3 Factors that Affect Male Fertility


Oxidative stress, inflammation, and metabolic shifts greatly impact male fertility. Luckily, there are many ways to combat these factors and actively improve fertility and overall health.
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, caused mainly 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 in relation to male fertility)
  2. Inflammation and other environmentally-based impacts from pollution, food, water, etc.
  3. Metabolic shifts

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

It is pervasive for women trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, and/or simply aware of how their fertility represents their health to seek information and take action. However, culturally, it is less common for men to have that same awareness merely because they usually haven’t been taught they need it. Moreover, 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 are needed to fertilize a woman’s egg to create a new life. But ever-growing research supports that sperm is so much more than just a contributor of genetic material: it is a biomarker for future 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 the baby's health over the long term.

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 our Men’s Multivitamin and Fertility Booster supplements 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 negative 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 can 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 balancing the body’s antioxidant activity and reactive oxygen species (ROS). Unfortunately, in nearly 40-50% of male factor infertility cases, sperm quality is abnormal, and in many instances, elevated ROS is a contributing factor. 

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 that oxidative stress, which can promote inflammation (we’re getting there), 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 exposed to triggers of oxidative stress (e.g., environmental chemicals, pesticides, and pollutants) now more 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. It is virtually impossible for men to avoid triggering factors completely, but there are ways to minimize exposure and support natural detoxification efforts. Regular exercise, good quality and quantity of sleep, and avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and exposure to chemicals can make a big difference. 

An antioxidant-rich diet is also vital 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) can be a crucial tool to help support the body’s natural detoxification process. 

Our Men’s Multivitamin and Fertility Booster supplements contain familiar antioxidants like vitamin E, vitamin C, and selenium, plus a unique antioxidant blend (think CoQ10 and ashwagandha, to name just a few!) to offer more antioxidant support than the typical men’s multivitamin alone. Beyond antioxidants, the nutrients in our newest formula help support the very 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. However, too much inflammation depletes important antioxidants, leading 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, which is the foundational material in the production of testosterone, a key hormone in the sperm production process.

Fighting inflammation

A nutrient-rich diet that incorporates a variety of animal and plant-based foods that are high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids and can help manage chronic inflammation. Good quality supplements can also help replete and maintain key vitamins and minerals needed to support all bodily systems. Specifically, cholinevitamin B12, and folate can help support the body’s resilience. Our Fertility Booster provides additional power by supporting liver and kidney detoxification by aiding the clearance of heavy metals and turning on a fire hose of antioxidants for protective effects on both eggs and sperm.

3. Metabolism

Metabolism slows with age for a couple of reasons. 

  1. We often become less active as we age, leading to decreased 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 (or, our cell’s battery) make less energy, impacting fertility. Every system in our body requires energy, and our mitochondria produce 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/or 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 Cvitamin B12, zinc, magnesium, and nutrients like NAC, 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 influence baby’s development and even the health of future generations. But new studies have expanded our understanding of how similar factors from the father directly or indirectly impact 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 increasingly evident through emerging research that the impact of sperm on fertilization happens before an oocyte (or, an immature egg) is even fertilized. For example, in a study evaluating how semen interacts with a woman’s reproductive tract, researchers found that sperm could deliver signals or essentially ‘persuade’ her immune system to allow fertilization (3). Other studies show that the father’s genes help build a baby's placenta more than the mother’s (456). 

As you might expect, dad’s environmental exposure also plays a significant role in fertilization. For example, 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 (78). 

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 responsible. Oxidation in semen and sperm DNA fragmentation (also caused by oxidation) can increase the likelihood of pregnancy loss (9). In addition, chemicals found in semen, like lead, can circulate in women before and even during pregnancy (10). Sperm can also impact the mother’s inflammatory and immunological response, further impacting the uterine environment in which the embryo develops (11), 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 that genetics and lifestyle factors play in conception and reprogramming the baby's health throughout its life. 

For example, men who smoke before conception increase the risk of their future offspring having asthma, even if smoking stopped five years beforehand (12). Other exposures, like herbicides, can also cause long-term health problems (13), and even 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 (14). 

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 (15). In the largest 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 (16

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. Take this knowledge into your appointments to collaborate with your provider. An informed appointment with an 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 ahead 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 yourself and 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. Support the entire family's health by ensuring dad covers all of his nutritional bases with FullWell’s Men’s Multivitamin supplement and Fertility Booster for the preconception period.”
RD-formulated for men's heath
Key vitamins & minerals to nourish sperm health
Turn on a firehose of antioxidants.
Fertility Booster is our favorite way to fight oxidative damage.
* 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.