Parenthood is something that not just the mother needs to get ready for, fathers have an equally important role to play. Infertility is on the rise in modern India. According to statistics, there has been almost a 20-30% rise in infertility in the last five years itself. In men, the quality of semen is the main reason of failing to impregnate the partner. Common reasons for male infertility are low sperm concentration (oligospermia), poor sperm motility (asthenospermia), and abnormal sperm morphology (teratospermia). The exact reason for the decline in semen quality is not clear, but environmental, nutritional, socioeconomic and other factors are starting to come into focus with recent research.

Diet plays a very important role in male fertility. Recent research has proven that healthy life style is effective in improving the chances for conception and can also help in increasing the sperm count.

1. Tank up on fruits and vegetables: A study conducted by the Harvard University found that eating yellow and orange coloured fruits and vegetables had a profound effect on the health of the sperm. Yellow and orange colour in fruits and vegetables is because of “carotenoids” including beta carotene which is converted to Vitamin A in the body. It is one of the most potent antioxidants. Sweet potato and melon were found to improve both the quantity and quality of sperms while red vegetables particularly tomatoes, which contains lycopene, improved the quantity of abnormally shaped sperms by 8-10%. The hero here was the carrot which increased the motility of the sperm, improving its chance to reach the egg.

2. Go easy on processed food:Processed and fast foods are both known to be detrimental to health. In the Rochester young men’s study carried out at the University of Rochester, one group was fed a diet high in processed meat, red meat, refined grains, fast foods, high energy drinks and fast food. Another group of men were put on a healthy diet of chicken, fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Guess what they discovered? As always the group on the healthy or “Prudent” diet had better sperm motility. Other than this, there are numerous studies across the world which have highlighted the positive role of a diet high in whole grains, legumes, fruits vegetables and healthy fats on sperm health and fertility.

3. Control the cholesterol: Couples with high cholesterol levels take longer to conceive. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism concluded that couples or either of the partner with high cholesterol found it difficult to conceive as compared to other couples. Another Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) study has found that maybe high levels of total cholesterol and free cholesterol are associated with a significantly lower percentage of spermatozoa. So, get in those whole grain fibres, whole fruits and lean plant proteins into your daily diet and keep a check on your lipid profile.

4. Cut saturated fats:Saturated fats do not only have an adverse effect on your heart and waist line but are also major contributory factors for low sperm count. A Harvard study has linked saturated fat intakes with sperm count suggesting that even a 5% increase in saturated fat intake could result in a decrease in sperm count. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that while eating high amounts of saturated fats decreased the sperm count and concentration, eating omega-3 polyunsaturated fats actually improved the quality of semen. So, gorge on some salmon, almonds, walnuts and chia seeds.

5. Protect against oxidative stress (OS): OS is directly related to cellular damage which is caused by free radicals known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). Small amounts of ROS are needed for functioning of the sperms, however when their number increases and our antioxidant defenses are overwhelmed, the quality of sperms can be severely impacted. Spermatozoa are unable to undo the damage caused by OS as they lack the repair systems required. Vitamins E, C and carotenoids (Vitamin A) are known to neutralize ROS, protecting the sperms. While supplements under the doctor’s guidance can be used when required, preventing a build-up of ROS can be achieved by following a healthy life style including stopping smoking, avoiding alcohol and eating fresh fruits and vegetables daily. The World Health Organisation and all health advisories recommend five helpings of seasonal fruits and vegetables daily.

6. Keep the weight in check: So far there are very limited studies on male obesity and its effect on getting pregnant. However, all the data has pointed towards the fact that an obese male partner may mean a delayed conception. Research has also shown that parental obesity may affect the baby’s metabolic and reproductive health. Obesity is also known to reduce the sperm concentration. Increased BMI is also associated with decreased levels of testosterone and an increase in oestrogens – causing low sperm counts and infertility. Keep that weight in check not just for your own health but also for giving your child the most healthful start. Eat healthy and exercise regularly, this is the only way to attain healthy weight and also maintain it. Both these also come with huge health benefits to every organ of the body.

Eat, exercise, stay happy and look forward to a maddening but fulfilling feeling called parenthood.

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