This recent study examining the link between male infertility and increased risk of testicular cancer caught the eye of our nutrition department. When questioned about the reasons why the infertile men in this study were 2.8 times more likely to develop testicular cancer than fertile men, the researchers ruled out fertility treatment as a contributing factor, largely because men are not likely to undergo surgery or take fertility drugs. One potential hypothesis suggested by this group is that infertile men may have impaired DNA repair-capacity. Another suggestion is that environmental exposure to toxins may contribute to the development of testicular cancer.
From a nutrition standpoint, when we see impaired DNA repair capacity and environmental exposure we immediately think oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is when our bodies’ defense systems against cell damage and environmental toxicity become overwhelmed. Oxidative stress is associated with male infertility (Agarwal 2008) and for this reason we counsel our male infertility patients to make changes to support their body’s antioxidant capacity to improve their sperm quality.
Here are some tips for the “fertile guy” who wants to help his sperm be all they can be…and now, potentially prevent testicular cancer:
- Quit smoking and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
- Limit alcohol consumption to < 3 servings per week. Choose red wine for its antioxidant benefits.
- Oxidative stress may also be higher where inflammation is present, so ensuring good digestion and gut health may reduce circulating levels of ROS. If you're experiencing diarrhea, bloating, constipation, cramping or other digestive symptoms, it may be worthwhile to meet with a nutrition specialist to determine if food sensitivity or other digestive disorder is present.
- Where possible, use organic cleaning products.
- Increase your dietary antioxidant consumption. A diet that is wholesome and rich in fruits, vegetables, tea, and healthy fats will improve our body's defenses against oxidative stress. Be aware that many sources of healthy fats in the diet (fatty fish, flax seed) should be consumed intelligently to avoid excess intake of environmental toxins (fish) and phytoestrogens (flax).
- Consider an antioxidant supplement and high quality fish oil supplement that provides about 1000 to 1500 mg of EPA per day.
- Avoid high intensity/high impact exercise without adequate time for body tissues to rest and restore. The huge aerobic and mechanical demands of strenuous exercise can actually increase oxidative damage to cells in the body. On the flip side, regular moderate intensity/low impact exercise increases our body's defenses against oxidative stress.
- Learn to relax, practice yoga or meditate. Life stresses may elevate levels of ROS in the body and learning to relax can support our body’s antioxidant defenses and actually promote healing.
So guys, you have one more reason to take charge of your nutritional status while you and your partner are trying to conceive. Healthy sperm and good antioxidant defenses may literally save your life!