Sperm count is the number of sperm present in a given amount of semen. According to the recent World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, a healthy sperm count is at least 39 million per ejaculate or 15 million per millilitre (ml). A sperm count under 15million per ml is considered low and may cause male infertility. Infertility affects one in every six couples, and researchers estimate that one in three is due to the male partner.
What determines sperm health?
Sperm health is based on various factors like movement, quantity and structure. Movement is essential as it is needed for the sperm to swim to fertilise the egg. If at least 40% of your sperm are moving, you’re most likely to be fertile. Quantity is also necessary. If there is little sperm in an ejaculation, there are fewer sperm available to fertilise an egg. Although not as important as movement and quantity, the more sperm you have with a normal shape (with an oval head and long tail), the more likely you are to be fertile.
How to increase sperm count
You can do things to boost your chances of conceiving through lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy diet, supplements and exercise. These tips below provide information on how to get pregnant, increase sperm fertility and improve sperm count.
Have a healthy weight
A healthy weight is crucial to live a healthy life in general. If you are overweight, this can impact your chances of being infertile. A study by Wang et al (2017) suggests that a higher body mass index (BMI) reduces sperm movement and sperm count Therefore, weight loss can profoundly increase semen volume, concentration, and mobility and reduce infertility problems.
Exercise has been shown to increase testosterone and improve fertility. Men who exercise regularly have higher testosterone levels and better sperm quality according to research in the journal Reproduction. However, exercise should be done in moderation as too much may have the opposite effect and reduce testosterone levels in the short-term.
Have a healthy diet
Eating foods rich in antioxidants is necessary to have a healthy diet when trying to get conceive. Antioxidants are foods that deactivate compounds called free radicals which damage cells. They are found in many fruits and vegetables, and eating these foods may increase sperm count. It is also necessary to increase healthy fats that include omega-3 and omega-6. Other foods that are sperm-friendly include vitamin C, antioxidants and polyunsaturated fats.
Stress may decrease sexual satisfaction and can cause fertility problems. The hormone cortisol may be associated with this as cortisol is not beneficial and has adverse effects on testosterone levels. If you want to improve your fertility, it is important to manage stress effectively through relaxation techniques like meditation, walking or doing something enjoyable.
Vitamins and supplements are beneficial for male fertility. Vitamin D can boost testosterone levels and sperm health. Likewise, Vitamin C is also helpful. There is some evidence that Vitamin C can improve sperm quality. Taking 1,000mg of vitamin C supplements twice daily over two months increased sperm motility by 92%. They also improved sperm count by more than 100% and reduced the number of damaged sperm cells. Zinc is another essential nutrient that increases male fertility. It is found in high animal foods such as meat, fish and eggs.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
High levels of alcohol and drug consumption over long periods can be detrimental to healthy sperm. Low sperm counts and unhealthy sperm have been linked to people who indulge in heavy drinking, smoke and use illegal drugs like cocaine. Alcohol can reduce testosterone and poor sperm production, so drinking should be done in moderation.
Does Sperm Count affect IVF success?
Sperm count can affect IVF and other methods of assisted reproduction. If you have a low sperm count, the sperm can be injected into the egg through intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
These simple lifestyle changes may boost your fertility and chances of increasing sperm count. It is also a good rule of thumb to maintain and improve your general health. Although there is no guaranteed fix, a doctor may prescribe treatment options such as medication to increase sperm count for those with additional health issues. If you have any specific queries, talk to your doctor, who will be able to assess your needs, do a semen analysis and make individual recommendations.
Written by Bethany Cornell from My Expert Midwife