Fertility troubles are often mistakenly thought of as a “women’s problem”, but sperm quality is just as important when you’re trying to conceive. It’s now thought at as many as half of all infertility cases could be caused by poor sperm quality. But is this something you can control? Let’s see what the science can tell about aspiring dads about sperm quality and fertility chances.
Sperm quality is a measure of male fertility
When doctors talk about sperm quality in terms of fertility, it’s generally as an assessment of three main points.
- Sperm count: How many cells are present per ejaculation of semen
- Motility: The ability of sperm cells to move forward, quickly, in a straight line
- Sperm morphology: The percentage of sperm cells that are normally shaped
These are the main parameters measured in a semen analysis – an important test of male fertility. Good or poor quality sperm doesn’t say anything about the genetic content of those sperm cells. A slow moving or wonky-shaped sperm cell can still fertilize an egg.
However, lower stats on any of these three points can make it less likely for sperm cells to survive the long journey from the vagina through to the egg cell in the fallopian tubes. This makes natural conception less likely.
The good news is that the testicles produce as many as 50 to 100 million new sperm cells every day. By making smart lifestyle choices, you may be able to improve the quality of your sperm. This could increase your odds of getting your partner pregnant naturally.
Lifestyle changes for sperm quality
1. Stay cool
Sperm development is very sensitive to heat: that’s why the scrotum keeps the testes on outside of the body, where they stay a few degrees cooler than core body temperature.
Exposing the genitals to heat – as happens from using hot tubs, saunas, laptops on lap, or long hours spent sitting or driving – can have a negative impact on sperm development. Avoiding this kind of unnecessary heat stress can improve sperm quality.
2. Let it hang out
Speaking of pressure? Some study suggests that men wearing briefs may produce only half as many sperm cells as when they wear loose fitting underwear.
It’s thought wearing tight underwear can raise the temperature in your testes and decrease the circulation needed to support sperm development. You may want to make a switch from briefs to boxers when you’re trying to conceive.
3. Ejaculate regularly
Your body is constantly producing new sperm cells, so you don’t need to worry about saving them up for a special occasion. If you abstain from ejaculation for too long, it can have a negative impact on sperm motility. If you’re trying to conceive, ejaculating at least once every 3 days should help keep the sperm supply in good quality.
4. Follow a good diet
Reproductive health can be a measure of your general health. Overindulging in greasy or sugary foods at the expense the essential nutrients needed for sperm production can lead to infertility.
5. Quit smoking
The harmful chemicals in tobacco can go into blood vessels and as a result, sperm production and motility can be affected. The DNA of the sperm cells itself can even be affected, decreasing the success rate of fertilization.
6. Reach and maintain a healthy weight
Obesity has a correlation with poor semen quality. Compared to men in a healthy weight range, overweight and obese men are more likely to have fertility troubles.
Sperm quality and lifestyle factors are complex
Not all cases of male infertility can be solved by lifestyle improvements alone. For example, while sperm count and motility side of male fertility are associated with lifestyle factors, sperm morphology is a trickier matter. A study from the UK found that factors that damaged sperm shape were summer heat and cannabis use.1
Lifestyle matters for sperm quality, but see your doctor to find the cause
If you’re experiencing problems with sperm quality, you may be able to improve your fertility chances with healthy lifestyle changes. But without a semen analysis, it’s difficult to know which semen parameters could be making it hard for you and your partner to conceive.
Sperm quality isn’t exactly something you can measure at home, so if you’ve been trying to conceive for over 1 year without success, see a doctor for a thorough fertility checkup.