The dos and don’ts of boosting your sperm count – from cutting back on cycling to eating lobster
- Sperm counts among men have alarmingly halved during the past 40 years
- The research includes data from 57,000 men from across 53 countries
- More action is needed to prevent further disruption to male reproductive health
- Femail brings you top tips from a fertility expert to boost your man’s sperm
New research shows that healthy sperm counts among men across the world are falling at an accelerated rate – having halved during the past 40 years.
The study, published in the journal Human Reproduction Update, included data from 57,000 men across 53 countries, the largest study ever conducted.
And it shows that sperm counts – or the amount of sperm in an ejaculation – fell from 101million to 49million sperm per millimetre of semen between 1973 and 2018.
Researchers wrote: ‘Data suggest this decline is continuing in the 21st century at an accelerated pace.
‘More action and research is urgently needed ‘to prevent further disruption of male reproductive health’.
But while the data is alarming, it is not necessarily all doom and gloom.
Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy said there are many things men can do to improve their chances of conceiving.
She said: ‘When a couple is determined to have a baby, both the male and female partners will need to do all they can to improve their chances of conception.’
Here she tells FEMAIL how a female can help her male partner improve his sperm count.
Getting enough sleep has been linked to a boost in healthy sperm. Too little or too much can damage quality (stock image)
DO STOP SMOKING
Without a doubt, smoking has a serious adverse effect on sperm production, due to the toxic effects of the noxious chemicals in cigarette smoke.
In one 2019 study of 1,631 healthy fertile men, the authors found that semen volume, concentration, and motility were significantly lower in those who had smoked for 10 years than those who had never smoked.
The heavier smokers had the lowest sperm parameters.
This is because smokers have higher levels of toxic heavy metals in their bodies, such as cadmium and lead, which damage sperm.
Smoking also causes atherosclerosis, the laying down of fatty deposits in the arteries, and reduces the blood supply to the penis and testes. It also directly damages DNA.
If you want to conceive, the sooner he (or both of you) gives up the better.
DO TAKE MORE EXERCISE
Taking regular physical exercise is known to be beneficial for the production of healthy sperm.
In one 2017 study, 90 obese men were randomly assigned to an exercise or a control group.
The exercise group underwent a 16-week aerobic exercise program with three, one-hour gym sessions per week, at which they worked at up to 60 per cent of their maximal heart rate for 30-50 minutes.
At the end of the study, the exercise group had significant improvements in sperm count, motility and sperm morphology. They also had increased testosterone levels.
The authors felt the improved testosterone levels had improved the production and quality of the sperm.
DO LOSE WEIGHT
In some Western countries, 70 per cent of adult men aged over 18 are obese.
Obesity is known to be linked to infertility, probably because obesity causes ill health such as raised cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, chronic inflammation and raised levels of the hormone leptin.
It is also linked to type-2 diabetes, which increases the risk of erectile dysfunction.
In a recent 2022 study, men who lost a large amount of weight were found to have a 40 per cent improvement in their sperm count.
DO MAKE DIETARY CHANGES
Medical studies show how important a healthy diet is for good sperm production.
A diet such as the Mediterranean Diet contains large quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables, plus healthy unsaturated fats such as olive oil, lean meat, fish and seafood, plus whole grains, nuts and seeds.
A Mediterranean diet has been linked to boosting health sperm production. Try fish and lean meats plus nuts and seeds
DO TAKE ZINC
Zinc is now recognised by fertility specialists as a key trace element, important for optimal reproductive function.
Within the testes, the local zinc concentration is closely correlated with the sperm morphology (appearance), concentration and overall sperm quality.
It is vital for capacitation – the process sperm must undertake in order to fertilise the female egg, and the acrosome reaction, which is when the outer membrane of the sperm fuses with the outer membrane of the egg.
Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy shared her tips on how to boost a man’s chance of having a child
Zinc also has an anti-inflammatory role and helps protect the sperm from the toxic effects of cigarette smoke.
Foods high in zinc include oysters, crab, lobster, pumpkin seeds, cheese, almonds, beans, nuts, chickpeas and muesli.
Or the recommended dose for zinc supplements is 25mg per day.
DO TAKE VITAMIN C
Research suggests that chronic inflammation may underlie male infertility.
In one small 2006 trial, 13 infertile men with a low sperm count and low sperm motility, took 1000 mg a day of vitamin C for two months.
This resulted in a significant increase in sperm count and motility.
In other studies, vitamin C has been shown to reduce the percentage of abnormally-formed sperm.
Vitamin C is a known anti-inflammatory and found in fruit and vegetables such as citrus fruits, peppers, strawberries, broccoli, sprouts, cauliflower and white potatoes.
Vitamin C supplements can be purchased with the recommended dose being 1000 mg per day.
DO TAKE VITAMIN D
The link between vitamin D levels and male fertility is still not well understood.
However, pregnancy outcomes are improved when men have had normal vitamin D levels.
Vitamin D has a wide range of activity and may have a role in the testicular production of male hormones, as well as in improving sperm motility.
The British Fertility Society support the NHS recommendations that all UK adults, men and women, should take a 10 mcg(400 IU) vitamin D supplement every day.
It’s a big no to budgie smugglers: Some men may like wearing tight underpants, but they are not good for sperm, which need to be kept cool (stock image)
DO TAKE VITAMIN E
And what NOT to do if you want to boost your sperm count…
DON’T CYCLE OR RUN TOO OFTEN (OR CLIMB EVEREST)
Take note that some sports can be deleterious for sperm. For example, cycling, where tight clothes, heat and the trauma from the saddle can lower the sperm count. Running too has been shown to negatively affect the sperm count.
Mountaineering at high latitudes can also reduce the oxygenation of the testicular cells and lower the sperm count and quality
DON’T DRINK EXCESS ALCOHOL
Alcohol has a harmful effect on the testes and sperm production. Heavy drinkers tend to have small, shrunken testes, and low testosterone levels.
Alcohol abuse is linked to poor sexual function, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction. Alcohol is a major contributory factor in obesity, and obesity is linked to infertility.
Whereas drinking at lower levels does not seem to negatively affect sperm, infertile men should be advised to cut down on their drinking.
Men going through infertility treatment should be advised to drink within recommended levels – no more than 14 units per week, no more than six units in anyone drinking session, and two or three alcohol-free days per week.
DON’T WEAR TIGHT PANTS
If you wish to conceive, do make sure your man keeps his testes cool.
The testes hang outside of the body for a reason – they need to be kept cool. Sperm counts are lower in men who have hot baths and saunas.
Men should wear cool, cotton underpants and loose-fitting trousers made of a natural fibre which transmits heat effectively – not tight Y-fronts and denim jeans.
They should also avoid sitting in hot places for long periods.
DON’T HAVE TOO MUCH SEX REGULARLY
Have sex two or three times a week. If you have sex too often, you can exhaust the sperm supply.
Specialists recommend having sex two or three times a week during the fertile period which would be the middle two weeks or so of the cycle.
DON’T NEGLECT YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Work at getting rid of stress. Stress results in an increase in levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This has been shown to lower testosterone levels and reduce the production of sperm.
In one Polish study, 179 men attending an infertility clinic were followed up.
Interestingly, some sperm parameters, such as semen volume and sperm motility were found to be lowered during times of stress at work.
But in one Israeli study, soldiers were found to have reduced sperm quality during periods of war, related to increased mental stress.
Dealing with infertility itself is stressful and can affect mental health and sexual function.
Some men and women turn to drugs and alcohol to help them cope, and this further exacerbates fertility issues.
Counselling and/or psychotherapy have been shown to be beneficial for couples going through fertility treatment.
This can help with the decision-making process, and help each individual develop coping strategies.
Vitamin E is thought to protect the cell membrane on the outside of the sperm from damage. Taking vitamin E supplements has been shown to improve fertilisation rates.
In a 2020 double-blind, placebo-controlled study of men undergoing IVF, the live birth rate per embryo transfer was statistically higher in the vitamin E group, although there was no improvement in sperm motility or morphology in the treatment group.
In that study, vitamin E was given at a dose of 400 mg per day, for three months.
Vitamin E is found in plant-based oils, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables.
DO TAKE FOLIC ACID
Women are advised to take folic acid supplements before pregnancy and for the first 12 weeks.
However, folic acid also appears to play an important role in the production of sperm.
In a 2020 study, researchers reported that four randomised controlled trials showed a significant (3.5.times) increase in sperm concentration after six months of taking 5mg folic acid per day.
However, excessively high levels of folate can have the opposite effects, so care must be taken not to take too much folic acid.
Also, one animal and one human study showed an increased risk of congenital abnormalities in those with a low dietary folate intake.
Folic acid supplements containing 400-800 mcg of folic acid are felt to be safe, while higher doses should be discussed with your fertility specialist.
Folic acid is found in the diet in green leafy vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans and sunflower seeds.
DO TAKE D-ASPARTIC ACID SUPPLEMENTS
D-aspartic acid is the type of aspartic acid used to produce the male hormone testosterone.
Men with low sperm counts have been found to have lower levels of D-aspartic acid than men with normal sperm.
Most of the studies on D-aspartic acid and sperm have been done in animals.
But one 2012 study, of 60 men with a low sperm count, showed that 90 days of the supplement resulted in a significant improvement in sperm concentration and motility.
In addition, there was a significant increase in the number of pregnancies.
DO TRY MINDFULNESS
Both male and female partners are likely to benefit from learning breathing techniques and practicing mindfulness, meditation and pastimes such as yoga.
A female can help her male partner by encouraging him to attend relaxation and/or counselling sessions, either by himself, or together. Many fertility units have access to a counsellor.
DO GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Ensure your man gets enough sleep. Much medical literature now supports the fact that too little sleep has an adverse effect on sperm quality.
For best results, men need to get seven hours of good quality sleep per night.
In one 2017 study of 981 healthy Chinese men, those who slept less than 6 hours per night had the lowest sperm counts and lowest sperm motility. Those with the lowest amount of sleep also had sperm with the shortest survival time.
Interestingly, having nine or more hours of sleep per night also had a deleterious effect on sperm, as did going to be after 10pm at night.
It seems men need to go to bed before 10 pm and sleep for seven hours, to have the best effect on their sperm production and quality.
While most exercise is good for creating healthy sperm, too much cycling and lycra-wearing is not helpful (stock image)
DO SCREEN FOR STIs
Neither you or your male partner may be aware that STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause male infertility.
They cause intense inflammation within the testes and the semen can become packed full of inflammatory white blood cells, meaning sperm cannot swim freely, so sperm motility is severely reduced.
Often men have few or no symptoms.
If you go down the assisted conception route you will be required to have full STI screening including an HIV test, so it is best to do this early at your nearest sexual health clinic.