Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert.
With male infertility levels appearing to be on the increase, we need to identify key areas that we can change within our lifestyles to combat the issue.
One of these areas identified is diet and nutrition. It seems that the popular adoption of a Western diet is having a negative effect on the ability of men to develop healthy sperm that can fertilize the egg.
This can be due to the increase of free radicals developing in the body because of high calorie, yet nutritionally deficient foods that do not contain a wealth of antioxidants.
In this article we shall cover the following points:
- Free radicals?
- Dieticians viewpoint
- Required dose
What are free radicals?
Free radicals are molecules that have an unpaired electron. They are highly reactive and can cause damage to cells, proteins, and DNA.
Free radicals can be created by the body as a result of normal body processes, such as breathing and digestion or they can come from external sources such as pollution, cigarette smoke, radiation from the sun and junk foods.
The most common free radical is the hydroxyl radical (OH). It is created when hydrogen peroxide reacts with a metal ion such as iron (Fe) or copper (Cu).
Hydroxyl radicals react with other molecules in a process called oxidation which causes them to become unstable and break down into water (H2O) and oxygen gas (O2).
The hydroxyl radical is a major contributor to oxidative stress which can lead to chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.
There are also other types of free radicals that can be found in the body such as nitric oxide and peroxynitrite.
There are many ways to reduce free radicals in the body. One way is by eating a diet rich in antioxidants.
Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals before they can cause any damage. Another way is by taking antioxidant supplements.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are substances that can protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals.
They do this by donating an electron to a free radical, which then becomes stable and harmless.
Antioxidants are found in many foods, such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and tea.
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can cause damage to cells, proteins, and DNA. Antioxidants work by donating an electron to the free radical without becoming unstable themselves.
This prevents the free radical from damaging other molecules in the cell.
Selenium is a mineral that is found in soil, water, and some foods. It is an essential nutrient for humans and animals. Selenium helps the body to produce glutathione peroxidase which protects cells from damage by free radicals.
Selenium also helps to regulate thyroid hormone levels in the body. A deficiency of this nutrient can lead to Keshan disease which causes heart problems in children and adults.
It has been shown to be important for the prevention of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.
Selenium has many important functions in the body, it helps with DNA synthesis and protects against infection.
It helps to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Selenium also helps to keep the thyroid gland healthy and plays a role in reproduction.
This mineral can be found in many different foods such as seafood, meat, eggs, grains, and vegetables.
Once this essential nutrient is consumed it is mainly stored in the skeletal muscle alongside other human tissues.
What are the symptoms of a selenium deficiency?
Selenium deficiency can lead to a number of health problems.
Symptoms of a deficiency include:
- hair loss
- brittle nails
- dry skin
A deficiency could be identified by taking a sample of your blood or urine whereby the plasma and serum concentrations would be measured.
However, hair or nails could be analysed to provide a broader timeline of your nutrient status.
As selenium is found in the soil, many food sources will include it.
Afterall, vegetables grown in the earth will have traces of the element and so with animals that graze on grass or vegetation.
However, these are the best food sources:
- Brazil nuts
- Other nuts
Selenium and fertility
Selenium may help with infertility by improving the quality of sperm and increasing the chances of pregnancy.
Selenium is an essential trace element that is required for the production of sperm. Being a powerful antioxidant it protects sperm from oxidative damage.
A study published by the British Journal of Urology in 1998 found that insufficient dietary selenium intake was a contributory factor to infertility problems.
Further research published in 2017 into the effect of selenium on infertile males also found that the element improved sperm count, motility, viability, volume of ejaculate and sperm morphology.
Analysis of selenium’s role within male fertility expands further with published data that concludes selenium is required for spermatogenesis as it has a structural role in sperm.
A deficiency would halt this process and reduce reproductive effectiveness.
Selenium is important for the functioning of the thyroid gland and plays an important role in regulating metabolism.
Research published in 2012 shows a strong correlation between the relationship of testosterone, selenium, and infertile males.
Is selenium safe?
Selenium can be toxic if it builds up in the body. Selenium toxicity can cause hair loss, brittle nails, and skin rashes.
It can also cause problems with the heart and thyroid gland. Selenium is a trace mineral that is found in many foods. It is also available as a dietary supplement.
What do dieticians say about selenium?
The British Association of Dieticians are quoted as stating,
“Selenium is an antioxidant and is involved with the normal function of the immune and thyroid system and sperm production.”
Therefore, we should be more conscious about eating fertility boosting foods that contain the element.
How much selenium per day for fertility?
The recommended daily intake of selenium for adults can range from 55 to 75 micrograms (mcg) per day for men and 60 for women.
The recommended daily intake for pregnant women is 70 micrograms per day.
The tolerable upper limit is 400mcg daily.
However, positive male fertility outcomes have been recorded with doses of 200mcg
Clearly there is a lot of benefit to ensuring that you consume enough food sources rich in selenium. This essential trace element is also vital for healthy sperm production and seems to be associated with testosterone levels.
The studies show that men suffering from infertility can improve their chances of conception with their partner once a selenium deficiency has been addressed.
To ensure that you do not have a deficiency of selenium, ensure that you eat foods rich in this element, or take a supplement to ensure that you reach the recommended daily intakes.