Reports of declining male sperm rates may send you into a worried spiral if you’re considering having children, but although sperm counts have declined on average, it’s really quality, not quantity that matters when it comes to fertility . Men make millions of sperm and it only takes one to do the job.
Unfortunately, the quality of sperm, which typically declines with age, may be decreasing in much younger men these days, likely due to cumulative lifestyle factors.
While fertility rates are debatable and complicated by many factors, the decreased quantity and quality of sperm may be contributing more to male fertility than in the past. This could potentially explain the higher percentages of infertility being attributed to men in some studies.
Male infertility is thought to be responsible for as little as 8 percent of cases, but the combination of both male and female factors contributes to as high as 35 percent.
If you and your partner are having difficulty conceiving after a full year, you each may want to consider having your fertility evaluated.
The good news is the evaluation for male fertility is quite simple. Men, for the most part, should be interviewed and examined by a trained profession and otherwise provide a sperm sample as well as some additional blood tests.
As much as 65-80 percent of male infertility cases are related to sperm production . Not only does there have to be plenty of sperm, but they have to have normal shape, size and swimming ability.
Issues with sperm production can be inherent at birth or acquired due to things like infections, drug toxicities, or environmental factors such as toxins. Diet and low testosterone production associated with obesity are also common factors.
In addition to testing for fertility, semen analysis can be a helpful biomarker of health in general. From an overly simplistic but interesting evolutionary perspective, some argue that once you are no longer reproductively capable, mother nature is done with you. Science seems to back this up to some extent. One large study found that men with abnormal semen parameters had an increased mortality rate in the years following an infertility evaluation, suggesting semen quality may provide a marker of health .
Couples need to consider male infertility or subfertility as part of the equation early. And in doing so, it makes sense to hold men to the same standards of preconception self-care.
At Parsley Health, we work with members who are interested in pre-pregnancy planning all the time. This typically starts months before conception, if not sooner. Looking to boost your fertility? Here’s where to start.
Results from observational studies show healthy diets rich in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants such as vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, zinc, and lycopene, vitamins like D and folate, and low in saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids were inversely associated with low semen quality . Research also shows that eating seafood, poultry, cereals, vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy and skimmed milk was linked with increased sperm quality, while diets rich in processed meat, soy foods, potatoes, full-fat dairy, cheese, coffee, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets may be detrimental to sperm quality. Specifically, a high intake of alcohol, caffeine, and red meat and processed meat negatively influences fertility rates in female partners.
Exercise in general seems to improve sperm health, but research has shown the type of exercise you do matters. When researchers compared moderate intensity continuous training, high intensity continuous training, and high intensity interval training, moderate intensity training came out on top. In fact, high loads of endurance training may interfere with fertility . Keep moving, but keep your workouts lighter to optimize sperm health. If you enjoy endurance or HIIT training, an expert like a Parsley Health health coach can help you create an exercise plan that works for you.
Avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and caffeine, which are known to negatively impact fertility and sperm production. Drink both only in moderation which, for most, means limiting intake to 1-2 drinks/cups of either daily.
Numerous studies suggest that cigarette smoking is associated with lower semen volumes, sperm counts, and reduced percentages of motile sperm. By quitting smoking, you can optimize your chances for conceiving . Most evidence suggests that chronic, regular, and especially heavy marijuana use is also associated with reduced sperm number and function.
There are a number of agents, when used appropriately, that have demonstrated mostly mild to modest improvements in both sperm quantity and quality. Coenzyme Q10, L-carnitine, eurycoma longifolia jack, ginger, mucuna pruriens and shilajit can improve sperm quality and motility. Evidence also suggests that sperm count may be modestly boosted with ashwaganda, zinc and D-aspartic acid amongst other agents and strategies. Be sure to work with a seasoned health provider with a working scientific knowledge of these and other agents to determine which may be appropriate for you as well as the correct dosing regimen.
The use of testosterone supplementation should not be taken lightly. Young men can actually become subfertile or infertile due to the unnecessary or inappropriate use of testosterone. Testosterone supplementation can actually cause atrophy in the testicles and subsequently reduce sperm counts. In many cases, reversal of the process is difficult or impossible after prolonged use.
Issues with fertility are not uncommon but can often be corrected without invasive or expensive interventions. Typically a fundamental and personalized approach to health including a uniquely optimized diet for the individual, appropriate rest and sleep , attention to stress mitigation and management, regular involvement in the right physical activity and perhaps specific supplementation will help to improve not only your wellbeing in general, but your sexual and reproductive fitness as well. Parsley Health physicians and health coaches specialize in curating such programs for you.