When it comes to fertility and pregnancy, there is a huge focus on health parameters and recommendations for the mother-to-be. These can include prenatal vitamins and supplements, nutritional considerations, lifestyle changes, health assessments, among others. Although these are vital considerations, the prospective mother can shoulder a large part of the responsibility for conceiving and birthing a healthy child. What about the role of paternal health in pregnancy? This is a subject that may have been often overlooked in the past. There is more and more awareness building around the importance of men’s health in fertility, with the main focus on the health of the sperm. Should men also be taking preconception vitamins and supplements? Should men be considering nutrition, lifestyle, and healthy practices before pregnancy? Let’s find out.
If a couple is having difficulty trying to conceive for greater than 6-12 months, fertility testing will likely be recommended. The standard male fertility test is a semen analysis, which typically assesses pH, sperm concentration, motility, morphology, viability, white blood cells, and antibodies . These factors can help shed light on the ability of the sperm to travel to the egg and fertilize it.
The three most commonly discussed parameters are the sperm count or concentration, the motility or movement, and the morphology or shape of the sperm. A high sperm count or concentration of sperm is important to increase the probability of a sperm reaching the egg. Motility is important, as the sperm needs to be able to move, and to move in a straight line. Some sperm may not move at all, or may move in circles and not achieve much forward movement. And lastly, the morphology is important as the shape and contents of the sperm are needed to successfully fertilize the egg .
That being said, a semen analysis does not always reveal the whole picture, and is not an absolute indication of fertility. Almost 15% of men struggling with infertility have a normal semen analysis test . Another aspect to investigate is DNA fragmentation. Remember that 50% of a baby’s DNA comes from their father, so the integrity of the sperm DNA is vital for the creation of a healthy embryo . But, damages or breaks in parts of the DNA strands are possible and high amounts of DNA damage is linked with male infertility and low pregnancy outcomes . If an egg is fertilized with a sperm with damaged DNA, it may result in a miscarriage . The most commonly thought causes of DNA damage is testicular hyperthermia and oxidative stress caused by unstable oxygen molecules . Oxidative stress is a normal part of our body dynamics and is countered by antioxidants, but an increase in sources of oxidative stress and a lack of antioxidants can cause an excess of damage. Overall paternal health, stress, exposure to environmental toxicants, tobacco and alcohol, and age can all affect the levels of oxidative stress, which can subsequently impact male fertility .
There are many factors that can benefit the health of both egg and sperm in fertility (LINK TO ARTICLE). However, there is a lack of human clinical studies investigating the role of paternal intake of vitamins and micronutrients on fertility success and the health of the subsequent children . A variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids are suggested to benefit sperm health and subsequently male fertility . For example: zinc, L-carnitine, folate, selenium, CoQ10, vitamin C, vitamin E, myo-inositol, and fish oil have shown promise in optimizing sperm concentration, motility, morphology, and DNA integrity [5-7].
It is also important to note that although men can make millions of sperm every day, it takes about 74 days for the sperm to mature and ready to fertilize an egg . Anything ingested today will impact the sperm of over 2 months from now, so a regular focus on healthy foundations is always important. Many of the basics of healthy living can make the biggest impact such as regular exercise, healthy nutrition, avoiding cigarettes and excess alcohol or substance abuse, environmental contaminants, managing stress, and addressing any underlying conditions that can affect hormonal or testicular health .
Should men take prenatal or preconception supplements? It depends on your unique circumstances. More studies are needed to explore the impact of paternal nutrition, supplements, and lifestyle habits on fertility and child health outcomes, and to pinpoint the right doses and treatments. In any case, men should certainly consider taking actionable health steps before trying to conceive. A healthy diet and lifestyle are an excellent starting point, and professionally guided supplements and recommendations can be a big help when other factors are at play. Talk to your medical doctor, or naturopathic doctor, about a preconception plan that will work best for you.