As strange as it may sound sperm health and its formation is often one of the last considerations on any fertility journey.  We all know that sperm is necessary for creating a baby but somehow it seems to get forgotten.  I often hear “ … sperms OK – we had a test once”. 

From the time of sperm production, through maturation, to ejaculation it takes 42 to 76 days.  Unlike female eggs, sperm is constantly being produced so “one test” is just not enough. It’s true that as men age, their sperm health and count may decline, but it never stops. This renewal system offers a great opportunity to increase sperm health quickly with a little “nurture and nourishment”.  

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) only 5- 15% of human sperm today qualifies as “normal! “

Eat right for good sperm health

Your sperm are what you eat. Not only should quality and quantity of your food be addressed but also pesticides, plastics, preservatives, additives, food colouring, food packaging, cooking methods, aluminium, BPA and heavy metals be considered.  Did you know chemicals used in pesticides and the manufacturing of plastics mimic the action of oestrogen and have been linked with infertility in humans, fish and animals?  

Sperm needs fresh fruit and vegetables. Buy fresh natural seasonal foods – preferably organic or free range which do not contain growth hormones and antibiotics.  It’s so easy these days – look at all the organic recipe boxes available and delivered to your door.  A study published in The Journal of Biology and Reproduction, 2011, found that DHA improves sperm morphology, fluidity and motility. 

Omega 3 (DHA) can be found in wild salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring etc.  So, choose “smaller fish” from sustainable sources. They are less likely to contain harmful heavy metals. Eat nuts and seeds! Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium which may increase sperm count whilst all nuts and seeds contain zinc which is needed for sperm development.

Include at least 8 portions of brightly coloured vegetables and 2 portions of fruit daily – high in antioxidants (such as vitamin C) they help mop up free radicals, improve sperm quality, stop sperm from “clumping together”, protect from DNA damage; reduce the chance of miscarriage and chromosomal problems.

A study, published by Fertility and Sterility, 11/10/2011, showed that men who eat whole grains (oats, quinoa, millet etc.)  plus, fresh fruit had higher sperm concentration, agility and motility.

Healthy Lifestyle:  Alcohol, smoking, orthodox medication, street drugs, caffeine, sugar, excessive exercise regimes & addictions all impact sperm health. Research studies show that men who smoke, drink alcohol, consume caffeine and/or are obese have poor sperm health.  

Nicotine (including vaping) have reduced sperm morphology and motility. 

Regular alcohol consumption increases the risk of low sperm motility and concentration. BMI of 25 or greater? significantly slower sperm with a reduced count. 

Sperm does not like coffee. A study shows that men who consume 3 or more cups of coffee per day have reduced sperm concentration and total sperm count, as well as lower sperm quality.  

Substitute caffeine with pure water, herb teas, dandelion or barley coffee or Rooibos tea. If you are on any medication it is important to check with your GP that it is caffeine free. Give up all forms of caffeine. 

Are you gadget mad? 

Technology may be ever changing but research suggests it does affect sperm health. Cell phone radiation has long been associated with damaged sperm DNA and sperm morphology. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report “…men who carried their phones in a pocket were more likely to have 11% fewer mobile sperm and/or more inactive or less mobile sperm.  Men who talked on the phone for more than 60 minutes per day had 17% fewer motile sperm than men who talked on the phone for less than 15 minutes per day.”  So what about the Bluetooth device then? The EWG believe that this may make matters worse.

Keep all phones and computers out of your pockets and away from your body.  When using your mobile use the speaker function if possible. Turn gadgets off at night & keep out of the bedroom!  Don’t place your lap top/i-pad/tablet on your lap.

Maintain Healthy Exercise. Studies suggest that men who run more than 100 miles a week and cyclists who ride more than 50 miles per week have decreased sperm counts and are more likely to develop genital or urinary problems (Boston University, Fertility and Sterility Journal).  Sperm can only be produced at a temperature of 32◦c, normal body temperature is 37◦c which is why testicles are about 7 degrees’ Fahrenheit cooler than the rest of the body and create a heat exchange from incoming and outgoing blood vessels. There are some men in the world who heat their testicles above 108 degrees Fahrenheit in order to make themselves sterile. Yes, this is actually a male contraception method! 

Saunas, hot baths, and tight underwear can cook sperm out of commission. It’s important to keep hydrated and maintain a healthy exercise regime but cool your genitals with 30 seconds of cold water spray post work-out.  Wear loose natural materials when possible. Did you know that July and August are the lowest months for conception?

Sperm need regular sex! Infrequent ejaculation can lead to reduced semen turn-over. When sperm stay in the gonads too long they can be exposed to toxins which could damage them. One study showed that men who ejaculated 4 or more times per month, had better sperm morphology so it’s 

sex at least once a week please!

Sperm biology  

Sperm penetrate the egg by releasing an enzyme which melts the outer surface of the female egg allowing the sperm plasma to fuse with the egg plasma.  The sperm head disconnects from the tail and conception of a new life occurs.  

Sperm look different than any other cell in a man’s body and only carry half as much DNA as other cells in the male body. Specialized cells in the testicles protect sperm cells, creating a barrier from immune system cells which would otherwise attack and harm them. It is common for this barrier to be broken and sperm to be damaged in as many as 70% off all vasectomy patients. 

According to a study published in Biology of Reproduction (1984), sperm can live for up to 5 days inside of a woman but more commonly sperm live about 2 days.

Understanding semen analysis: 

Volume: volume ranges from 1.5- 5.0 millilitres. Low volume may be a sign of an obstruction in the ejaculatory ducts. 

Semen content: What the content and makeup of the semen is 

Sperm count:  number of sperm in the sample. Volume typically 70-80 million sperm/mL.  Men with low sperm count still have a good chance of getting pregnant providing the sperm are “good quality”. 

Sperm motility:  Motility –  speed, quality, and swimming potential.  Remember, the sperm swims to get through the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and eventually the egg!  

Sperm morphology (shape): Sperm shape can usually help determine healthy sperm. If it is misshaped for any reason, it may indicate it was exposed to toxins or infection.

The Proof! 

Case Study:  Mr. M is 33 years old. He and his wife have been diagnosed with “unexplained infertility”.  These test results show how a male supplementation and nutritional programme can support sperm health.

Sperm test from GP  – sperm count 19 million

3 months later –  Mr. M had been taking supplementation and addressing dietary recommendations. Sperm count  25 million

4 months later  – continuing with programme –  85 million.  Month later a positive pregnancy confirmed.

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