions during the day may help break the cycle of inflammation.
Our busy, stressful lives often depend on laptops and cell phones, but laptops aren’t for your lap, neither are cell phones. Heat is the enemy of sperm, that is why your scrotum hangs away from your body – so it can keep your testicles lower than body temperature. When you put your laptop on your lap it heats up the one part of your body needed for sperm production; also watch out for cell phones since Wi-Fi radiation may also be harmful. Same idea for hot tubs and saunas – great stress relievers, but limit your time as they may affect sperm if done too frequently or too long.
Sleep also helps to reduce the effects of stress. It allows the resumption of hormone rhythms, lets the mind and body reset and most importantly improves fertility.