A Healthy Diet May Improve Sperm DNA Quality in Older Men
Several studies over the years have linked advanced age of parents to be associated with several health problems in their offspring. For example, a recent report in the journal Nature links an increased risk of autism and schizophrenia in children of older fathers. A new study suggests that one way to potentially prevent this risk would be to eat a healthier diet rich in several vitamins and minerals.
Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) studied 80 healthy male volunteers between the ages of 22 and 80 (average age 44) who were recruited as part of the California Age and Genetic Effects on Sperm Study. Each man filled out a 100-item questionnaire that estimated average daily vitamin intake from both food and supplements. Sperm DNA quality was assessed via lab analysis.
In men older than 44, those who had consumed the most vitamin C had 20 percent less sperm DNA damage compared to the men with lower amount of vitamin C intake. Other nutrients associated with less DNA damage included vitamin E, zinc, and folate.
Andy Wyrobek of Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division and colleagues had previously found that the older a man is, the more likely he is to have increased sperm DNA fragmentation, chromosomal rearrangements, and DNA strand damage which increases the risk of having children with genetic mutations. It also increases the risk of infertility.
A diet high in antioxidants and micronutrients may decrease the risk of producing sperm with DNA damage. Antioxidants scavenge reactive molecules that cause oxidative damage to cells. A 2011 study from the University of Auckland in New Zealand estimates that up to 80% of subfertility (the condition of being less than normally fertile) can be linked to sperm damage caused by oxidative stress.
"This means that men who are at increased risk of sperm DNA damage because of advancing age can do something about it. They can make sure they get enough vitamins and micronutrients in their diets," says Wyrobek.
A healthy diet may do more for male fertility issues than just preventing DNA damage. Another recent study presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Endocrine Society of Australia and the Society for Reproductive Biology suggests that overweight and obese men have lower sperm count than those at an ideal BMI.
"A lot of men don't understand what contribution they're having, but they need to be healthy before conceiving. Sperm needs to be match fit for the games of life and creating life is the biggest thing that we can do," said Professor David Gardner, one of the study authors.
For couples planning a pregnancy, the best thing you can do together before conceiving is to improve your own health through diet and exercise. Increase intake of antioxidant and nutrient rich foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Reduce intake of fatty foods, especially those that contain saturated fat and substitute foods rich in unsaturated fats, including PUFA’s found in nuts such as walnuts. Exercise daily to help achieve a healthy body weight. And be sure to get plenty of rest and reduce stress – both of which can contribute to difficulties with conceiving.
1. Thomas E. Schmid, Andrew J. Wyrobek et al. Micronutrients intake is associated with improved sperm DNA quality in older men. Fertility and Sterility, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.07.1126
2. Showell MG, et al "Antioxidants for male subfertility" Cochrane Database Sys Rev 2011; 1: CD007411.
3. "Dads Should Get Fit Before Reproducing To Assist With Fetal Development." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 22 Aug. 2012. Web. 27 Aug. 2012.
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