‘Tis the season for making babies — at least judging from the fact that there are more babies born in August than any other month. While this may be cold comfort for couples with fertility issues, heartening new research suggests that better nutrition (you know, more fruit and vegetables, less junk food) can significantly improve a man’s sperm quality, thus enhancing odds of conception.
Two studies published in Fertility and Sterility point to diet’s profound impact on male potency. Researchers compared the diets of 30 men with poor sperm quality with an equal number of men with normal sperm quality. Turns out the former ate more meat and full-fat dairy — while the latter ate more vegetables and lean protein. One factor may be hormones given to commercial livestock — another may be the lack of nourishing and protective nutrients in a junk-food diet. In fact, the second study linked increased intakes of fiber, folate, vitamin C and lycopene with higher quality sperm. Antioxidant vitamins in particular may help shield sperm from free-radical damage, improving sperm volume and movement.Preliminary research has underscored the lycopene-sperm quality connection, which would recommend adding watermelon and tomatoes to the diet.
Men aren’t the only ones whose diets impact their reproductive status (and vice versa). Nearly 80% of women on the pill have low levels of vitamin B6 while deficiency is virtually nonexistent in the female population at large (that’s why we recommend women on birth control eat more bananas, potatoes, wild salmon, and other B6 sources). Diets laden with fat and sweets lead to obesity — which make it far more likely oral contraceptives will fail. The same maternal diet continued during the resulting pregnancy prompts genetic fetal changes that program the offspring to be fat. On the positive side, the higher a woman’s intake of fruit and vegetables before conception, the lower her chances of giving birth to a baby with leukemia, says one study.
Women who eat the most veggies are also 50% less likely to contract STDs that could increase their risk of cervical cancer and infertility later in life.
Bonus: While full-fat dairy may hamper male fertility, it may increase a woman’s odds of multiple births. Again, scientists posit that bovine hormones may play a role.
Published December 1, 2009