Factors That May Affect Sperm HealthIt is important to remember that there is still a lot to learn about male fertility. We do know that a lot of the things that make sperm healthy are the things that are healthy for men anyway. Keep in mind, though, that the following tips are merely considerations for men with potential fertility problems. Many men have no problem with their sperm count, no matter their lifestyles.
Remember, you should discuss any fertility problems with your doctor to evaluate an underlying cause.
- Tight trousers and underwear, synthetic material and heat: It has been suggested that all these adversely affect fertility, so get out those baggy cotton boxers! Keep the family jewels cool. It is known that the testes function most effectively (including the production of sperm) at slightly cooler than core body temperature.
- Geography: One study showed that geographic location influenced average sperm count. Men in New York City had higher sperm counts than men in Los Angeles. (Whether a man's sperm count will increase should he move from L.A. to the Big Apple is not clear, however.)
- Hot tubs and saunas: Frequent use of hot tubs and saunas may lower sperm counts, as heat may decrease sperm production.
- Alcohol: Alcohol consumption can damage sperm production in a couple of ways. First, it may increase the production of estrogen by the liver, which can lower sperm count. Also, alcohol can directly poison the sperm-producing cells of the testicle. Limit your alcohol intake when you are trying to improve your fertility.
- Drugs: There are a number of drugs that affect male fertility, including steroids, cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatments, and opiates. Contact your family doctor if you are on any long-term medication that you are worried may affect your fertility. Doctors should always inform you of any side effects, but it is always easy to check if you have forgotten.
- Environmental toxins: There is quite a lot of conflicting evidence about environmental substances that may cause damage to sperm. It is known that radiation causes damage and birth defects. Other substances thought to have a detrimental effect on sperm are some perfumes containing phthalates, some types of pesticides, organic mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, and estrogens in water supply. Many of these substances are still the subject of ongoing research.
- Smoking: Smokers have been shown to have diminished fertility compared to non-smokers. Smoking may adversely affect the sperm's movement, as well as the health of the sperm.
- Time of day: Sperm counts are higher in the morning.
- Excessive ejaculation and prolonged abstinence: Both are known to affect the number and quality of sperm. Intercourse every 2 to 3 days helps ensure optimal sperm count and health.
- Diet: A healthy balanced diet is important. Foods rich in antioxidants may promote optimal sperm health.
- Supplements: Folic acid, selenium, and zinc sulfate have been shown to improve sperm counts and sperm function.
Seek AdviceIf you are concerned about your fertility and think your sperm may not be fit and healthy, contact your family doctor. Some simple tests on your semen and a look at your general fitness could provide some answers.
Mayo Clinic. "Healthy sperm: Improving your fertility." Accessed 5-5-10. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fertility/mc00023
Swan, SH; et al. "Geographic differences in semen quality of fertile U.S. males." Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Apr; 111 (4):414-20.
Medically reviewed on 5/4/2010