Research says men are becoming less fertile. This is what we can do to improve it.
When a couple is faced with infertility, we know there is a 50% chance the cause is male-related due to poor sperm quality. But what does this mean? Sperm quality is the ability of the sperm to accomplish fertilisation, either because of low quantity, abnormal shape or abnormal movement. An average sperm count is between 120 to 350 million per cubic centimetre. A low sperm count is below 40 million per cubic centimetre.
What can affect sperm quality?
A lot of factors can affect sperm quality. An interesting study revealed that there is a general decline that has been going on for a while. It’s a fact: men are getting less fertile! This review and meta-analysis published in 2017 found out there has been an average decline in sperm count of 1.4% per year between 1973 and 2011. Even though we know men are becoming less fertile, reasons for this happening are unclear.
- Age: the genetic quality of sperm, as well as volume and motility decrease with age, which means that older sperm are less likely to result in a successful pregnancy and it also increases the chances of genetic and chromosomal defects. So for successful pregnancies and healthy babies, we need to start considering parenthood earlier in life.
- Heat: sperm are heat-sensitive and cannot endure high temperatures. So some activities to avoid are: sauna, bathing for a long time in hot water, tanning bed sessions for a long-time, placement of a laptop computer over the groin for extended use.
- Physical trauma: trauma to the testicles can harm the capillaries that supply the sperm producing tissue. Avoid physical trauma that might affect your fertility.
- Medication: some medication can lower sperm quality: SSRI (lower count), antibiotics (lower production), antidepressants, anti-epileptics, propranolol, opioids, calcium channel blockers, statins. Steroids can also reduce sperm quality. Check your medications and discuss with your doctor or nurse if these are affecting your fertility. Your doctor may also prescribe some medication that improves sperm quality, like: clomiphene citrate oral (Serophene), serophene oral, Gonal-f® RFF Redi-ject® (follitropin alfa or gonal-F) or subcutaneous (under the skin) injections, antibiotics (in case of urinary or reproductive tract infection), human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) (brand names Choragon and Pregnyl), letrozole or anastrozole, exogenous androgens.
- Stress: long-term stress appears to reduce sperm quality.
- Substance abuse: Tobacco, cannabis, marijuana and cocaine lower sperm quality.
- Exercise: Moderate physical activity 3 times a week can increase sperm volume and concentration.
- Diet: what we eat affects the quality of sperm. Evidence suggests that drinking 1 L of cola a day reduces sperm quality; soy products also decrease sperm quality; as well as diets rich in processed meat, potatoes, full-fat dairy products, coffee, alcohol and sugar-sweetened drinks and sweets. On the other hand, Folate (vitamin B9) can protect sperm cells; healthy diets with omega-3 fatty acids, some antioxidants and vitamins, and low saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids can help with sperm quality.
- Timing of ejaculation: Evidence shows that a period of time of less than one day reduces sperm count by at least 20%. Longer periods of abstinence also reduce pregnancy rate. The key seems to be an abstinence period of only 1 or 2 days. The afternoon seems to be better for sperm quality than the morning. And if you’re collecting sperm for IVF, intercourse seems to provide 70-120% more sperm, with better motility (movement) and morphology (shape) when compared to masturbation. It also generates 25-45% more volume.
- Supplements: even with a healthy diet it can be challenging to reach the required amount of nutrients and vitamins to improve sperm quality, so supplements can be really helpful.
- CoQ10 (increases sperm count)
- Alpha-tocopherol (increases sperm count)
- Carnitine (improves motility and morphology)
- Vitamin E and C (reduces sperm DNA damage)
- Zinc (increases sperm count and motility)
- Vitamin D and calcium (also seem to be related to sperm health)
- Arginine (increases sperm count and poor motility)
- Fenugreek (seems to improve sperm count)
- Ashwagandha (indian ginseng) (increases sperm count)
There is a lot of evidence on these supplements, so check with your local store!
Even though men produce millions of sperm every day, new sperm takes about 2.5 to 3 months to fully mature. So even though you may make changes in your lifestyle today, you will only have an effect in your sperms’ health in 3 months’ time. So it’s all about implementing change and sticking to it!
Andreia Trigo RN BSc MSc
TEDx Speaker and NLP Coach