If you have a low sperm count, you may wonder if certain foods can increase your numbers. While many foods have been touted to improve male fertility, there is inadequate scientific evidence supporting these claims, and certainly no food or nutrient is a magic bullet. However, certain nutrients and dietary factors do have a role in making sure your sperm are active, healthy and abundant. A meal plan that includes a variety of foods including fish, fruits, vegetables and whole grains provides the building blocks for optimal sperm quantity and quality.
Diet Patterns and Lifestyle
While an adequate sperm count is essential to increase the odds of conception, sperm motility and morphology -- normal size and shape -- are also essential for an improved chance the egg will get fertilized. Diet patterns, or overall food choices, can be associated with sperm quality and quantity. According to an October 2012 report in “Human Reproduction,” a diet rich in fish, chicken, fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains is linked to increased sperm motility but not count or morphology. A review article published in the May-June 2016 issue of the “Asian Journal of Andrology” linked gradual weight loss via healthy diet and exercise to an increased sperm count. In addition, if you smoke, stopping can improve sperm count, motility and morphology.
Omega-3 fats are linked to improved sperm count and sperm quality. Often labeled as heart-healthy fats, omega-3 fats are found in oily fish including salmon and sardines, and plant sources of omega-3 are found in foods such as walnuts and flaxseeds. A 2014 report published in the "Journal of Nutrition" studied frequency of fish intake in relation to male fertility factors, and linked approximately 1 to 6 servings a week of dark-meat fish -- such as salmon and tuna -- to a 51 percent higher sperm count compared to the counts in men who rarely ate fish. This study also linked higher fish intake -- both white- and dark-meat fish -- to an improvement in sperm morphology. A 2012 study in “Biology of Reproduction” found that adding walnuts, a plant source of omega-3, could improve sperm quality, but not count, in men consuming a typical American diet.
Fruit, Vegetables, Milk and Grains
Some other foods have been linked to an increase in sperm count. Research published in the May 2014 issue of “Fertility and Sterility” found that high sperm concentration and motility were associated with consuming low-fat dairy products, primarily low-fat milk; however, it's unclear if the calcium or another nutrient is responsible for this benefit. A study published in the January 2012 issue of “Fertility and Sterility“ linked cereals to an increased sperm count and associated fruit and vegetables to improved sperm quality. The authors suggest this may be linked to the nutrients, including the antioxidants found in those foods. Strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, spinach, tomatoes and broccoli are examples of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. A diet that emphasizes whole grains and a variety of fruit and vegetables can provide many of the ingredients for optimal sperm production.
Vitamins and Minerals
Zinc, selenium, folate, and vitamins A, E and C are among the nutrients essential for sperm growth, development and motility -- and protecting the sperm from damage. A report in the May-June 2016 issue of the “Asian Journal of Andrology” outlined that certain nutrients, particularly when supplemented, may improve these sperm parameters. For example, the authors noted that high-dose selenium supplementation for a period of 26 weeks improved sperm count. While most foods do not contain the amount of selenium contained in these supplements, just a few Brazil nuts daily could provide the amount used in this study. However, specific research on the intake of foods containing sperm-friendly nutrients and their impact on sperm count is lacking.
Warnings and Precautions
According to a report published in the October-December 2015 “Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences,” as many as 2 percent of all men will have suboptimal sperm count and quality. If your sperm count is low, it is important to see a physician specializing in reproductive health as there are many possible causes of a low count. Your physician can advise you of treatments and strategies to improve sperm count and quality or discuss options or procedures to increase the odds of a successful pregnancy. In addition, you can improve sperm quality, and potentially sperm count, by eating a healthy diet, stopping smoking and losing weight.
Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD