Do you feel like you’re doing ALL. THE. THINGS. to boost your own fertility, while your partner is just blissfully going about his days? To be fair, it’s not their fault that men have largely been left out of the fertility conversation (short of giving up a sample). Up to this point, there were literally next to no resources on how nutrition & lifestyle impact male fertility.
Fortunately, Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, has published a comprehensive guide called Fueling Male Fertility: Nutrition and Lifestyle Guidance for Men Trying to Conceive. Be sure to grab a copy for yourself…even if you’re the one who ends up reading it!
I thought it might be fun to chat with Lauren for Men’s Health Month, about fertility in general, male fertility, and a few fun “get to know her better” questions, too. Dietitians aren’t all serious all the time!
Tell me about your business and what you do.
LM: My business is definitely evolving and pivoting. I started a nutrition private practice last year, and it is slowly transitioning more into a consulting business. I am doing more nutrition advising and writing than seeing clients these days. My focus is on reproductive health, and it is amazing how much interest is in that area these days.
You’re killing it on your blog lately! What types of posts are your favorites to write?
LM: Thank you for the compliment! I love writing about scientifically complex topics and breaking it down for the non-clinician to understand. It is important to me that people view me as a resource, and therefore I try and cite any claims I put in my posts with a peer-reviewed journal as much as I can.
I can’t help but notice the cute recipe & photography assistant you have! How do you decide what type of recipes to make and photograph?
LM: No rhyme of reason…whatever inspires us.
Another fun one — how did you & your husband meet and where did you go on your first date? What food do you LOVE that he HATES?
LM: We met in Charleston at a bar on Christmas Eve. Since we are both Jewish and live in South Carolina, we are a rare-breed and were both out on the town when most other people were at home with their families. After our first encounter, I never wanted to speak with him again because he was so creepy.
But after I learned that he had on-demand TV and I was a few seasons behind on Weeds, we started spending time together and the rest is history! Isn’t that romantic? HA! We got married because of Weeds! Love that show.
He hates beets and gets angry whenever I make them. Like total mood-swing angry. (Editor’s note: Mr. Avocado does too.)
Tell me a bit about your IVF journey and how that made you interested in fertility nutrition? (Or were you already interested beforehand?) What finally worked for you?
LM: When I started my fertility journey, I had no clue that nutrition could play a role. I had been practicing dietetics for over 15 years, and I never heard of fertility nutrition.
None of my doctors mentioned my diet other than making sure I was taking folic acid, so it never crossed my mind to dig in. After we were about three years in, I started cleaning up my diet and learning a bit about the woman’s side of things (still never crossed my mind that nutrition played a role in male fertility at the time).
Even if the diet part wasn’t what worked, it helped me feel better and helped prep my body for a healthy pregnancy.
I wished that I had a reliable resource to help me navigate through this crazy world of information overload. Since no dietitian in Charleston specialized in this world, I felt like I had to fill the gap that exists. It makes me a little sad looking back and I sometimes wonder if my journey would have been a little easier and different had my husband and I been more aware of how much evidence there is about nutrition and fertility.
It seems like men get left out of the fertility conversation a lot! What made you want to write a book about it?
LM: I feel that way too! When I searched for resources out there about fertility and nutrition, I think I found three that were focused on the man and 1000 focused on the woman! Ok — I am exaggerating a little.
When I began seeing clients, it frustrated me that the women were turning their worlds upside down to become pregnant, and the man was just living his life as he always did. To no fault of his own; typically he was not aware that what he ate or the lifestyle he lives has any role on fertility. What started as a small guide for clients who want to support male fertility turned into a full-blown book due to the amount of research I found out there.
Editor’s note: Snag Lauren’s book Fueling Male Fertility here.
In your opinion, why do you think that fertility rates (sperm counts, etc) are going down?
LM: Hindsight is 50/50, but I think our generation was raised on some food choices and personal care items that were not the best. The amount of canned spaghetti-os that I ate as a kid makes me embarrassed to admit.
Our parents just didn’t know that heating up food with plastic wrap over it may cause potential hormone-disrupting chemicals to enter their kid’s bodies.
Our parents were doing what they thought was best, but I do think that many popular choices that they made in terms of nutrition and personal care contributed to this dip in fertility.
Age plays a role as well. Since we know that as people get older, their fertility declines, it makes sense that fertility rates are declining as people are trying to conceive at an older age.
What are the fertility tests you advocate for your clients to get if they have “unexplained” infertility?
LM: If they have that diagnosis from their doctor, more often then not they have had the basic hormone panel, thyroid function, etc., completed.
What I like to see is some lab tests that correlate with certain nutrients. B12, Vitamin D, hemoglobin, hematocrit are helpful for me to know if there are nutritional deficiencies in these areas that I have seen common issues with in my practice. I don’t love to mega-dose Vitamin D even though that seems to be a “hot” thing right now.
Vitamin D acts as a hormone in the body and is fat-soluble, meaning that you don’t just “pee out” any extra. If a women is not truly deficient in this nutrient, I do not follow the common practice of mega-dosing because it is “good for fertility.”
If you had 3 tips to give couples struggling with male factor infertility, what would they be?
LM: 1. SLEEP. I think that good sleep is the cornerstone for good health, and it plays such a role in how hormones work in the body. Studies confirm that men who consistently get less than 6 hours of sleep a day have less-desirable semen lab tests.
2. Bump up your FRUIT & VEGGIE intake before you start taking a fist-full of supplements. Eating a variety of produce a day (organic if possible) is a wonderful way to get essential nutrients in as well as natural antioxidants.
3. Bump up your FISH & SEAFOOD intake to at least two servings a week. Many studies suggest that eating these foods are very supportive of male fertility. One study even suggests that men who eat more seafood have more frequent “relations.” (Editor’s note: I believe it’s called BD, aka “baby dance” in the TTC world. 🙂 )
Finally, just because I know you, what are your top 5 natural beauty products you’re loving currently?
And true or false — there are literally no good natural mascaras.
LM: Oh I love trying natural beauty products. I am a little addicted right now.
1.If this counts…foot peels. It is basically socks filled with alpha-hydroxy acid ,and after you let it soak for an hour and then wait 5 days, your skin literally starts peeling off. It is amazing and one of my favorite things to do in the world. It makes me so happy.
2. Primally Pure fancy face serum. It is made with a bunch of essential oils and my skin feels so nice after using it.
3. Primally Pure Blue tansy deodorant + talc-free baby powder. I use this dynamic duo to help combat moisture and BO. I sprinkle the baby powder on first, and then use the deodorant.
4. Thinksport Kids sunscreen. This deodorant was recommended by Kristin who runs @groundedhealthrd. She is the natural products guru so if she likes it I like it too!
5. Good old organic coconut oil. That s*** goes on everything!!!
As for the mascara, I am telling myself that I do not have to go natural on my eyelashes because I don’t let the mascara touch my skin so it’s not absorbed. I totally made that up. I have tried many natural mascaras and they just don’t do the job for me. I tried!!!
I have the same problem with anti-frizz serum. I know I could sacrifice my hair for safer products, but if you ever saw my hair in the humid South Carolina summertime you will understand why I just can’t make the switch. It is not a pretty sight.
Thank you so much, Lauren, for taking the time to chat with me! I definitely learned some things about you I hadn’t known before! Maybe we should start our own IGTV where we just gab about fertility and beauty products on the reg… You in?
By the way, when I work with fertility clients, I often do functional lab tests on male partners, too.
Sometimes seeing all their nutrient deficiencies on paper helps motivate them to take diet & lifestyle more seriously. Plus, why recommend an expensive supplement like CoQ10 when what they’re actually low in is vitamin C… or selenium… or zinc…
I always offer to meet with the guys to go over their results, but to date, I’ve only had 2 actually take me up on it… mostly they do what their wives tell them to. 😉
If you want to find out how I can help you AND your partner achieve optimal fertility, learn more about my fertility services.
Lauren Manaker is a Registered Dietitian turned entrepreneur and author. She launched her business after struggling with infertility and becoming a mother. Her personal experiences shed a spotlight on how much anecdotal and unsupported information is out there, and Lauren has made it her mission is to make accurate nutrition advice more accessible. In 2019, she authored the book Fueling Male Fertility: Nutrition and Lifestyle Guidance for Men Trying to Conceive.
And if you’re looking for more chats on fertility, check out my podcast episode with UpliftFit here.
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