Healthy eggs and sperm do not just come down to what we eat. We need to consider other factors that can also impact the health of your embryo and future baby.
Drinks count too!
If you overhaul your diet and begin eating to support egg and sperm health (in line with suggestions given in my previous blog), but you continue drinking alcohol, soft drink or excessive coffee, you’re still not going to be optimising your reproductive health to the fullest extent.
While diet is the number one thing to address if you’re wanting to ensure your eggs or sperm are as healthy as can be, your beverages of choice count too!
First things first, coffee. Before you panic, you don’t have to give up your morning cup of coffee! However, excessive caffeine intake has been linked to declines in oestrogen production in women, as well as menstrual cycle irregularities and decreased egg health. While there is still debate around how much caffeine is “safe” to consume while you’re trying to conceive or pregnant, current research suggests sticking to no more than two or three cups of coffee per day (no more than~200mg of caffeine). But remember – double shots count as two cups! And if you do often use pre-workout supplements, or any other dietary supplement or drink containing caffeine, factor this into the equation. Often these products contain excessive amounts of caffeine, positioning them well above the “safe” zone of 200mg daily, so consider limiting these where possible.
Alcohol is the obvious beverage to limit or avoid completely when it comes to optimising egg and sperm health. While many people believe only females need to beware of the booze during (and before) pregnancy, studies show alcohol has a profound negative effect on both egg and sperm health.
Even light drinking – as little as one drink per day – has been shown to reduce the quality of both eggs and sperm, and lower your chances of conceiving. It’s also been linked to lower sperm production.
Given there appears to be no “safe” amount of alcohol if you’re trying to conceive, you might want to consider going without the alcohol for the time being if you want to try for a baby. And remember, given both eggs and sperm take around 3 months to mature in the body, any changes you make now will impact the egg/sperm you produce three months down the track. So if you do want to try to conceive in 2023, you might choose to plan for a three-month period without the booze before you start trying.
Reduce stress where possible
While it may seem obscure that your stress can affect the health of both eggs and sperm, as well as the health of your future baby, it’s true! Excessive amounts of stress can decrease sexual function in both men and women, and disrupt the hormones required to produce healthy eggs and sperm.
Stress can elevate production of the hormone cortisol, which can, in turn, impair the production of crucial hormones like testosterone, oestrogen and progesterone. Without adequate production of these sex hormones, the health of both eggs and sperm suffer.
While it may seem simplistic to say to “reduce your stress levels”, simple changes like reconsidering your close social circle, setting boundaries with loved ones, implementing a mindfulness or meditation practice, journaling or sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust, or making time for things which bring you joy can have a profound impact on stress levels and general health.
Make wise lifestyle choices
Exercise, smoking and sleeping habits also play a significant part in supporting egg and sperm health, as well as general reproductive health and function.
Even moderate levels of physical activity can improve the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the ovaries and testes, supporting the quality and quantity of sperm and the health of eggs. In fact, studies show that increased exercise by obese or overweight men led to large improvements in sperm count and motility. So consider adding regular exercise into your weekly routine, aiming for moderate intensity movement for even 20-30 minutes, up to five times per week.
Prioritising sleep, both quality and quantity also has a protective effect on egg and sperm health. A study showed that early bedtimes (before 10.30 pm) and adequate sleep durations of between 7.5-8 hours per night saw improvements in semen quality. Aiming for 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each night is one of the best ways you can support your fertility and general health. Consider implementing a nighttime routine of around 30 minutes to an hour before you go to bed each evening, to signal to your body and mind it’s time to wind down. You may also choose to sleep in a cool, very dark room, and finish drinking water at least an hour before bed to improve your sleep quality.
Smoking, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. Research demonstrates that smoking has been consistently linked to lower sperm counts and semen quality, with moderate to heavy smoking habits compounding this negative impact even further.
Reduce your exposure to chemicals and pollutants
Chemicals and pollutants which interfere with your natural endocrine system and hormone production, known as endocrine disruptors, can have terrible consequences for both egg and sperm health. Exposure to these chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides, has been shown to negatively affect sperm quantity and quality, as well as female reproductive hormone production and egg health.
Make 2023 the year you take steps to reduce your exposure to these toxins, wherever possible. Shop organic when buying fresh foods you tend to eat the skin of (or have thin skins – think berries, green vegetables, apples and peaches). Drink filtered water, and consider installing an air purifier in your home. Avoid reheating food in plastic containers at all times, and try to store food in glass jars or beeswax wraps instead of plastic wraps and containers. And consider opting for natural skin, body, and hair care products without any added fragrances or chemicals where you can.
Interestingly, dietary consumption of endocrine-disrupting chemicals is one of the main ways you’re risking exposure, so considering your choice of Tupperware and food products is critical for protecting egg and sperm health. Similarly, people living in highly polluted areas have been found to have lower sperm counts on average, so limiting your exposure to environmental toxins where you can is also beneficial for sperm health – and general health too!
Use supplements to your advantage
Prenatal supplements are a really important consideration for anyone wanting to conceive in the near future. They can help minimise critical nutrient deficiencies which can severely compromise the health of your future baby, such as folate, and can also support optimal health and reproductive function, giving you the best chance of improving both egg and sperm health.
Each individual or couple has unique needs when it comes to prenatal supplementation, so get in touch to work with me on a supplement plan to best support your reproductive health in 2023.