The male diet and fertility

sperm1-300x225I treat many women for reproductive health and fertility here at Marinwood Community Acupuncture. Often we are starting from a point where there is difficulty achieving pregnancy which can involve a long list of questions about the woman’s health, diet, and lifestyle. The majority of the women that I work with are educated and involved in their diet, clear about both their goal of achieving pregnancy, as well as, what they are and are not willing to sacrifice to achieve those goals. Women are open to talking about ways they may be able to improve their chances of conception and also confident enough to share what they have already learned through their own studies or experiences with medical fertility specialist. These patients understand that through the entire process, from conception to delivery, what they put into their bodies and how they live their daily lives with effect all stages of the journey.

So, this often brings me to the question of why is it always just the women I am meeting? Why has society conditioned us to place the great emphasis and responsibility of getting pregnant on only one half of the partnership. I am lucky enough to spend all this time with these hopeful patients, hearing about their wishes and dreams, and then follow them all the way through the pregnancy, and if commitment and chance meet, there is a happy and healthy baby at the end. I almost never, with very few exceptions, meet the males in these relationships. Perhaps they do not feel or understand that what they eat, how they manage stress, and how they juggle work and sleep affect their sexual health and fertility? From talking to these women I hear that most feel confident that their partners can appreciate the role of their own health during the effort to achieve conception. Staying out of hot tubs and reducing their intake of alcohol, coffee, cigarettes and marijuana seem to stand out to the male species as obvious choices. However, these are all efforts centered around reducing the intake of unhealthy substances. I worry that they do not appreciate the importance of increasing or monitoring the intake of those healthy substances that their female partners are always worrying about. Women tell me that they eat more leafy greens, less meat, walk more to lose weight and reduce stress, try to improve sleep and always add on that prenatal vitamin. Do men concern themselves with these important changes and should they?

Researchers at McGill University did a study which looked at the effects of lifestyle and diet on the health of male mice. In particular they were looking at the sperm of those mice and how its structure changed as a result of different nutritional insufficiencies, over consumptions of poor quality foods, or other physical stressors. What they found was that deficiencies in vitamin B9, known as Folate, led to changes in the sperm genome. Folate is widely available in many leafy greens, meats, and fortified foods and female patients have always expressed awareness of the risks of not having enough of this vitamin in their diet during conception and pregnancy. It seems the knowledge has not been adequately taught to men.

“Despite the fact that folic acid is now added to a variety of foods, fathers who are eating high-fat, fast food diets or who are obese may not be able to use or metabolize folate in the same way as those with adequate levels of the vitamin,” says researcher Sarah Kimmins. “People who live in the Canadian North or in other parts of the world where there is food insecurity may also be particularly at risk for folate deficiency. And we now know that this information will be passed on from the father to the embryo with consequences that may be quite serious.”

This is more than just a problem with fertility and the couples chances of becoming pregnant. There are the greater risks and consequences of a pregnancy that suffers early termination or develops to full term with fetal abnormalities.

“We were very surprised to see that there was an almost 30 per cent increase in birth defects in the litters sired by fathers whose levels of folates were insufficient,” said Dr. Romain Lambrot, of McGill’s Dept. of Animal Science, one of the researchers who worked on the study. “We saw some pretty severe skeletal abnormalities that included both cranio-facial and spinal deformities.”

Men need to become more involved in the process of becoming pregnant and that involvement extends beyond the bedroom. They need to think about what foods and drugs they put into their bodies, and which foods they are failing to consume, before they even try to create a child. The male sperm has a development tract of around 72 days so whatever the man’s lifestyle is at any given moment can have consequences for sperm which will not even be viable for conception for nearly three months. I always suggest to patients that they begin their treatment here at the clinic, as well as lifestyle adjustments at home, a full three months before they desire to achieve pregnancy so that we can best prepare the future eggs and sperm which are on the path to conception. I hope to meet more male partners in the future of my work in fertility and reproductive medicine but feel confident that women will continue to be the educators in their relationships at home.

Journal Reference:

  1. R. Lambrot, C. Xu, S. Saint-Phar, G. Chountalos, T. Cohen, M. Paquet, M. Suderman, M. Hallett, S. Kimmins. Low paternal dietary folate alters the mouse sperm epigenome and is associated with negative pregnancy outcomes. Nature Communications, 2013; 4 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3889