Markers of health

Healthy sperm are an important factor in male fertility. If you’re trying to conceive, you can improve the quality of your sperm by choosing the right foods.

Markers of sperm health include:

  • Sperm count. The concentration of sperm cells in a given sample is an important marker of sperm quality.
  • Sperm morphology. The average size and shape of sperm cells in a sample is an indicator of fertility.
  • Sperm motility. Motility refers to movement. Sperm cells must be able to swim to reach and fertilize an egg cell.
  • Semen volume. A minimum volume of semen is required to carry sperm cells through the female reproductive tract.

Read on to find out which nutrients and foods promote sperm health.

1. Zinc

Zinc has been shownto play a role in regulating sperm count and quality. Men who are infertile tend to have lower zinc levels than men who are fertile.

You can up your intake by eating:

  • oysters
  • red meat and poultry
  • shellfish, such as crab and lobster
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • nuts and beans
  • whole wheat grain products
  • dairy

2. Folate

Folate is a B vitamin that has been linked to sperm health. Low folate is associated with damaged sperm DNA, lower sperm densities, and lower sperm counts.

You can up your intake by eating:

  • green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach, romaine lettuce, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus
  • fruits and fruit juices, especially oranges and orange juice
  • nuts, beans, and peas
  • whole grains
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • enriched flour products, such as breads and pasta

3. Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12 is a critical nutrient to overall sperm health. Research has shown that it improves sperm motility, increases sperm count, and reduces sperm DNA damage.

You can up your intake by eating:

  • fish and seafood, especially clams
  • meats and poultry, especially liver
  • dairy products, such as eggs and milk
  • fortified breakfast cereals
  • nutritional yeasts

4. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that plays an important role in male fertility. Increasing vitamin C intake has been shown to improve sperm motility, count, and morphology.

You can up your intake by eating:

  • citrus fruits and their juices
  • sweet peppers
  • other fruits, such as kiwi, strawberries, and cantaloupe
  • other vegetables, such as tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, potatoes
  • fortified breakfast cereals, dairy, and other food products

5. Vitamin D

Vitamin D supplements have been linked to increases in testosterone and improved sperm motility.

However, another study found that levels of low vitamin D aren’t a risk factor for poor sperm quality. More research is needed to truly understand whether vitamin D has an effect.

You can up your intake by eating:

  • oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna
  • beef liver
  • cheese
  • egg yolks
  • fortified milk, yogurt, and other food products
  • mushrooms

6. Vitamin E

Along with other antioxidants, vitamin E may help improve sperm quality. Vitamin E has antioxidant properties that protect sperm from damage.

You can up your intake by eating:

  • plant-based oils, such as corn, safflower, sunflower, and soybean oils
  • nuts and seeds
  • green vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach
  • fortified juices, margarines, and other food products

7. Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10, also known as CoQ10, is an antioxidant that all living cells need to function. Research shows that CoQ10 supplements can increase semen quality in men who are infertile.

You can up your intake by eating:

  • meats and poultry, especially beef and chicken
  • fish, such as herring and trout
  • plant-based oils, including soybean and canola oil
  • nuts and seeds, especially peanuts, sunflower seeds, and pistachios

8. D-aspartic acid

D-aspartic acid is an amino acid implicated in the regulation of male sex hormones, such as testosterone. Some research has shown that sodium D-aspartic acid supplements can increase sperm concentration and motility.

You can up your intake by eating:

  • meats and poultry
  • eggs and dairy products, including low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • grains, such as oat bran, rice, and fortified pastas
  • fresh and dried fruits
  • fortified breakfast cereals

9. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3s have wide-ranging health benefits, including enhanced sperm count, motility, and morphology.

You can up your intake by eating:

  • fish and seafood, especially salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines
  • nuts and seeds, including chia seeds, flaxseed, and walnuts
  • plant-based oils, such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oil
  • fortified eggs, yogurt, and beverages

10. L-arginine

An amino acid, L-arginine appears to play several different roles in male fertility. Inside the body, it transforms into nitric oxide, which promotes sperm function.

L-arginine supplements have been found to increase sperm count in rabbits at certain doses. However, the same study found that too high of a dose of L-arginine decreased sperm motility. You should talk to your doctor about how L-arginine may affect you before adding more to your diet.

You can up your intake by eating:

  • meats and poultry, such as pork loin, turkey, and chicken
  • nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds and peanuts
  • beans and lentils
  • dairy products

11. Fenugreek seeds

Fenugreek seed extract may increased testosterone levels, which are linked to sperm production and health. Study outcomes are varied, though.

One study found that fenugreek seed extract may only maintain healthy testosterone levels. Participants took 600 mg of fenugreek seed extract per day for 12 weeks.

12. Ashwagandha root

Ashwagandha root, or withania somnifera, is an herbal remedy with antioxidant properties. Some recent research suggests Ashwagandha root may improve semen quality.

In one study, participants who took 5 grams of Ashwagandha root powder for three months experienced a significant improvement in semen quality.

13. Maca root

Lepidium meyenii, more commonly known as Maca root, has been linked to male fertility. Evidence is mixed, though.

Maca doesn’t seem to affect testosterone levels. A separate study found that Maca positively impacted sperm concentration and motility, but more research is needed to support this finding.

14. Ginseng root

Ginseng supplements may improve several factors related to sperm health, including count and motility. Ginsenoside, an active ingredient in ginseng, may stimulate nitric oxide production, which is related to sperm function.

You should talk to your doctor before consuming ginseng. It’s associated with changes in blood pressure and other potentially harmful side effects.

15. Limit alcohol and soy

Excessive drinking can have a negative impact on sperm production and quality. If you drink alcohol, it’s important to do so in moderation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to two drinks per day is considered moderate for men.

High soy intake has also been linked to low sperm count. You may want to limit your intake of soy-based foods, such as:

  • soy milk
  • soy sauce
  • miso
  • tempeh
  • tofu

Talk to your doctor

Other lifestyle changes, such as losing weight or quitting smoking, can also help improve sperm health. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to increase your chances of making healthy sperm.

If you and your partner are having trouble conceiving, your doctor or fertility specialist can help you determine why. They can also recommend different therapies to you help you conceive.