Are you planning on starting a family? These 7 tips can help ensure your sperm are in optimal health.
Family planning can become a challenging journey when fertility issues arise. Infertility is defined as not conceiving after one year of trying. Infertility in men or sperm-related infertility can contribute to infertility about a third of the time. Male-factor or sperm-related infertility is often due to low sperm production, abnormal sperm function, or blockages that prevent the sperm from effectively reaching the egg. Many factors can impact male infertility and sperm health, including illnesses, chronic health problems, injuries, and lifestyle choices. Challenges along the path to parenthood can be exhausting and upsetting, but the good news is that lifestyle changes can often make a significant difference in ensuring healthy sperm.
Causes of Sperm-Related Infertility
Sperm production, known as spermatogenesis, takes almost three months, so there are no quick fixes. The most effective lifestyle changes are the ones you can stay with, and the rewards are worth it for your health and your sperm. The best tool to assess a man’s fertility is a semen analysis, which measures the sperm count, sperm concentration, sperm motility (or movement), and sperm morphology (shape of sperm).
A sperm concentration of less than 15 million for every milliliter (ml) is associated with reduced fertility.
Not all sperm move, and some may move inefficiently. This is perfectly normal. Having 40% or more of your sperm moving and 32% overall actively moving or swimming is a good sperm count. Lower values are associated with reduced fertility.
Healthy sperm have a round head and a long tail. These sperm have the best chances of reaching an egg. There are different criteria for what is considered a good or normal-looking sperm. The strictest criteria for a good-looking sperm may be the best at determining how well a sperm works. A normal semen analysis only needs 4% or more with a normal shape.
While the semen analysis is our best tool for assessing male fertility, results from one sample to another in the same man often have a high variation rate, making the assessment of treatments challenging to confirm.
Why is Sperm Health So Important?
An analysis performed in 2017 showed that over the past four decades, sperm count has been decreasing worldwide. Since sperm-related infertility is the cause of one-third of infertility cases, having healthy sperm is essential. Here are some small but impactful changes you can make to your daily life to help you optimize your sperm health and overall fertility.
1. Change Your Diet
Yes, your diet can affect fertility. What you eat literally makes up the cells of your body and thus your sperm as well. The standard “Western diet” of processed meats, excess grains, dairy, and sugar isn’t doing your body or fertility any favors. A study done by the University of Rochester found that in comparison to those eating a “Western diet,” those who consumed more fish, chicken, fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains had more motile sperm. In other words, their sperm were better swimmers! Generally, we recommend the Mediterranean diet as it has been identified as the most “fertility-friendly.”
2. Stop Smoking
Aside from the many reasons why smoking is bad for your health, it can affect sperm health as well. Compared to people who don’t smoke, those who do were found to have lower sperm count and motility. They also had less semen overall. Quitting smoking can improve your sperm health in just three short months (the time it takes to create new sperm).
3. Exercise In Moderation
Exercise has long been known to help improve your mood and overall health. It turns out that it can also boost your sperm health. A 2005 study showed that physical inactivity and high BMI directly correlated to decreased sperm quality. Researchers found that those who exercise at least three times a week for one hour had higher sperm count and motility. The key is to perform it in moderation; another study also found that intense exercise from cycling, jogging, and mountain climbing led to decreased sperm quality. Instead, go for a long walk, do some yard work, or hit up the gym for a moderate workout.
4. Avoid Excess Caffeine and Alcohol
A large-scale study of 20,000 people suggests that excess caffeine from coffee, energy drinks, and soda increased the risk of miscarriage, regardless of which parent was consuming the caffeine. Not to worry, though – up to two cups of coffee a day is deemed safe.
A separate study notes that alcohol intake should also be moderated. It suggested that five units of alcohol or more a week were associated with lower sperm count and motility. The higher the intake, the worse the sperm quality was. Of note, five units of alcohol are about the same as 40 ounces of beer, 25 ounces of wine, or 7.5 ounces of spirits.
5. Avoid Toxic Chemicals
Hormone-disrupting chemicals are reproductive hazards and, unfortunately, can be found almost anywhere, even in personal care products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a thorough list and more information on their website. To minimize your exposure to these hazards, you can take a few different steps:
- Read all the ingredients before you buy a product.
- Switch your plastic containers over to stainless steel or glass.
- Choose natural products whenever possible over their chemical counterparts.
- Avoid exposure to pesticides in your yard.
6. Choose Your Underwear Carefully. Maybe.
The boxer vs. briefs debate is not new and likely will not end here. A study from 2016 showed no significant difference between the two. Then in 2018, another study found that those who wore boxers had 17% more sperm than those who wore briefs. However, they were careful to note that the study was not conclusive because of other unmeasured factors. They also noted that the body may account for the extra heat from wearing briefs by releasing more follicle-stimulating hormones, which help to produce more sperm. So which to choose? Ultimately, either is probably fine. But if you want to play it safe, boxers may have a slight edge.
Oxidative stress harms sperm health and vitality. The levels of antioxidants in semen decrease with age, and sperm damage (measured as DNA fragmentation) increases as men age. Supplements can often bridge the gap between your diet and overall health by providing you with antioxidants that you may be otherwise missing out on. Some antioxidant supplements have even been noted to improve fertility, sperm health, and hormonal health.
- Vitamin C
A study shows that Vitamin C supplementation can improve sperm health by increasing its concentration and mobility. While this doesn’t increase the sperm count itself, concentrated semen has a better chance of reaching the egg. Vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant and can improve sperm health by reducing oxidative stress and free radicals.
- Vitamin D
Vitamin D, or the “sunshine” vitamin as it is often called, has also been linked to sperm health. Researchers have noticed a link between higher levels of vitamin D and significantly increased fertility, although they are not sure why. They also caution that further research must be done to confirm their findings. However, considering that many people are often deficient in vitamin D, and it has other plentiful benefits, it’s worth discussing with your doctor if vitamin D supplements are right for you.
Healthy fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, are necessary for the proper development of the sperm membrane. A 2019 study found that sperm-related infertility was improved with omega-3 supplementation. Users were found to have better sperm motility and concentration.
Keep in mind that because supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you should only buy them from reputable sources. Speak with your physician first to make sure it’s safe for you and won’t interact with any current medications you are taking.
Meet with a Fertility Specialist
If you’re experiencing fertility challenges, meeting with a reproductive physician can help to identify the issue. Through a semen analysis, which shows sperm count, shape, and motility, sperm-related issues can be identified. To optimize your fertility and preconception health, use these actionable steps to promote strong and healthy sperm and get one step closer to growing your family.
Schedule an appointment with a fertility specialist, connect with us today.