Jo Waters June 20, 2017

If you and your partner are trying for a baby, it's common sense to make sure you're in good health beforehand.

If getting pregnant isn't happening as quickly as you were expecting though, don't despair. There are some simple steps you can take to improve your fertility.

How long does it take to conceive?

Although men and women are at their most fertile in their early twenties, fertility doesn't start to decline in men until their early forties, and most will still be fertile in their fifties. i

Ninety per cent of couples where the female partner is aged under 35 will conceive within a year. ii In 50 per cent of cases of infertility, the cause is a problem with the man's sperm. iii

How is male fertility measured?

If you do have investigations for infertility you'll be asked to give a semen sample for analysis. This will check your sperm count; a low sperm count is where a man has less than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen. iv Sperm motility (how well they swim) is also measured, as well as morphology (their shape).

Based on your test results, your doctor should be able to give you an assessment of how fertile you are.

10 ways you can increase your fertility

Cut down on booze: Too much alcohol lowers the male sex hormone testosterone in men and sperm quality.vIf you cut down, the effects are quickly reversible.

Quit smoking: Yet another reason to give up tobacco - smoking affects your sperm quality. If you need help quitting, talk to your GP about nicotine replacement therapy.

Keep cool: Ditch tight underpants and hot baths as they heat up the scrotum too much and are associated with reduced sperm quality. Ideally, your testicles should be one or two degrees cooler than the rest of your body, so wearing looser underwear (boxer shorts) is recommended.vi

Lose weight if you're overweight: Men with a body mass index of 30 or more (classified as obese) are likely to have reduced fertility.vii

Don't do drugs: Cannabis and anabolic steroids used for bodybuilding can all affect sperm quality. Also check if any prescription drugs you are taking could affect sperm quality and find out if there are alternatives without those side effects.

Consider your mobile phone use: Some studies have found radio frequency electromagnetic fields from mobile phones may be associated with negative effects on sperm. The latest piece of research found sperm motility was significantly affected if a mobile phone was kept in a trouser pocket.viii No cause and effect relationship has been established though and the authors said more research was needed.

Eat zinc: For healthy sperm, you need to eat zinc-rich foods such as seafood, chicken, turkey (choose the dark meat), pork and beef, cheese and other dairy foods. Vegetarian sources include pulses and nuts such as almonds and cashew nuts.

Get any problems with your testicles checked out: Get infections, lumps or other issues checked by your doctor.

Protect yourself at work: Radiation and some chemicals found in the workplace are hazardous to sperm quality. Make sure you are adequately protected.

Have sex on two or three days a month: Don't get uptight about only having sex around your partner's ovulation (egg release-day) or thinking you must do it every day – experts say this should be enough.ix

Supplements to support your fertility

A 2016 review of studies concluded zinc levels are lower in the semen of infertile males when compared to men with normal fertility – and that a zinc supplement could significantly increase semen volume, sperm motility and the percentage of normal-shaped sperm. The authors concluded zinc supplements may increase male reproductive function, but more studies are needed. x

A study published in January 2017 revealed the antioxidant properties of lycopene, a pigment found in tomatoes can increase sperm count.xi A group of 44 men with poor sperm quality took part in a four-week study during which they consumed high levels of tomato juice. After 12 weeks, they had an increase and improvement in their sperm motility. Lycopene is available as a supplement.

Look out for pre-conceptual vitamin formulations for men trying to conceive, which contain zinc, B vitamins and beta carotene.

References

i http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Fertility/Pages/Protectyourfertility.aspx

ii http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Fertility/Pages/Getpregnant.aspx

iii http://uroweb.org/wp-content/uploads/17-Male-Infertility_LR1.pdf

iv http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/low-sperm-count/Pages/Introduction.aspx

v https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15706796

vi http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Fertility/Pages/Protectyourfertility.aspx

vii https://patient.info/doctor/infertility-male

viii http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1110569017300602

ix http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Fertility/Pages/Getpregnant.aspx

x https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4773819/

xi https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28049263

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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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