Male Fertility On A Plant Based Diet

Infertility is estimated to effect about 10% of couples of reproductive age worldwide but it is likely this number is much higher. In this article we take a deep dive into the essential nutrients for males to consider to optimise fertility on a plant based, vegan or vegetarian diet.

What Causes Infertility 

When trying to conceive, the role of optimising fertility is often placed on the female.

However, research suggests that both the male and female play an equal role in initiating a healthy pregnancy. In fact, male factors contribute to half of all infertility cases and approximately 20-30% of all fertility problems are related to male factors alone.

Male infertility can be the result of many different factors including reproductive abnormalities, infection, genetic factors and endocrine disorders. However, 1 in 3 male infertility cases have no identifiable cause.

In these cases, there are a variety of associated lifestyle factors which may likely be contributing. These include:

  • over and under nutrition including obesity and low weight
  • stress and lack of sleep
  • heavy alcohol consumption, smoking and illicit drug use
  • environmental exposures such as testicular heat, pesticides and radiation

There is also a growing body of evidence supporting the role of food and nutrition as a factor which can impact male fertility.

A recent review published in 2020 found that various dietary factors can positively or negatively influence sperm quality parameters.

Overall, men with diets rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fibre rich whole-grains, seafood, lean protein (poultry, beans and legumes) and low-fat dairy products had much better sperm quality than those who had lower intakes of these foods as well as diets rich in saturated fats and red and processed meats.

What Causes Infertility  vegans

Can A Plant Based Diet Impact Male Fertility?

Unfortunately the research is less clear.

There is currently limited data available on the impact of a plant-based on male fertility and the few available studies present mixed results.

However, if we consider the general dietary patterns associated with improved sperm quality, there is some overlap with a plant-based diets. This includes a high consumption of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, beans and legumes which all help boost fertility.

There are also many important fertility friendly nutrients which may be difficult more difficult to attain following a purely plant-based diet. This includes omega-3s and zinc.

Luckily, with some simple modifications and good planning, it is easy to optimise your fertility whilst on a plant-based diet.

Can A Plant Based Diet Impact Male Fertility?

What is Sperm Quality

When considering fertility in men, one of the most important parameter to investigate is the health of sperm, also known as sperm quality.

Sperm quality can be measured with a few different parameters including:

  • sperm count
  • motility and mobility (the ability of the sperm to successfully swim up to fertilise an egg)
  • morphology (the shape of the sperm – abnormal sperm shapes can also compromise their fertilisation ability)
  • genetic makeup (sperm with genetic defects can compromise fertilisation as well as contribute to miscarriage risk and health complications in offspring)

How to Improve Your Sperm Quality On A Plant Based Diet 

1: Choose wholegrains

Zinc is arguably one of the most important nutrients for male fertility. Wholegrains are one of the best plant-based sources of  Zinc.

This important nutrient plays an important role in promoting healthy sperm maturation, increasing sperm count, improving sperm motility and preventing genetic defects (1, 2, 3).

In fact, male zinc requirements are almost double that of women (12mg/day vs. 6.5mg per day) due to their losses in sperm.

Zinc rich wholegrains to add into your diet include oats, wholegrain bread, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, freekeh and barley.

wholegrain plant based

2: Snack on nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds offer a diverse range of important nutrients for male fertility.

These include selenium, vitamin E, omega 3 fatty acids and co-enzyme Q10.

As they come with such varied nutritional profiles, diversity is key when choosing which nuts and seeds to add into your fertility diet.

Selenium

Brazil nuts are the best source of selenium on a plant-based diet. Just 1-2 Brazil nuts per day cover your entire daily needs. Selenium has many fertility boosting properties as it is necessary for spermatogenesis (production and maturation of sperm). It has also been associated with improving sperm count and motility.

Brazil nuts are the best source of selenium on a plant-based die

Vitamin E

Vitamin E plays an important role as an antioxidant helping protect sperm from DNA damage. There is also evidence linking vitamin E to improved sperm count and motility. Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds including tahini, almonds and peanuts are all great sources of vitamin E.

Omega-3

Flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids in a plant-based diet. There is growing evidence supporting the role of omega-3s in improving sperm motility, their fertilisation ability and reducing inflammation around reproductive organs (4,5).

Whilst a vegan algae-based omega 3 supplement is also often recommended for those on a vegan/vegetarian diet to ensure adequate omega 3s, we also recommend including an omega 3 rich nut/seed daily.

Co-enzyme Q10 (also known as CoQ10 or ubiquinone)

CoQ10 can be difficult to get on a plant-based diet. Research has found that men struggling with infertility tend to have lower levels of coQ10 in their sperm when compared to fertile men.

This is likely due to CoQ10’s antioxidant ability to protect sperm from damage.  CoQ10 has also been linked to improvements in other sperm quality parameters including sperm count, motility and morphology (6,7,8).

3: Eat the rainbow

It is widely agreed that eating enough fruits and vegetables is a staple part of a healthy and nutritious diet. This is especially important when trying to conceive as these foods are packed with fertility friendly vitamins and minerals.

fruits and vegetables are important male fertility nutrients for vegans

Folate

Most people are aware of how important folate is during the pre-conception period for women. It also plays an important role in male fertility.  Folate is a key nutrient for creating healthy viable sperm being essential in the process of spermatogenesis.

As such, loading up on folate rich green vegetables such as spinach, kale, lettuce, beet greens, broccoli, avocado and asparagus is a great way to help boost the health of your sperm.

CoQ10

CoQ10, as mentioned previously, is also found in some fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, oranges and strawberries.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is the main antioxidant found in male semen.

Similarly to vitamin E, vitamin C plays an important role in sperm production by protecting sperm from DNA damage.

It’s pretty easy to meet vitamin C needs by eating our 2 fruits and 5 a day. Foods richest in vitamin C include citrus fruits, kiwifruit, strawberries, capsicum, broccoli and spinach.

broccoli is important for vegan sperm

Lycopene:

Lycopene is another antioxidant associated with improved male fertility.

Potential benefits include protection of sperm from DNA damage and increased sperm count and viability.

The easiest way to spot lycopene rich produce is to look at its colour. Lycopene is responsible for giving foods their red and orange colours.

Tomatoes (especially cooked tomato), guava, watermelon, grapefruit, red capsicum and papaya as well as red cabbage are all excellent sources.

As lycopene is fat-soluble, it needs to be paired with a source of fat for optimal absorption. Some easy ways to do this is by cooking vegetables in olive oil, adding avocado or tahini-based dressing to salads or pairing fruit with a handful of nuts.

 

4: Be mindful of your caffeine intake

Some evidence  suggests that large caffeine intakes can reduce male fertility.

Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, cola, and to a smaller extent chocolate.

A 2017 review on caffeine and male fertility found that drinking caffeine was associated with increased DNA damage in sperm and prolonged time to conception.

Other studies have found caffeine consumption may also reduce sperm volume, count and concentration.

We recommend limiting caffeine to less than 200-300mg per day which is around 2-3 cups of coffee.

caffeine is a male fertility food to avoid

Does Male Need To Focus On A Fertility Diet?

In short, yes! Not only can your diet improve your chances of conception, but what you eat can even impact the health of your future child.

This is due to a process known as epigenetic programming (the modification of gene expression).

Whilst still in its infancy, there is emerging evidence linking male pre-conceptional exposure to lifestyle factors such as smoking, diet and exercise to the genetic makeup of future offspring via sperm modifications.

This suggests that what you eat in the lead up to conception can potentially impact the susceptibility of your child to developing future health complications.

In fact, a recent study done in mice found that the offspring of male mice fed a poor diet prior to conception had higher body fat, altered gut bacteria profiles and metabolic issues such as poor blood sugar control and markers of fatty liver disease.

Whilst this study was only conducted in mice and we can’t be certain the results translate to humans; it is still worthwhile to consider.

Are male pre-natal supplements necessary?

For the average healthy man, maintaining a well-balanced diet will provide you with all the nutrients necessary to optimise your fertility.

However, if you have known poor sperm quality, are struggling with conceiving, have existing deficiencies or health issues or are following a restricted diet such as a vegan diet, supplements are likely to be of benefit.

Current research indicates that male fertility supplements can improve sperm health as long as they contain the right nutrients.

Particular nutrients to look out for include zinc, selenium, CoQ10, omega 3 and folate.

To find out which supplements will be best suited to you, we recommend booking in for a consultation with one of our plant based pregnancy dietitian Georgia D’Andrea. 

vegan supplement plant based

When should you start implementing a fertility diet?

On average, spermatogenesis (sperm maturation) takes roughly 74 days from start to finish but this can vary person to person. As such, the 3 months prior to conception is a key period to focus on your nutrition.

However, evidence suggests that for optimal benefit, male pre-natal nutrition and supplementation should start roughly 6 months prior to conception.

 

For more individualised advice on how you can optimise your plant-based diet for fertility you can book in to see our plant based fertility dietitian here.  This article was written by fertility dietitian Georgia D’Andrea.

Boost Fertility on a Plant Based Diet – 5 Tips

HOW CAN YOU BOOST FERTILITY ON A PLANT BASED DIET

When should you start thinking about prenatal nutrition?

In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive in how to boost fertility on a plant based diet. It’s never too early to start thinking about optimising your diet for fertility. Research suggests that 3 months prior to falling pregnant is thw most important window as it takes 90 days for an egg to mature.  Therefore, the 3 month lead up to conception is a key period to support egg health, optimise chances of conception and build up stores of essential nutrients such as folate, iron and iodine. 

vegan male fertility

Can nutrition impact male fertility?


It takes two to conceive a baby and as such the male’s nutrition is just as important. Sperm maturation takes roughly 60-70 days to occur.  The male partner’s nutrition in the 3 month lead up conception also plays a role. 

Key nutrients that men need to consider include:

  • Zinc: low zinc levels have been associated with infertility. Plant-based sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, chickpeas and sundried tomatoes. Read more on zinc here
  • Vitamin C: This nutrient acts as an antioxidant protecting the sperm from damage. Men with low levels of vitamin C have been found to have a higher likelihood of having sperm dysfunction.
  • Folate: low folate levels are linked with poor quality sperm. Foods rich in folate include broccoli, brussel sprouts, peas, chickpeas and kidney beans.
  • Vitamin E: As a powerful antioxidant this nutrient helps to protect sperm from damage known as oxidative stress. It also helps to improve the motility of sperm (how well they move) and increase sperm count. This nutrient is rich in sesame seeds, tahini, sunflower seeds, spinach, pumpkin, sunflower oil and peanuts.
  • Selenium: Lower selenium levels have also been found in men with fertility issues. As a nutrient that is often lower on vegan diets, selenium is one to pay particular attention to. It is richest in brazil nuts, but can also be found in sunflower seeds and beans.

Do plant-based diets improve fertility?


Plant-based diets are often criticised as being insufficient to provide adequate nutrition for pregnancy. However, this is not the case. A well planned vegan diet can meet all the nutritional requirements for a healthy pregnancy. 

Plant-based diets are often higher in antioxidant rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes and wholegrains. These are all fertility friendly foods and provide a wealth of health benefits for families trying to conceive

Are you planning to conceive in the next year? Get expert advice from our plant based pregnancy dietitian

There are some nutrients which can be harder to obtain on a plant-based diet. These include such as iron, zinc, iodine and omega-3s. This is especially relevant pre- and during pregnancy when nutrient requirements are increased.

 

plant based pregnancy dietitian

 

Here are 5 top tips to improve your fertility whilst on a plant-based diet: 

1: Stock up on dark green leafy veg


Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, rocket and silverbeet are rich in many essential pregnant micronutrients.

In particular, they are a great source of folate. This nutrient is vital in the early stages of pregnancy for foetal development and the prevention of neural tube defects

It is recommended that couples looking to conceive aim to eat 1-2 serves of green leafy vegetables per day (1 serve = 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked). 

This may look like tossing them into salads, wilting into pasta sauces/curries/casseroles or blending it into a smoothie. 

As dietitians, we always promote a food-first approach which it comes to getting in your nutrients. However, due to the increased requirements for folate in early pregnancy, consuming a prenatal vitamin containing at least 400mcg folate per day is recommended. 

The amount and type you may require can vary from person to person. It may be beneficial to consult our fertility dietitian to determine which supplement is best for you.

 

green leafy vegetables are important to boost fertility on a plant based diet

2: Increase foods rich in plant-based iron 


Iron requirements almost double to 27mg/day when pregnant. Optimising iron stores before falling pregnant is helpful in helping to decrease the risk of becoming deficient during pregnancy.

Those following a plant-based diet require up to 180% more iron than omnivores. This is due to plant-based foods containing non-haem iron. This form is more difficult for the body to absorb, thus requiring a higher amount.

Adding an iron rich food at each meal and snack is essential both pre and during pregnancy.

Those following a plant-based diet require up to 180% more iron than omnivores.

Iron rich foods include:

  • Tofu
  • Soy products
  • Legumes
  • Wholegrains such as amaranth and oats
  • Nuts including almonds and pistacios
  • Seeds particularly pumpkin and hemp seeds
  • Tahini
  • White potato
  • Leafy greens 
  • Fortified products such as weetbix

Consuming a food rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberry, broccoli and lime juice can help boost absorption further. Add lemon juice to a bean-based salad or use a tomato base in a chickpea curry.

Due to the high requirements of iron during pregnancy, obtaining enough from food can often be difficult and an iron supplement may be necessary. 

Our vegan fertility nutritionist can help guide you further on supplements and assist in developing a nutrition plan with you to boost your fertility on a plant based diet. 

3: Eat plenty of wholegrains


Wholegrains are an important food to boost fertility. This category include foods such as oats, barley, brown rice, freekeh, buckwheat, bulgur, quinoa, wholegrain bread, flour and pasta. These foods are excellent sources fertility friendly nutrients such as zinc, iodine and iron. These micronutrients are vital during prenatal nutrition but can be more difficult to obtain on a vegan diet. 

Research suggests women who eat more wholegrains have a greater chance of implantation compared to those who don’t. Zinc may also help to reduced the risk of preterm births.

To add more wholegrains into your diet, try:

  • Swapping white bread for wholegrain varieties
  • Having rolled oats as overnight oats or porridge for breakfast
  • Adding freekah into a roasted vegetable salad
  • Swapping white rice for brown rice or quinoa 

4: Boost up your omega-3 


Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role as an anti-inflammatory food for fertility.

They work by decreasing inflammation around reproductive organs which can help improve egg quality, sperm quality, chances of conception and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. 

Good sources of plant-based omega-3s are flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts. These can be added into your morning muesli, made into a chia pudding, blended into smoothies or added to salads. An algae-based omega-3 supplement containing DHA and EPA may also be beneficial to consider. 

Our vegan fertility dietitian can also provide you with a prenatal omega-3 test. This test can help assess your omega-3 status. Your dietitian can use this information to develop an individualised fertility diet plan to improve your levels. 

5: Cut down on processed foods

Highly processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, sugary drinks, ready meals and fake meat alternatives are high in added sugars. 

A diet high in added sugars has been linked to infertility in both men and women. 

In particular, consuming one or more sugary drinks (e.g. soft drinks, energy drinks) per day has been linked to a 20% reduction in the change of conceiving

Processed foods are also often high in saturated or ‘bad’ fats. These fats are associated with negative fertility and pregnancy outcomes.

In Summary

There are many nutrients to consider when trying to boost fertility on a plant based diet. When trying to conceive, it is recommended you fill your diet with an abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrains and legumes and start on a prenatal supplement regime which is right for you. 

For more individualised advice on how you can optimise your plant-based diet for fertility you can book in to see our plant based fertility dietitian here. 

 

This article was written by fertility dietitian Georgia D’Andrea.

Inositols and PCOS – Can Supplementation Help Fertility?

Inositols are a chemical compound found in the body which belong to the same family as sugars. It has 9 different forms but the main two are myo-inositol (MI) and D-chiro-inositol (DCI). In this article we take a deep dive into inositols and PCOS and how supplementation can influence fertility outcomes.

What do Inositols do?

Inositol has been linked to a number of important functions in the body, including our mood. They are involved in the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, our happy hormones.

In fact, decreased levels of inositols in the body have been linked to conditions such as depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD. 

Inositols and insulin

One of the main functions of inositols are their role in the activity of insulin. Insulin is an important hormone in the body that plays an essential role in controlling our blood sugar levels.

DCI and MI play important roles by helping to produce factors necessary for insulin to work effectively.

If the body is unable to respond effectively to insulin, this is known as insulin resistance. This means it is more difficult for the body to process carbohydrates in the diet and leads to poor blood-sugar control. 

Inositols and PCOS 

When we look at the research around inositols and PCOS, there is an increasing amount of evidence showing supplementation may be beneficial.

PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is an endocrine, reproductive and metabolic disorder that affects at least 5-10% of women. This number is most likely much larger as many go undiagnosed.

Symptoms that individuals with PCOS may experience include:

  • irregular menstrual cycles (including amenorrhoea – absence of a cycle and oligomenorrhoea – infrequent cycles)
  • hyperandrogenism (excess androgen – male hormone production) and hirsutism (abnormal hair growth)
  • unexplained weight gain
  • acne 
  • polycystic ovaries

It is estimated that around 80% of obese and 30-40% of lean women who have PCOS also suffer from insulin resistance.

There is now an increasingly large amount of evidence supporting a central role of insulin resistance in the development of many PCOS symptoms. This includes hyperandrogenism, where insulin directly stimulates the ovaries to produce more androgens (more male hormones).

symptom of pcos

It is suggested that reducing insulin resistance is a key therapeutic strategy when treating PCOS.

Inositols, in particular MI and DCI, are thought to be beneficial in targeting insulin resistance as they act as insulin-sensitising agents. This is where they improve the body’s ability to respond correctly to insulin.

This theory has been supported by recent research which has found supplementation to be an effective treatment strategy alongside other nutrition and lifestyle interventions.

Not only does supplementation appear to improve insulin sensitivity, but studies have suggested that supplementation is also able to assist in improving many of the other metabolic and hormonal side effects of PCOS such as reducing hyperandrogenism and improving blood lipid profiles (Pizzo et al., 2013) (Iuorno et al., 2002) (Tabrizi et al., 2018).

When we look at Inositols and PCOS cravings – one study even found that supplementation may also help to reduce sugar/carbohydrate cravings which are commonly experienced by individuals with PCOS.  

Can inositol help with infertility?

Unfortunately, one of the many symptoms of PCOS is infertility. The exact link between PCOS and infertility is still unknown however research suggests that insulin resistance is the underlying mechanism.

One study has showed that in women with PCOS, there is an imbalance in the ratio of MI:DCI in the ovaries. It found that MI levels are much lower than normal. The cause of this MI deficiency is thought to be linked to abnormally high levels of insulin.

MI is necessary in the regulation of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This plays a crucial roles in regulating ovulation and egg quality thus contributing to fertility outcomes.

This supports the concept that maintaining normal levels of MI and DCI are essential for supporting normal ovarian function. 

Numerous studies have since found, inositol supplementation in women with PCOS experiencing infertility was able to (Unfer et al., 2017) (Pizzo et al., 2013) (Kamenov et al., 2015): 

  • improve ovarian function
  • promote ovulation
  • improve menstrual regularity 
  • Potentially benefit egg and embryo quality thus enhancing fertility outcomes

Additionally, high androgen (male hormone) levels, which are common in PCOS, have further impacts on fertility and this may also be corrected with supplementation

One study which involved women with PCOS who also had ovulatory dysfunction (PCOS was the only apparent cause of their infertility), found that 6 months of supplementation with MI alongside folic acid was able to restore at least one spontaneous menstrual cycle in 22 of the 25 women. When followed up, 18 of these women had maintained normal ovulation and 10 had successful pregnancies. 

A systematic review of randomised controlled trials found that MI supplementation in women with PCOS may lead to improved insulin sensitivity, restoration of normal ovulation, improved egg quality and a reduction in hyperandrogenism which may in turn help increase fertility.  

can inositol help with infertility

Inositol and PCOS – the ideal supplementation ratio

Many of the studies into inositol supplementation, have found there is an ideal ratio of myo-inositol to D-chiro-inositol needed for optimal outcomes.

A review investigating the ideal ratio concluded that a MI:DCI ratio of 40:1 is most effective for managing insulin resistance and restoring ovulation. 

How effective is it?

A Cochrane review into the effectiveness and safety of oral inositol supplementation for reproductive outcomes in women with PCOS, found that although there is some compelling research to support the benefits of supplementation, the evidence is still limited.

As such, the authors concluded they were not able to definitively show that supplementation will increase the chances of falling pregnant and maintaining pregnancy.

However, this does not mean that inositol supplementation isn’t an effective strategy to improve your chances of fertility, only that more research is still required.  

Sources of inositol 

Inositols are found naturally in many plant-based foods including some wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans.

Needing help managing your PCOS or fertility? Book in a consultation with our Pregnancy & Fertility Dietitian Georgia 

It is estimated, that the average person consumes approximately 1g of inositol in their diet, however, this is not well taken up by the body. As such, these natural sources don’t contain the specific doses and amounts necessary to produce the desired effects.

Therefore, whilst as dietitians, we usually promote food first over supplementation, this is one instance in which supplementation is preferred. 

can food help with pcos

Side effects

A review into potential side effects of supplementation with inositol found little reported adverse side effects. Mild side-effects such as nausea, gas and diahorrea were only observed with a high dose of the supplement (12g). This is much greater than the doses that are used in the majority of clinical studies which usually supplement with around 2-4g/day. Despite the lack of reported negative side-effects, it should be noted that there is still very little information available regarding the safety and/or side effects of inositol supplementation and more research is still required. 

Is inositol supplementation right for me?

Inositol supplementation is not essential for PCOS management, however, it may be potentially beneficial alongside other medical, dietary and lifestyle interventions in some individuals. As with all supplements, it is recommended you speak with a healthcare practitioner before commencing any new supplements. This is particularly important if you are currently taking medications such as Metformin to ensure blood sugar levels don’t drop too low. 

In summary:

Inositols and PCOS, the research may might not be as clear as we would like it to be. However, a growing amount of data is showing this supplement may be promising in helping many common PCOS symptoms. Resultantly, this may have many positive outcomes in assisting with fertility, however more research is needed in this area. For more advice on how your nutrition can help with PCOS symptom management – book in for a consultation with one of our dietitians here

This article was written by Plant Nutrition and Wellness’s fertility dietitian Georgia D’Andrea.