Male Fertility: Influence of Diet and Lifestyle Might Surprise You
Nutrition / Natural Medicine Update No. 69 (October 18, 2017)
with Dr. James Meschino
Research Topic: Male Fertility: Influence of Diet and Lifestyle Might Surprise You
Source: Proceedings of Royal Society B. Biological Sciences Journal – 2017
We all know that the nutritional status of a women’s body prior to conception, during pregnancy and during the lactation period are critical to the growth and development of the fetus and the infant during the first 3-6 months of life. Women who are even marginally deficient in folic acid, vitamin B12 or iron put their offspring at risk for conditions such as spina bifida and other serious neural tube defects, as well as compromised brain development. The same is true for insufficient maternal status of the omega-3 fat, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is required for brain growth and development, especially during the last trimester and the first 3 months of life. It’s interesting to note that human breast milk contains DHA, whereas cow’s milk does not. Studies suggest that higher maternal DHA translates into higher IQ of her offspring.
But what about the nutritional status of the sperm donor- the father. Everyone knows a father is responsible for half of his offspring’s genes. But researchers are learning more about other influences fathers have on their offspring’s health that is not necessarily coded within genes, a concept called epigenetics. These influences include direct environmental effects such as exposure to toxins that can be passed from the father to his offspring through his seminal plasma. Other epigenetic influences include diet, obesity, lack of fitness, which can influence the genes of the offspring making them more prone to conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. For example, a 2002 Swedish population study found a correlation between 9-year-old children who had ample access to food and higher rates of diabetes and heart disease among their grandchildren. Meanwhile, children who faced mild to moderate food shortages at the same age had children and grandchildren with fewer incidences of heart disease and diabetes. The evidence suggests that if the father is overweight or out of shape, then through epigenetic influences it may increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease in their children.
But there is more to the story. This time it involves studies with fruit flies. Why study fruit flies you ask? Fruit flies share 60 percent of our human genes and more than 75 percent of our disease-related genes. Quite amazing really. So, in this very cool experiment, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Biological Sciences in 2017, researchers showed that by manipulating the diet of male fruit flies, the health and survival of their offspring were significantly affected. More specifically, male fruit flies fed a diet high in sugary carbohydrates, with little protein (or quality protein), were more likely to have offspring that had compromised health status or had lower rates of survival, especially in the second round of mating. The female fruit flies all consumed a healthy, high quality to diet, as a control feature of the study. The only variable was the diet of the male fruit flies. So, the fruit fly study adds support to what we are seeing in human observational studies. Men eating a healthier diet and avoiding obesity tend to have children who are less prone to certain ailments.
But the story is more intriguing than that. Modern textbooks of Human Nutrition, include studies showing that various supplements can improve sperm quality and sperm motility in men. This is important for couples who are trying to conceive, where the male sperm appears to lack potency. Sometimes these supplements can help. Which ones in particular?
Here is the list of what studies show so far:
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C appears to play an important role in protecting the sperm’s genetic material (DNA) from damage and mutations. Low sperm counts are common in smokers, and Vitamin C supplementation has been shown to improve sperm quality and integrity in smokers in a dose-dependent fashion (using 0, 200 or 1,000 mg. per day). In infertile men who were non-smokers, Vitamin C supplementation has been shown to increase sperm counts by 140 percent within one week of taking 1,000 mg per day. Supplementation using 200-1,000 mg per day has also been shown to reduce sperm agglutination (agglutination increases the likelihood of infertility).
- Vitamin B12 – In men with a low sperm count (<20 million per ml or a motility rate of less than 50 percent), two studies have demonstrated improvement (achieved a total count of 100,000 million per ml) with daily doses of 1,000 mcg and 6,000 mcg of Vitamin B12 daily, taken orally.
- Vitamin E – Improved Sperm Quality and Male Fertility (600-800 IU) – by decreasing free radical damage to sperm cells
- L-Carnitine- shown to increase sperm motility and improve infertility (1,000 mg per day)
Okay, that’s my report for this week. Studies continue to show that male fertility and the health of future offspring are related to the nutritional status of the father, not just the mother. So, I suggest you keep this in mind, look after yourself, and give your future generation the best chance for a healthy, and vital life.
I’ve included a link to the research below.
1. Michal Polak, Leigh W. Simmons, Joshua B. Benoit, Kari Ruohonen, Stephen J. Simpson, Samantha M. Solon-Biet. Nutritional geometry of paternal effects on embryo mortality. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2017; 284 (1864) http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/284/1864/20171492
2. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease – 10th edition (2006). Editors: Shils M E, Shike M et al. Lippincott Wilkins & Wilkins.
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