Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for quite some time. He’s 45 and I’m 40. We both had extensive testing and it turns out that he has some sperm issues. Our fertility specialist has suggested a number of really expensive treatments, including surgery. Aren’t there any natural options we can try first?

A: We often think of women as the only ones with ticking biological clocks, but men have them too. Starting in their mid-40s, men start developing the “sperm issues” you referred to. In most cases that means one or more of the following: the total number of sperm decreases, they don’t move as quickly or as efficiently, and the number of damaged sperm increases. According to Dr. Brian Clement, coauthor of “7 Keys to Lifelong Sexual Vitality,” sperm count in the current generation of men is only 40 percent of what it was just a generation ago.

To answer your question, you shouldn’t even be considering surgery unless you’ve exhausted all your non-surgical options, including as many of the following as you can:

  • Quit smoking and drink less alcohol. Both reduce the quality and quantity of a man’s sperm. The same goes for illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin.
  • Watch his weight. In some studies, obesity has been shown to reduce sperm count and movement.
  • Relax. Stress can interfere with sperm production.
  • Keep cool. Warm testicles produce less—and less healthy—sperm. Your husband should stay out of hot tubs, wear boxers instead of briefs, and if he uses a laptop, don’t put it directly on his lap.
  • Keep away from toxins. Pesticides and other chemicals can hurt sperm production and quality.
  • Have more sex. Yes, a few days of abstinence will increase the amount of sperm your husband is carrying, but those sperm won’t nearly as healthy or as speedy as fresher ones.
  • Change his diet. Dr. Clement recommends more green, leafy veggies, oats, ginger, and sunflower seeds (and other foods with the amino acid arginine). He also suggests taking Vitamin B supplements bee pollen, and/or flower pollen.
  • Get more antioxidants. Middle-age and older men who consumed antioxidant-rich foods and supplements had better quality sperm than men who consumed less, according to Andrew J. Wyrobek, who led a team of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Bradford in England. Of course, it’s hard to prove that the antioxidants are directly involved in improving sperm quality. In an interview with Reuters, Wyrobek said, “People who eat well are probably doing a bunch of other healthy things, too.” Nevertheless, Wyrobek and his colleagues believe that “consuming more micronutrients such as vitamin C, E, folate, and zinc helps turn back the clock for older men… We found that men 44 and older who consumed at least the recommended dietary allowance of certain micronutrients had sperm with a similar amount of DNA damage as the sperm of younger men.”
  • Of all the antioxidants, Vitamin C produced the most impressive results. Men 45 and got the most had about 20% less DNA damage than those who took less. But before you go to Costco and load up on supplements, consider this. The guys in the high-intake group took 700 milligrams per day. The US Recommended Daily Allowance is 90 mg, but it’s considered safe to take as much as 2000 mg/day–nearly three times what the “high-intake” guys were taking. The same basic rule applied to the other supplements: men taking the largest amounts were still well within the zone of what’s considered medically safe.