Healthy sperm; A basic guide to improving semen parameters for improved fertility
If you google infertility, 90% of what you will find is geared towards egg and uterine health. Repeat pregnancy loss is another area where most of the 'blame' is carried by the woman or non-sperm side. This is also reflected in who shows up to my clinic seeking support for infertility or repeat pregnancy loss.
The truth is:
50% of the genetic material of an embryo comes from the sperm.
40-50% of infertility is due to sperm (aka. male factor infertility).
60% of Repeat pregnancy loss is due to genetic factors, with an increased connection to sperm quality (like in this study)
So why the misconception?! Why is the fertility industry only focused of half of the equation?
Improving semen parameters is one of the easiest ways to speed up the time to conception and decrease the chances of genetic caused miscarriages. These tips are not just for people with diagnosed sperm issues, this is for everyone trying to conceive! Because good sperm is good, but great sperm is better. So here is a basic breakdown of what you can do (or not do) to improve sperm health and improve fertility.
Sperm basics: The lifecycle of sperm is 90 days from when it is created to when it is mature enough to be ejaculated. This means that 3+ months of lifestyle/diet changes can dramatically change the health of someone's sperm.
LIFESTYLE BASICS: WHAT TO AVOID
High Temperatures (Don't cook your balls!): The human body sits around 37 degrees Celsius. Sperm however, functions best at 32 degrees Celsius. When the scrotum’s temperature is elevated over a period of time, the sperm is essentially overheated and often times killed or damaged.
Things that increased scrotal temperature: Hot baths/Hot tubs, saunas, sitting for extended periods (car seat warmers), tight-fitting underwear, and athletic support straps, lap tops directly on your lap.
(Don't radiate your balls either): Carrying cell phones in your front pocket has been linked to impaired motility and quality. So please, put that phone in a coat pocket, a back pocket, a side bag…anywhere but right next to your testicle. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4074720/
Smoking cigarettes: Smoking increases free radicals in the body, free radicals damage cells and among those most affected by free radical damage are sperm cells. Smoking can result in reduced sperm count and motility as well as increased amount of abnormally-shaped sperm. It will take 3-9months to reverse this damage, so quitting sooner rather than later is better.
Alcohol: Alcohol interferes with the ability to make testosterone and also speeds-up the conversion of testosterone into estrogen. Alcohol breaks down in the body to form acetaldehyde, which is toxic to sperm. Studies suggest limiting drinks to under 6/week and no more than 2 in a sitting.
Marijuana: The chemical ingredient in marijuana is very closely related to testosterone, which causes the body to produce less of its own. Marijuana also builds-up in the testes, lowering libido, causing impotence, and sometimes even causing sexual anxiety. There is evidence to support that cannabis use leads to reduced sperm count, reduced sperm concentration, changes in sperm motility and morphology, hormone changes and reduced sperm viability. Here is a systematic review .
Cocaine: The effects of cocaine on fertility are similar to those of marijuana.
Caffeine: Too much caffeine may impair sperm production, cause chromosomal abnormalities, and effect sperm motility. This doesn't mean you need to complete avoid caffeine, but limiting it to a moderate to low amount (1 coffee a day?) may be beneficial.
Excessive Exercise: Though moderate regular exercise helps your reproductive health, exercising to exhaustion may lower sperm count (due to heat), a redirection of blood flow away from reproductive organs, and may temporarily reduce testosterone production.
Toxins and Pollutants: There are unfortunately a wide variety of toxins and pollutants that can harm the development of sperm. For example, pesticides and heavy metals are toxic for sperm – they’re designed to disrupt the reproductive cycle of the insect, fungus, or weed they’re trying to kill. Ever since the use of chemical pesticides was introduced after World War II, male sperm counts have plummeted. Avoid as much pesticide consumption or contact as possible by eating organic foods and not using pesticides in your garden.
ACUPUNCTURE'S ROLE IN IMPROVING SPERM HEALTH:
The reason acupuncture helps improve semen parameters is through hormonal regulation and increased blood flow to the testicles. The more blood flow to the testicles, the more oxygen and nutrients are available for the developing sperm.
"In conjunction with ART, or even for reaching natural fertility potential, acupuncture treatment is a simple, non-invasive method that can improve sperm quality." (Dr. Jian Pei, Fertility and Sterility 2005)
Acupuncture needles are NOT inserted into the genitals....just in case you were wondering.
BASIC SUPPLEMENTS FOR IMPROVING SPERM HEALTH:
Antioxidants: Support mitochondrial function in sperm, and have been shown to optimize sperm maturation, count, and motility.
Vitamin C: This vitamin has shown to improve sperm count, motility and morphology. Some research has shown a doubling of sperm count within a few months after starting Vitamin C. It is a water soluble vitamin meaning you don't store it in your fat, so you need to take it daily.
CoQ10: is one of my favorite sperm booster supplements!
CoQ10 is a substance which helps the body produce energy and protects our cells from oxidation. As CoQ10 protects the body from oxidative stress it helps to protect sperm from damage improve male fertility. It also boosts motility (forward movement) of sperm.
Vitamin D3: Vit D deficiency correlates with lower sperm counts, decreased motility and abnormal morphology. Living in the lower mainland means most of us are deficient, even during our sunny summer months. This is even more critical for people with darker complexions, who require even greater amounts of Vit D.
Lycopene: (food source: Tomatoes, carrots) Lycopene is a type of carotene that is bright red and found in many red vegetables. A high diet of lycopene can improve both sperm count and motility.
Selenium: (food source: Brazil nuts) When combined with Vitamin E, Selenium shows to increase sperm count and sperm morphology.
Omega 3s: (food source: wild caught fish, oysters, walnuts and chia seeds) A ratio higher in omega 3 vs omega 6 is correlated with increased fertility. Omega 6 is pro inflammatory, while Omega 3 anti-inflammatory. Wild salmon, cod, sardines and oysters are high in omega 3s.
Prenatal vitamins for sperm health: For those wanting a multivitamins that improves semen parameters and has all of the above mentioned vitamins and nutrients, I suggest: Male fertility SAP by NFH
TESTING AND OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:
Here are some other tests and considerations to explore if lifestyle changes are not yielding success. These tests and treatments usually don't happen until you have been trying unsuccessfully for a pregnancy, for over 1 year.
Semen analysis: This is where you give a sperm sample which is analyzed for count, concentration, motility (forward movement), and morphology (shape). This does not look into the DNA health of the sperm, but can give you a basic sense of if they have any major issues
Varicocele: Some low sperm parameters are due to a blockage of blood supply to the developing sperm, called a varicocele.
This is essentially a varicose vein in the testicle. This is usually identified by a specialist and can be treated with a canulation.
Undescended testicle: This can also be assessed by a physician.
Failed vasectomy reversal: This would be confirmed by a semen analysis.