how chemicals affect sperm

how chemicals affect sperm

Many of you are here because you want to become Mothers or Fathers. All of you will have had an interest in this as you may have had problems conceiving. For some, the journey down the road to parenthood is easy. But for others, conception can be an immensely challenging process for both body and mind.

The natural approach to treating infertility looks the at the root causes of infertility, by addressing all body systems, rather than just focusing solely on the reproductive system.
I’ve talked a lot about diet so far and things we have more control over. Some things like environmental toxins we have less control over, however we can make some choices about most of these issues once we know what we are dealing with.

A recent report in the UK from the Royal College of Gynaecologists confirmed many of the concerns I have as a nutritionist around limiting your chemical exposure during pregnancy. The truth is this journey should really start before conception instead of the advice given of which chemicals to avoid during pregnancy.

I often refer to environmental toxins with clients as the silent accumulators as they can be responsible for sub fertility. Accumulated toxins from our diet or environment can build up over time and unfortunately, they will stop nutrients from getting to a woman’s reproductive organs and interfere with sperm health.

According to Natural Health Concepts, “More than 80,000 chemicals permitted have never been fully assessed for toxic impacts on human health and the environment. Under the current law, it is almost impossible to take regulatory action against dangerous chemicals, even those that are known to cause cancer or other serious health effects”.


We absorb almost 60% of what we put on our skin and if we take just a quick snapshot of the chemical bath we are exposed to just in body care, it is quite easy to rack up an impressive chemical count within hours of waking. By the time we eventually go to bed, we will be exposed to many hundreds of chemicals just in one area such as body care.

Many couples have unexplained infertility and cleaning up their exposure to chemicals is one component of an overall plan and used in conjunction with others will help them become more fertile. Everyone has a different physiology so as a rule I always recommend an overhaul of body, home and lifestyle.

Exposure to chemicals used to preserve lotions and potions heavy metals, radiation, and toxic chemicals in some foods, drugs and other products can damage DNA and can influence our gene structure and expression.

Here are a few things to help you clean up your act in regards to chemicals prior to conception:

1. Minimize your exposure to toxic chemicals

Once pregnant exposure to environmental toxins (in the form of industrial chemicals) both in utero and neonatally may dramatically affect the growing child. There appears to be less stringent controls on them as there are for medicines. Consequently, poisonous chemicals end up circulating in our environment, food supply, air and water.
Heavy metals and environmental pollution can alter hormone function and result in adverse reproductive health effects. These include:
Ovotoxicants: which can disrupt or even stop ovulation.
Endocrine disruptors: Which can interfere with hormone function and cause endometriosis and PCOS.
Phthalates: in plastic food containers, cling film, bags, medical supplies, vinyl flooring and packaging at high levels have been associated with miscarriage and testicular toxicity. At low levels they disrupt hormonal balance.
VCH chemicals: used in rubber tires, plastics and pesticides.
PAH: released from cigarettes, car fumes and road tar

Men are also affected

Studies confirm male sperm counts are declining, and environmental factors, such as pesticides, exogenous oestrogens (Xenoestrogens), and heavy metals may negatively impact spermatogenesis (formation of sperm).
Sperm seems to be more sensitive to heavy metals and industrial pollutants than Ova. Many sperm abnormalities have been linked to these toxins. The majority of these chemicals can be found in the atmosphere, on the ground in cities and in the waterways.

They have also been termed “reprotoxicants” for their negative effects on sperm development and maturation. Shanna Swan who was involved in the sperm study published in 2017 has written a great book looking at chemicals as the main reason for declining sperm health.  

What can we do about this – The top 7 environmental toxins to avoid

Pesticides: found on non-organic fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy and unfiltered tap water
Formaldehyde: found in air fresheners, deodorants, floor polish, upholstery cleaners
Bisphenols: found in plastic containers and can leach into food and water.
Organic solvents: petroleum based liquids found in household products, electronics, car repair, health care, photography, agriculture, printing, construction and cosmetics and many more
Parabens used in common shampoos, conditioners and body care items.
Dry-cleaning chemicals
Paint fumes
Occasional exposure to one or the other toxic chemical is not of concern. What is of concern is accumulation of these chemicals over a long period.

2. Water

Our waterways are constantly being polluted by industrial waste and by-products, pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides and herbicides and commercial cleaning products.
How to minimise this = use a filtration system
Buy a filtration water system that filters particles smaller than 1 micron (this will filter out the drugs as well as heavy metals). Use the filter in your shower and your kitchen. Shower steam contains the same chemicals, which you can end up inhaling and can be absorbed through your skin.


It can be difficult to totally banish chemicals from our life, as after all we do live in a modern society; however we can make a big dent on our chemical exposure by:

1. Minimising and switching to natural products for body hair and teeth
2. Making sure the majority of your food is chemical free
3. Not obsessing about using plug in air filters and using harmful chemicals to clean your house

4. Filtering your water with a really good filtration system

sperm morphology – can the shape really hinder fertility?

sperm morphology – can the shape really hinder fertility?

Abnormalities in shape make it more difficult for sperm to penetrate and fertilize an egg. However this is not impossible and in my clinic I have seen many people go on to have a healthy pregnancy with 4% or lower morphology.

If there has been a morphology issue at an early stage before working together from last years test –  one of the next things I suggest is a DNA fragmentation test 

In my experience this seems to be the largest anomaly in most the sperm tests I see. And in my opinion relates to physical and environmental reasons.

The sperm shape it vital to a successful pregnancy. Often if there are zero morphologies this can be down to an illness, virus and heating the testicles too much, or chemical exposure Please read the ground breaking book by Dr Shanna Swan ‘ Count down’ about chemicals that can affect sperm if this is the case as there are some changes that need to happen on an environmental level taking out everyday chemicals. When you take these things out of the equation things may improve.  Also there is a blog I have written about this for more information here. ( link to blog on chemicals) 

Taking out the things suggested below will help this immensely

Heating the testicles is a sure way to mutate sperm so no lycra pants, saunas or steam rooms and cycling and sitting for long periods of time can boil thing a bit!

Things we can do to improve the shape of sperm:

  • Reduce caffeine
  • Reducing Alcohol
  • Taking out Tobacco and marijuana 
  • Maintaining some form of exercise three times weekly as obesity reduces chances of well functioning sperm


Diet wise these things can help

Vitamin C – studies looking at increasing fruit and veg containing vitamin C as well as vitamin E two key antioxidants helps to boost morphology

CoQ10 – works at an energy and mitochondrial levels so will also improve motility and energy of sperm 

Lycopene- used alongside zinc and folate helped improve semen parameters and pregnancy as well as reduce oxidative stress 


A marine pine bark and full of antioxidant possibility has helped not only with morphology but all parameters and also erectile issues 

nutrients key to sperm count

nutrients key to sperm count

As in previous blog posts the sperm test is made up of a variety of parameters. These are useful to gage a general view on the health of the male. The WHO set the parameters that all GPS or urologists use regarding a healthy level. Sperm Count is regarded by this to be 15 million per milliliter (ml), or at least 39 million per ejaculate. If this is under 15 milliom this is considered low. As you may expect as testosterone is the driver of this a routine hormone test will show if there are issues with testosterone and other factors like FSH, LH and prolactin. 

There may also be a hindering physiological issue that impede sperm getting to larger numbers, which has to be ruled out. But in terms of lifestyle, a good healthy diet is the key starting point. 

Why is this so important surely it only takes 1 sperm to get there? Sadly of the many  millions that are released the more you have the more chances that the calculation of around 50-100 sperm getting to the egg make it as the ‘ best possible winners’ 

Vitamin C

Including vitamin C in your diet through fruit and veggies such as mango, papaya, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi fruit, chilis, potatoes, camu camu, spinach and ontop of this adding in 1,000-mg vitamin C supplements twice a day for up to 2 months increased sperm count by more than 100% 

Also, taking zinc supplements increases testosterone levels and sperm count in those who are low in zinc 



The key to DNA replication is just as important in Men as it is in Women for creating good quality reproductive ‘money makers’ you can get folate in leafy green such as  Kale, cabbage, Watercress,  Brocholi, Beans and legumes like chickpeas/garbanzas spinach, Brussel sprouts and spouted broccoli seeds, Beetroots or beet greens. Also organ meat like liver is a great source 


Selenium is needed to make healthy sperm and boost count. Foods such as Brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs provide selenium.


Vitamin D

In a 2018 review low levels of vitamin D can have an effect on fertility. The best way to increase this in diet is oily boney fish. But in terms of sunlight this is the gold standard to improve levels. However in most cases like thos who live in colder climates that rarely tips the mercery higher than a fewq weeks a year a vitamin D supplement to therapeutic levels is needed.

semen parameters

semen parameters

Semen parameters

Although some cases of male fertility are due to physical reasons such as varicoceles or block ducts etc it is estimated that 40-90% are due to poor semen quality.

How do we know this. – we test always!

There are many parts to a Semen or Sperm test. 

The WHO hasn’t changed it’s criteria on since 2010, but I have seen varying parameters even in NHS test. I rarely see a good one these days so anecdotally can corroborate that levels are going down. 

A semen analysis tests for the following:

  • number of sperm (volume)
  • shape of sperm
  • movement of sperm, or  sperm motility 


A normal amount is between 1.5 – 5 mL, or between ¼ – 1 teaspoon. 


Looking for a good liquid balance not too clumpy which can hinder sperm on the journey. Usual response – normal or abnormal. 


Needs to happen by 20 mins- if taking longer there maybe and issue that needs looking into. 

Total sperm

WHO numbers – 39 million plus for a good example. 

Concentration .

WHO state that the concentration per sample needs to be jam packed to the tune of 15-20 million. If lower in IVF they recommend ICSI instead. 


How many sperm are motile. This needs to be 50+% I always laugh when clients talk about this as they call this ‘mobility’ I imagine sperm on scooters! ????

Total motile count

This should be 20-40 million moving. If it’s less and there are morphology ( shape and mutations) they may suggest ICSI if going for IVF. 


Shape of sperm. Should be over 4% good morphology ideally 9+.  If lots of tail, double heads and neck issues this can mean something needs to be addressed lifestyle wise.


The vagina, is very acidic to ward off infection so sperm pH needs to range between 7.2 and 8 according to WHO. Ideally less than 8, but this is still acceptable.

Testing is always a must in my clinic and it’s not just about the ladies! If there have been miscarriages one of the first things I ask the couple to do is to test the sperm.

morphology which was found to be higher in the winter and spring compared to the summer. 

For the latest WHO document detailing this to a greater degree  click here 

Foods that Improve Sperm Motility

Foods that Improve Sperm Motility

GO Go – food that improve sperm motility

Sperm are set into parameters and its always good when starting this journey to see where there are problems as to win the sperm race you need good concentration to enable there to be a good number getting to the end, they need to swim fast and in the right direction and the shape isn’t mutated ( forms of morphology)
Motility is one of the most important as if the sperm aren’t going in the right direction and swimming well they won’t get to where they need to!
Diet and lifestyle is duly recorded as one of the major factors that can help to improve this.
What foods improve this if you do find your motility is down?

Eat more vegetables and fruits

Dr. Jaime Mendiola, of Instituto Bernabeu in Alicante, Spain believes men who eat lots of processed meat and full-fat dairy have poorer quality sperm than those who eat more fruit, vegetables. The study with 61 Spanish men visiting his fertility clinic was recorded in Fertility and Sterility, March 2009.

Food with high levels of antioxidants

There’s also some evidence that oxidative stress and excessively high levels of this can have an impact. A study where previous sperm parameters were low showed that taking 1,000-mg vitamin C supplements twice a day for up to 2 months increased sperm motility by 92%. Vitamin C can be found in fruit and vegetables like Cantaloupe. Citrus fruits and juices, such as orange and grapefruit, Kiwi fruit, Mango, Papaya Pineapple, Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries and Watermelon. (however fruit taken excessively can increase insulin so if doing this limit your fruit to a portion a day)

One study in men took an Indian herb – ashwagandha root daily for 3 months and this improved sperm motility by 57%, compared with levels at the start of the study.

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and support fertility. In particular 1 show promise for motility, Carnitine and the Acetyl version of carnitine. Considerably increasing the rate of pregnancy in the 2 groups assessed.

Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. 2010. L-carnitine: safe and effective for asthenozoospermia. Department of Urology, The Second Hospital of Hebei Medical University, Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China.

are you getting enough protein to build yourself a baby?

are you getting enough protein to build yourself a baby?

One thing I always seem to do at the start of seeing new clients is always get a food diary. I don’t know what it is, but women in particular always seem to be lacking in protein when we work through their daily food intake. I know its all about veg and protein, but what’s this all about? Possibly that they have forgotten the vital part protein plays in ensuring life and also the importance of this in the preconception diet to give the body the signals that there is enough ‘fuel’ to maintain a new life and
sustain hormonal health too! Men on the other hand are all too happy to be given my recipes which contain more meat, beans and legumes ( although to be fair sometimes the legumes make them a bit more unsociable if not told how to properly prepare them!!)

In order to perform as a human being it is vital that we gain ‘fuel’ to sustain life. I’m sure you read allabout this in biology at school, but as a trip down memory lane, here is a bit about why we need protein.

The Word protein was coined by a Dutch chemist in 1833 and comes from the Greek word ‘Protos’which means of prime importance. After water the body is primarily made up of protein. Protein isused by the body to build, repair and for growth of new tissue andto maintain muscle. Protein is madeup of amino acids or the building blocks. There are approximately 20, of these 9 are considered essential, as they cannot be made by the body and therefore must be supplied by diet.

If you don’t have adequate protein, your body will begin to break down its tissue. Our bodies are in a constant state of building up and breaking down tissue and to do this they need protein. There are many thousands of combinations of amino acids needed to perform the necessary ‘transfers’ in the body for tissue and neurotransmitters which all require sequences that are very different from the amino acid needed to complete this process.

According to loads of nutrition textbooks healthy people should have at least 0.8g of protein a day per body weight. This is particularly important for those trying to get pregnant, as hormones are made uplargely of protein!

Unfortunately this calculation isn’t accurate for everyone as we all have different levels of activity, stress in our life and we also have to be careful of acidity of the protein!

If you are deficient I would recommend upping this to 1.21.8g per body weight. However if you have inflammation in the body as seen on blood tests in high amounts of Creactive protein, in this instance excess protein will be harmful to the liver.

Another important thing to consider iswhat kind of protein are you having? You always need toconsume the highest amount of bioavailable protein with the full package of amino acids. Nutritional Scientists will rate this using a scale called theProteinEnergy Ration. (PER) and Biological Value(BV) ratings of proteins, which measure how well the body utilizes amino acids in a protein. Here’show the main proteins rate (from highest to lowest) by how well they are utilized in the body.

– Whey Protein
– Egg Whites
– Fish
– Dairy Products
– Chicken
– Beef
– Legumes

For me Whey is out, as its just so mucus forming and lots of people lose the enzyme to digest this past 3 years of age, I do however like raw prepared and fermented kefir and I’m really starting to become obsessed about fermented food ( more about this in later posts)

However  – Top of my list is always Eggs! At least 2 daily, and if lacto ovo veggie 3-4 daily.

Cold water fish, great, but with caution large fishes build up heavy metals in their tissue so only go for wild caught or in non polluted areas.

Chicken, quite a substantial amount of protein! So please add this also but make sure its free range and organic.

Grass fed and organic red meat, such as lamb and beef and buffalo at least once weekly

Beans and Legumes – and make sure these are produced organically! Huge amounts of folate, prepare by popping a piece of seaweed in the pot while cooking t absorb the gas. Also pre-soak and rinse a few times.

Other forms of ‘protein’

I don’t like soya at all, i’m sure you have heard me banging on about this! – unfortunately this is creeping into the UK quite rapidly, and many with dairy intolerances are having this as an alternative to lactose! Also it is used almost without a thought by a lot of vegetarians in some form as it has been touted as a ‘ health food’  and is a source of protein. Soya can have a very strong effect on your thyroid disrupting vital hormones here and disturbing fertility. Soya is also a low sulphur based amino acid, and sulphur is the compound that is vital for glutathione to get a kick start, and support your methylation cycle, which is one of the most important things that happens in the body billions of times a second in order to survive and replicate our own DNA. Glutathione is one of the most important substances in this process as it helps with detoxification, so is the ‘ cleaner’ so to speak and gets rid of excess nasties in the body and is a major antioxidant. Other proteins do have sulphur bases, and most meat has the complete package! Soya is also not a good choice for sperm health as it has been cited as reducing count in some studies, and is very detrimental as a whole, so if you are using soya, as milk substitute or to increase protein as a veggie or vegan, consider the other options of hemp, beans and legumes instead.

Do vegans get enough protein and is this a wise choice to follow for preconception and pregnancy?

Speaking of vegans, this is one group that eat and have a fantastic knowledge of food combining and in my experience have the basic foundations for an excellent diet! However as much of what they eat is lacking in B12 deficiencies can build up, so its wise to always take a B12 supplement such as Methylcobalamin ( low dose, to begin with) It sounds factitious to say this but the level of veggies vegans eat is enviable, however – the proteins to help sustain the metabolic processes in the body are incomplete and over time this may pose health issues. Thankfully many do keep an eye on the protein levels they eat, and also if you are vegan, its worth going for regular vitamin and mineral blood tests as well as having regular Full blood counts to see if inflammation is setting in.

Personally I recommend a diet from a paleo perspective, with a mixture of animal and vegetable protein but modified depending on your circumstances where you may have more need for it during times of stress or illness and heavy exercise. Pregnancy is a time where you may need initially less protein as the liver and kidneys are under a tremendous amount of stress hormonally. At different times of your life will have more need for certain things and a balance ratio of carbs to protein based on your situation.

I’m not about ‘ one size fits all’ as your genetics will also play into this and if you have MTHFR and other mutations expressing your need for folate will be huge and the diet will need to reflect this ( beans and legumes must be had here until coming our your ears!). Some may also may have compromised digestive systems and need digestive enzymes to help them to break the food down in order to optimize absorption of the amino acids in the protein. As I always say everyone is a snowflake, and your level of protein needs to be a safe 50-70g as a woman ( if average weight and not overweight  and 70g + as a man in a similar situation. To be safe try the calculation mentioned above 0.8x kg weight and start off at a lower amount I mentioned and build up to your level. If you find this is too much, you may have weaker kidneys and anything more than that may be too much for your kidneys to process. However you need to try this and see how you get on with it before throwing higher protein away as a lifestyle and preconception model suggestion!




Verified by MonsterInsights