Improving Sperm Health
It feels like just yesterday you were celebrating your first sip of legal beer, but now every other weekend is another friend’s baby shower. No matter where you look, it seems like everyone is settling down, marrying, or having children.
It’s something that many of us will take for granted –have sex, get pregnant. However, it’s not always so straightforward. Infertility is a growing problem worldwide, affecting 1 out of every 7 couples. It is estimated that about 1 in every 3 cases is due to the male partner alone. Although infertility can be due to a variety of conditions, the quality of sperm is usually a good predictor of fertility.
Whether you’re thinking about having a baby, or perhaps you’re already trying, it’s never a bad time to evaluate your lifestyle and habits.
Although infertility is not always treatable, there are numerous lifestyle factors, supplements, and foods that will help your sperm and fertility, as well as many that you should avoid. So, how do you better the odds?
Exercising has a plethora of health benefits and has been repeatedly linked with improved sperm health. Simple low-intensity workouts 3 times a week has a considerable benefit on sperm quality and quantity. Losing weight is also beneficial for your sperm, increasing testosterone levels and bettering sperm parameters like count, concentration, and motility.
Exercise once again reigns supreme. The benefits of exercise stretch far and wide, and fertility is no exception. Several studies have linked exercise to increases in overall sperm quality. Notably among them, a 2017 study in the Journal of Fertility and Sterility found that physically active men had better overall semen parameters, such as semen volume, motility, and morphology than sedentary men. Another 2017 study in the journal Reproduction found that something as simple as running for 30 minutes three times a week improved both sperm quality and quantity.
Additionally, some of the benefits from exercise may come from shedding excess weight. Researchers have known for a while that being overweight carries a toll on fertility, possibly due to a dampening of testosterone production. A more recent study from 2016 assessed male partners in subfertile couples, which were then classified into 4 categories: underweight, normal, overweight, and obese. Their results clearly showed that sperm quality, concentration, count, and motility were all lower in overweight and obese participants than in those with normal weight.
Skimping on sleep is incredibly detrimental to your health, including your sperm. Chronic sleep deprivation (less than 6 hours a night) reduces testosterone levels, lowers sperm count and motility, and increases levels of anti-sperm antibodies, further damaging your sperm.
Another no-brainer, getting adequate sleep is crucial for a host of bodily processes to function efficiently, including testosterone production. Most testosterone release occurs during sleep, and many studies have linked total sleep time to testosterone levels. One study from the Journal of American Medicine Association found that just one week of sleep deprivation – in this case, getting 5 hours of shut-eye a night – reduced testosterone levels by 10-15%. About 15% of the US population gets 5 hours of sleep or less every night. Testosterone, in turn, is critical for reproduction and sperm production.
Another more recent study looked at 981 healthy men to evaluate the effects of sleep deprivation and late bedtimes on sperm quality and quantity. They found that later bedtimes and, most notably, sleep deprivation had a negative effect on sperm count and motility. They also found increased levels of anti-sperm antibodies; these occur when the immune system mistakenly identifies sperm as a foreign invader and targets it for eradication. This means that sleep deprivation can cause faulty immune system functioning, targeting and killing your own sperm.
Avoid smoking and excessive drinking
Smoking and excessive drinking are big no-no’s when it comes to sperm health. Alcohol can dampen testosterone production, and negatively affects all aspects of your sperm such as count, concentration, and morphology. Smoking can be especially bad for sperm morphology, creating genetic defects that lower the quality and viability of your sperm.
As it turns out, smoking and drinking is indeed bad for your health. Shocker. Both of these have been associated time and again with decreased sperm quality and overall fertility. A recent 2014 study performed on 1221 men measured associations between 3 measures of alcohol consumption, semen quality, and serum reproductive hormones. They found that sperm concentration, sperm count, and sperm with normal morphology were all negatively correlated with higher alcohol intake.
Smoking has long been considered one of the leading factors behind male infertility. A 2019 review of 16 studies evaluated the extent of the damage of smoking on fertility. They found that tobacco smoking was significantly associated with a lower sperm count and an increase in morphological defects, although not as significant of an impact on motility.
Avoid certain drugs
Certain drugs, both prescription or otherwise, can have profound effects on fertility.
Some of the most harmful groups are:
Testosterone (from TRT)
SSRIs and similar antidepressants
Eat antioxidant-rich, non-processed food
Eat a balanced, Mediterranean style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts. Avoid soy products, processed meat, and foods high in trans-fats.
Diet plays a huge role in determining our overall health, and our reproductive health is no exception.
Some food groups have been linked to a number of health benefits, among them better sperm health.
Fruits and vegetables are essential staples in any healthy diet. Men who eat higher amounts of fruits and vegetables, particularly leafy greens, have higher sperm concentrations and improved motility.
Fish have high levels of omega-3s, which are implicated in a number of health benefits, including sperm motility. However, the verdict is still out in just how beneficial to sperm health they are.
Nuts are another superfood that also has a positive impact on sperm health. Studies have shown that eating walnuts had a positive impact on sperm parameters, including sperm vitality.
There are also several food groups that, when eaten in excess, could have a negative effect on fertility.
Soy products contain high levels of phytoestrogens – these are compounds that mimic the effect of estrogen in the body. A study analyzing sub-fertile men in Boston fertility clinics found that a high intake of soy foods was associated with lower sperm concentration.
Processed meats can also be a harmful culprit for infertility. Several studies have made a connection between eating processed red meat and decreased sperm motility and sperm counts.
Foods high in trans-fats aren’t only bad for your cardiovascular health, but may also be implicated with decreased sperm counts.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can protect sperm from damage. Supplementation for 2 months showed amazing benefits for sperm, doubling the count, increasing motility by 90%, and normal morphology by 50%.
Our body’s metabolism can sometimes be placed under undue stress, be it due to an unhealthy lifestyle, diseases, or pollutants – when this happens, our natural antioxidant defenses can be overwhelmed, leading to high levels of Reactive Oxygen Species, or ROS for short. Although ROS are constantly made in the body, they are kept within limits in healthy individuals. When levels of ROS get too high, the body is placed under oxidative stress, which can promote inflammation, injury, and higher risk of chronic disease.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and can thus counteract some of these effects, reducing the impact of ROS on the body. One 2006 study found that taking 1000mg supplements twice a day for 2 months more than doubled sperm counts, as well as boosting motility by over 90%. Sperm with normal morphology increased by 50%.
Another study in 2015 found that men with infertility issues after surgery assigned 250mg of vitamin C twice daily for 3 months had significantly better normal motility and morphology values than the control group.
Similar to vitamin C, vitamin E is an effective antioxidant that protects sperm from free radical damage. Typically combined with other supplements, this vitamin has shown remarkable benefits on sperm motility and viability, as well as conserving normal sperm morphology.
Another essential nutrient, vitamin E acts as a powerful antioxidant that can decrease oxidative stress in much the same way that vitamin C does. Although vitamin E on its own is likely to have beneficial effects on reproductive health, most studies have looked at the effects of combined supplementation with other antioxidants such as selenium or CoQ10. One such study found that by taking 400mg of vitamin E and 225ug of selenium for 3 months, levels of MDA (malondialdehyde) – a marker for oxidative stress – were greatly reduced in seminal plasma. This means that the sperm are protected from damage, benefitting both motility and viability. Another notable 2016 review examined the evidence for antioxidant supplements for sperm health. They noted that taking a combination of vitamin E and vitamin C was extremely effective in reducing sperm DNA damage, increasing their viability.
Folate plays a critical role in reproductive health, as it is used in the creation, maturation, and development of sperm. Boosting folate levels can significantly increase sperm concentration.
Folate, a type of B-vitamin, is critical in a huge range of bodily processes, such as converting carbohydrates into energy and making red and white blood cells. This is one you often hear about during pregnancy, as it is essential in the development of the nervous system. However, it is also incredibly important in reproductive health, as it plays a role in both the creation and maturation of sperm, along with many other amazing roles. Supplementing with high doses of folate may also be beneficial for sperm health – a 2017 review analyzing seven studies found that folate supplementation significantly increased sperm concentrations. This effect was even stronger when combined with zinc, further boosting normal morphology and concentration.
Selenium is an incredibly important trace mineral with key roles in reproductive health. 3-month long supplementation can increase sperm count, motility and viability, along with boosting testosterone and antioxidant activity.
Selenium has long been a staple element in fertility supplements, and for good reason. Many older studies have looked at combination therapies for infertility, such as selenium and vitamin E, A, or C, and found benefits to fertility.
Nonetheless, a recent 2018 study aimed to evaluate selenium supplementation as a standalone therapy. Infertile men were treated with 50mg of selenium once a day for 3 months. They found that sperm count, motility, viability, and normal morphology were all noticeably increased after the treatment. Additionally, they found higher levels of testosterone and glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, both of which could also benefit fertility.
Zinc is a critical player in male reproductive health. It is implicated in processes such as spermatogenesis, sperm stability, and testosterone release, among many others. Supplementation increases sperm volume, motility, and normal morphology.
Commonly described as one of the most essential elements for male fertility, zinc is implicated in a number of critical reproductive processes. Deficiencies in zinc impede spermatogenesis (sperm production), negatively impacts testosterone levels, and can give rise to a number of sperm abnormalities. It has been repeatedly shown that zinc concentrations in seminal plasma from infertile males is significantly lower than those from normal controls. Furthermore, zinc supplementation has been found to significantly increase sperm motility, volume, and normal sperm morphology.
You may be thinking that these are too many vitamins and nutrients to keep track of. However, in most cases, simply taking a daily multivitamin and eating a healthy balanced diet will be enough to provide many of the benefits described.
In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe certain medications that help boost your sperm count.