In the past, if a couple took a while to conceive, the doctor would examine the woman thoroughly while her male partner might get only a cursory examination. However, there is a growing awareness that male fertility issues must be treated with the same rigor as female issues to truly help people improve their chances for conception.
In fact, male fertility issues are now more common than ever. According to a study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem the sperm concentration of men in Western countries has dropped by more than 50% in the past 40 years, but scientists still aren’t sure whether this is caused by environmental factors, diet, or pollution.
Why is sperm health so important?
Sperm are male reproductive cells that carry half of the genetic information needed to create a new life. In order for a man’s sperm to reliably fertilize a female reproductive cell (the egg) he needs a healthy concentration of sperm that have the proper form and are capable of ‘swimming’.
Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of these healthy sperm to conceive a child with your partner: according to the World Health Organization (WHO) a normal ejaculation will contain at least 39 million with a concentration of more than 15 million sperm per milliliter: 40% should be mobile and 32% should actually be moving forward (progressive motility) rather than simply vibrating in place. Only 4% of the sperm need to have the proper shape.
How can I improve my sperm health?
There are a variety of causes for poor quality sperm. Fortunately, a lot of men can improve their chances of conception with a fairly simple operation arranged during a consultation with a specialist (for example, an operation to remove a blockage that prevents sperm from reaching the seminal fluid).
Alternatively, increasing fertility might be a matter of improving sperm count, motility and morphology over time by making a few key lifestyle changes:
- Quit smoking.
- Maintain a healthy BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9.
- Keep the testicles cool. The ideal temperature for sperm production is around 34.5°C, which is slightly below body temperature (37°C), so avoid hot or tight-fitting clothing, don’t go to the sauna or take hot baths, and keep your laptop off your lap.
- Cut alcohol consumption. Even in moderation, drinking can make it more difficult to conceive. Drink no more than 2 units of alcohol a day.
- Avoid recreational drugs that are known to reduce male fertility, including cannabis, anabolic steroids, opiates like heroin, cocaine and amphetamines.
- Try to de-stress. Severe stress can limit sperm production. Breathing exercises, a favorite hobby or just taking time to watch your favorite movie can help.
- Make an effort to reduce oxidative stress – damage caused to your cells by natural aging and environmental pollution. This has been identified as one of the many mediators of male infertility, as it causes sperm dysfunction, and can be influenced by eating the right foods.
- A healthy diet is particularly important, and we also know that certain foods can help to improve sperm health. For example, the antioxidant lycopene — found in the skin of tomatoes — has been shown to increase the percentage of high-quality sperm.