Approximately one out of six couples may struggle with fertility in Canada, and many of these instances end up being labeled as “unexplained infertility”. This can be extremely disheartening and can leave you feeling worried, upset and downright confused. In this article, we’ll take a look at specific nutrients which may help support the quality of both eggs and sperm and in turn, understanding the roll that these nutrients may play in fertility, may give you a better sense of control over your biological clock.
There may be underlying health conditions or stressors which can cause inflammation and damage to cells of the body (including reproductive cells), so it is important to look into this beforehand to determine a targeted approach. For example, if a woman has polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), it is important to support blood sugar levels and to decrease overall inflammation through specific supplementation. However, be sure to do further exploration with your healthcare practitioner if you think there is more to the story.
The best way to get nutrients which are optimal for fertility is through making the right dietary choices. In general, we know that eating a diet high in colourful vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fiber and healthy fats is supportive to overall health. The same can be said for egg and sperm quality, which is why we often refer to the Mediterranean diet as a benchmark. For example, whole grains (e.g. Quinoa, brown rice) have antioxidants such as selenium, which are important for sperm health and can decrease oxidative damage to reproductive cells . Nuts and seeds, high in healthy fats, are also rich in vitamin E, which in animal studies has shown to increase the number and size of eggs.
The jury is still out on animal products and dairy, because although they provide adequate sources of protein, there is research that these products contain more environmental toxins [1,3]. These toxins act as endocrine disruptors, which can affect hormonal reproductive pathways and affect the quality of sex cells (egg and sperm). Full-fat dairy seems to be better, and may be beneficial for fertility, compared to low-fat or skim products .
Fish consumption has guidelines that are more straightforward, because there are clear benefits of omega-3 fatty acid consumption. These are different from trans fats, which are found in baked goods and fried foods. Trans fats can increase insulin resistance, conferring poor blood sugar control, and can effect egg release . Omega-3 fatty acids are used as an energy source by egg and sperm cells and are important for embryo implantation and pregnancy maintenance [1,2]. Sperm cells, themselves, have a cell membrane which is high in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, a type of omega-3) and having adequate amounts of this fatty acid can affect sperm motility, morphology and concentration . In other words, this can affect overall semen quality.
It is important to note that certain types of fish are higher in mercury, which is a heavy metal and endocrine toxin. Mercury levels are higher in larger fish which live a long time (ie. Shark, white tuna). Find out more about certain types of fish at Health Canada’s website For this reason, a good quality supplement may be an option to consider.
The majority of the nutraceuticals discussed in this section act as antioxidants to protect egg and sperm cells from oxidative damage which can occur environmentally (e.g. Cigarette smoke, certain foods), or simply from aging. As we age, the energy metabolism of our cells slows, which means that our bodies are not as capable of clearing cellular damage as they used to be.
There are a wide variety of nutrients important for egg and sperm health, a lot of which can be found through dietary choices. This includes B-vitamins, vitamin E, and adequate healthy fats. If additional support is needed for your particular case, antioxidants are an excellent resource to look into. Speak with your healthcare practitioner to discuss if this may be the right direction for you.