3 factors that affect male fertility

3 factors that affect male fertility

FullWell is determined to educate and optimize the fertility of every human, regardless of gender, sex, age, diagnosis, or even desire to procreate, because healthy fertility paints broad and significant strokes into the landscape of whole health for both women and men. 

Alarmingly, male fertility and sperm health are on the decline overall. Several factors may contribute to this, most of them caused by a generally increasing toxic burden

The three most impactful factors that we will cover here (and work together to counteract!) are:

  1. Oxidative stress (which we have also discussed as it pertains to male fertility)
  2. Inflammation and other environmentally-based impacts from pollution, food, water, etc.
  3. Metabolic shifts

These factors may influence healthy sperm, which impacts not just conception, but baby's outcomes and the future health of men who might not even be trying to conceive.

It is widespread for women trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, or simply aware of how their fertility represents their personal health to seek information and take action in this regard. Culturally, it is less common for men to have that same awareness simply because they usually haven’t been taught they need it. What’s more, the fertility education, support, and supplementation available to men seeking it is far less impressive and comprehensive than what is available for women. (Again, culture.)

That didn’t sit right with us. 

So we changed it.

We all know that sperm plays a critical role in reproduction. Healthy, motile sperm is needed to fertilize a woman’s egg to begin the process of creating a new life. But ever-growing research supports that sperm is more than just a contributor of genetic material: it is a biomarker for future health.

Introducing our first supplement designed for men: FullWell’s men's prenatal vitamin, Optimal Nutrients for Men’s Reproductive and Sperm Health

The role of fertile, healthy sperm goes way beyond conception. Sperm quality, motility (movement), and morphology (shape and size) all contribute to an overall healthy pregnancy and baby's health over the long term.

Our men's prenatal vitamin and mineral complex is an evidence-based formula designed to support optimal sperm production, hormone health, and overall male fertility. This golden combination of nutrients works together to:

  • optimize sperm motility, quality, and structure
  • support the body’s free radical defenses
  • optimize hormone levels
  • support energy, balance, and overall wellness

How does fertility extend beyond pregnancy planning and conception?

Men must focus on supporting their health in preconception the same way women do, as it will have lasting effects on the entire family.

Founder and functional medicine practitioner Ayla Barmmer, MS, RD, LDN, formulated FullWell’s men's prenatal, Vitality + Virility, specifically to support sperm against those three aggravating factors that hinder them from growing and thriving. These three root causes - oxidative stress, inflammation, and metabolism - should be top of mind for men looking to optimize their fertility and elevate overall health.

Let’s discuss these factors individually and brainstorm ways to combat their adverse effects.

1. Oxidative stress

Oxidative stress ​is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body (1). Sperm are exceedingly sensitive to damage from oxidative stress, so consuming extra antioxidants through diet and supplementation will help support your body’s free radical defenses (2). It’s also essential to fully address sources of oxidative stress in every aspect of life:

Ideal sperm quality (which, as we’ve covered, encompasses quantity, motility, and morphology) largely depends on a balance between the body’s antioxidant activity and reactive oxygen species (ROS). In nearly 40-50% of male factor infertility cases, sperm quality is abnormal; elevated ROS contributes to many cases. 

In terms of what that means for overall health, low levels of ROS play a significant role in immunity, sperm maturation, and fertilization. On the other hand, high levels of ROS may bring on oxidative stress, which can elevate inflammation (we’re getting there), increase the risk of chronic disease, damage sperm DNA, and decrease the sperm’s potential to fertilize an egg and develop a healthy embryo. 

Fighting oxidative stress

The average person is more exposed to oxidative stress triggers (e.g., environmental chemicals, pesticides, and pollutants) now than ever. Unfortunately, this means that the lifelong accumulation of chemicals we are exposed to, or our toxic burden, has increased proportionally over the years. Men can't avoid triggering factors completely, but there are ways to minimize exposure and support natural detoxification efforts. Regular exercise, good quality and quantity of sleep, avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and exposure to chemicals make a big difference. 

An antioxidant-rich diet is also crucial for mitigating the effects of oxidation in the body and supporting fertility. However, a few realities are unfortunately out of our control regarding food. A general decline in the nutrient density of our food supply due to increasingly poor soil quality means that targeted nutritional support (read: supplements) is a crucial tool to help support the body’s natural detoxification process. 

FullWell’s men's prenatal contains familiar antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin C, and selenium, plus a unique antioxidant blend to offer more antioxidant support than the typical men’s multivitamin. Beyond antioxidants, the nutrients in our newest formula help support the nutrient-intensive liver detoxification process, which can encourage the healthy formation of sperm and the DNA contained within it.

2. Inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s natural defense against injuries, infections, toxins, and other stressors. This inflammation is entirely normal and manageable for your body to deal with. When there is too much inflammation, it depletes essential antioxidants, which leads to - you guessed it - oxidative stress (!) and depletion of critical nutrients like B vitamins and magnesium. 

Additionally, inflammation has an impact on the general stress response system. Increased stress hormones can cause dysregulation in the production of pregnenolone, the foundational material in testosterone production, an essential hormone in the sperm production process.

Fighting inflammation

A Mediterranean diet is often recommended as it focuses on foods high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids and can help manage chronic inflammation (3). Our men's prenatal can also help replete and maintain key vitamins and minerals needed to support all bodily systems. Specifically, choline, vitamin B12, and folate can help support the body's resilience. 

3. Metabolism

Metabolism slows with age for a couple of reasons. 

  1. We often become less active as we age, decreasing exercise and thermogenesis, or the body’s way of producing heat (which burns calories and keeps the metabolism on its toes). This slows metabolism substantially. 
  2. As we age, our cell’s mitochondria make less energy, which can impact fertility. Every system in our body requires energy, and our mitochondria are responsible for producing more than 90% of it. 

Supporting metabolism

Mastering a balance of quality sleep (and enough of it), consuming enough calories and protein, and adding resistance and high-intensity interval training to your routine can help combat the adverse effects of aging on metabolism. Getting your gut health in check can also be helpful, not to mention improve your overall quality of life significantly.

From a nutritional standpoint, vitamin C, B12, zinc, and magnesium (all found in FullWell’s prenatal for men) can help protect mitochondrial function and support overall metabolic health. 

Now for the big questions.

What if I am trying to conceive? How does all of this play into the health of my baby?

As we know, a mother’s lifestyle, diet, and exposure to environmental factors in preconception or in utero influences the development of baby and even future generations. But new studies have expanded our understanding of how similar factors from the father have a direct or indirect impact on fertilization, embryo development, pregnancy, and the long-term health of baby.  

LET’S TALK ABOUT: The male role in fertilization and embryo development

It is becoming more and more apparent through emerging research that the impact of sperm on fertilization happens before an oocyte is even fertilized. In a study evaluating how semen interacts with a woman’s reproductive tract, researchers found that sperm were able to deliver signals or essentially ‘persuade’ her immune system to allow fertilization to occur (4). Other studies show that the father’s genes help build a baby's placenta more than the mother’s (5) (6) (7). 

As you might expect, dad’s environmental exposure also plays a significant role in fertilization. In a study looking at couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), researchers found that a father’s exposure to phthalates influenced the early stage of embryo quality, potentially due to sperm DNA alterations (8) (9). 

LET’S TALK ABOUT: The male role in pregnancy

It is usually assumed that the mother is responsible for pregnancy outcomes after conception, but new research now shows that the health of a father’s sperm is also accountable. Oxidation in semen and sperm DNA fragmentation (which can also be caused by oxidation) can increase the likelihood of pregnancy loss (10). Chemicals found in semen, like lead, can circulate in women before and even during pregnancy (11). Sperm can also impact the mother’s inflammatory and immunological response, further impacting the uterine environment in which the embryo develops (12), which may affect blood glucose levels, blood pressure regulation, and fetal development.

LET’S TALK ABOUT: The male role in the long-term health of baby

Research points to the significant role genetics and lifestyle factors play in the conception and reprogramming of a baby's health throughout life. 

For example, men who smoke before conception increase the risk of their future offspring having asthma, even if smoking stopped five years beforehand (13). Other exposures, like herbicides, can cause long-term health problems (14). A father’s diet can impact how their baby regulates fat metabolism or whether or not they have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes (15). 

Beyond trying to conceive: how fertility impacts the long-term health of dad

Beyond fertility, male reproductive factors like low sperm count have been associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome (16). In the most extensive study to date evaluating semen quality, reproductive function, and metabolic risk, researchers discovered that men with low sperm counts had a higher risk of 

  • greater body fat
  • higher blood pressure
  • insulin sensitivity
  • imbalanced lipid levels (17

This and other recent studies have yielded more insight into how fertility status can be a biomarker for future health.*

*Side note for both our male customers and our health practitioners: taking a broader look at the complex interrelationships between fertility and overall health moving forward is critical. Gentlemen, take this knowledge to your appointments to collaborate with your provider. An informed appointment with open dialogue is a productive appointment!

Final thoughts

As you can see, the evidence for male fertility support is vast. Even for men who are not trying to conceive (even for men who are nowhere close to thinking about it!), there is no harm in planning regarding your nutrient intake, if for no other reason than to ensure your optimal health for years to come. For men on the journey toward conception, by getting ahead of the game, you are looking out for not just yourself but working toward a smooth, healthy pregnancy and the absolute best future you can provide for your baby.

Family health is the responsibility of BOTH parents. Discover helpful ways to start conversations around fertility with male partners and support the entire family's health by ensuring that dad covers all his nutritional bases with FullWell’s prenatal vitamin for men.

*The information on this website is provided for educational purposes only and should not be treated as medical advice. FullWell makes no guarantees regarding the information provided or how products may work for any individual. If you suffer from a health condition, you should consult your health care practitioner for medical advice before introducing any new products into your health care regimen. For more information, please read our terms and conditions.


  1. Eske, Jamie. “How does oxidative stress affect the body?” Medical News Today. Web. Published April 2019. Accessed Nov 2021. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324863.
  2. Alahmar, Ahmed. “Role of Oxidative Stress in Male Infertility: An Updated Review.” National Institutes of Health. Web. Published Jan 2019. Accessed Nov 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6472207/.
  3. Lăcătușu, Cristina-Mihaela. Grigorescu, Elena-Daniela. Floria, Mariana. Onofriescu, Alina. Mihai, Bogdan-Mircea. “The Mediterranean Diet: From an Environment-Driven Food Culture to an Emerging Medical Prescription.” National Institutes of Health. Web. Published Mar 2019. Accessed Nov 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466433/.
  4. Schjenken, John E. Sharkey, David J. Green, Ella S. Chan, Hon Yeung. Matias, Ricky A. Moldenhauer, Lachlan M. Robertson, Sarah A. “Sperm modulate uterine immune parameters relevant to embryo implantation and reproductive success in mice.” Communications Biology. Web. Published May 2021. Accessed Nov 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-021-02038-9.
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  7. Frost, Jennifer M. Moore, Gudrun E. “The importance of imprinting in the human placenta.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Web. Published July 2010. Accessed Nov 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20617174/.
  8. Wu, Haotian. Ashcraft, Lisa. Whitcomb, Brian W. Rahil, Tayyab. Tougias, Ellen. Sites, Cynthia K.Pilsner, J Richard. “Parental contributions to early embryo development: influences of urinary phthalate and phthalate alternatives among couples undergoing IVF treatment.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Web. Published Jan 2017. Accessed Nov 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27927842/.
  9. Wu, Haotian. Ashcraft, Lisa. Whitcomb, Brian W. Rahil, Tayyab. Tougias, Ellen. Sites, Cynthia K.Pilsner, J Richard. “Preconception urinary phthalate concentrations and sperm DNA methylation profiles among men undergoing IVF treatment: a cross-sectional study.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Web. Published Nov 2017. Accessed Nov 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29024969/.
  10. Jayasena, Channa N. Radia, Utsav K. Figueiredo, Monica. Franklin Revill, Larissa. Dimakopoulou, Anastasia. Osagie, Maria. Vessey, Wayne. Regan, Lesley. Rai, Rajendra. Dhillo, Waljit S. “Reduced Testicular Steroidogenesis and Increased Semen Oxidative Stress in Male Partners as Novel Markers of Recurrent Miscarriage.” Oxford Academic Clinical Chemistry. Web. Published Jan 2019. Accessed Nov 2021. https://academic.oup.com/clinchem/article/65/1/161/5607916.
  11. Klemmt, Leah. Scialli, Anthony R. “The transport of chemicals in semen.” Wiley Online Library. Web. Published April 2005. Accessed Nov 2021. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bdrb.20031.
  12. Watkins, Adam J. Dias, Irundika. Tsuro, Heather. Allen, Danielle. Emes, Richard D. Moreton, Joanna. Wilson, Ray. Ingram, Richard J. M. Sinclair, Kevin, D. “Paternal diet programs offspring health through sperm- and seminal plasma-specific pathways in mice.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Web. Published Oct 2018. Accessed Nov 2021. https://www.pnas.org/content/115/40/10064.
  13. “Father's environment before conception and asthma risk in his children: a multi-generation analysis of the Respiratory Health In Northern Europe study.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Web. Published Feb 2017. Accessed Nov 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27565179/.
  14. Zheng, Ruizhi. Zhang, Qian. Zhang, Qinghe. Yang, Linsheng. Zhang, Zhihua. Huang, Fen. “Occupational exposure to pentachlorophenol causing lymphoma and hematopoietic malignancy for two generations.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Web. Published April 2015. Accessed Nov 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23315091/.
  15. “Low sperm count not just a problem for fertility: New research links sperm count to other health problems.” Science Daily. Web. Published Mar 2018. Accessed Nov 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/03/180318144836.htm.
  16. Ferlin, Alberto. Garolla, Andrea. Ghezzi, Marco. Selice, Riccardo. Palego, Pierfrancesco. Caretta, Nicola. Di Mambro, Antonella. Valente, Umberto. Ponce, Maurizio De Rocco. Dipresa, Savina. Sartori, Leonardo. Plebani, Mario. Carlo Foresta, Carlo. “Sperm Count and Hypogonadism as Markers of General Male Health.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Web. Published Jan 2021. Accessed Nov 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31427194/.