Healthy swimmers – How you can influence the quality of sperm

Father and newborn baby

We are always talking about the importance of “timing” when you are planning a pregnancy – when is a woman most fertile, how regular is her cycle, is she ovulating and what can she do to get pregnant faster. But equally important is her partners health, or more specifically that of his sperm. It takes two to make a baby and his contribution is just as relevant. A problem with sperm quality can very quickly become more than just a physical complication, especially if a man feels that the reason getting pregnant is taking longer than expected is because his sperm are not “manly” enough.

The good news is that you can positively and actively influence the swimming and reproductive ability of sperm. Thankfully it has nothing to do with masculinity but is dependent on multiple factors including, medical, environmental and lifestyle. Lifestyle factors such as stress, diet, weight and alcohol and drug use can be altered and influenced, medical conditions may need professional help but there is almost always a solution.

Why is sperm quality so important?

Sperm cells, also called spermatozoa, are produced in the testicles. Each individual sperm cell holds the complete genetic material of the man - and there are millions of them. Although up to 360 million sperm, which are only 0.06 mm in size, are expelled per ejaculation only a few hundred of them actually reach the egg cell. The others die on their way through the fallopian tube, are not developed sufficiently or are not mobile enough.

That is why you have to get as many healthy sperm as possible into the uterus. Surprisingly few sperm get anywhere near the egg, the vagina is an acidic hostile environment, mucus strands block the way at the cervix and the egg waiting to be fertilized is still a long way off and surrounded by a barrier which has to be penetrated. Abnormally developed sperm often lead to early miscarriage because the placenta or embryo cannot develop properly. In any case both the quantity and the quality of the sperm are critical factors for successful fertilization.

Father kissing newborn baby

How can you influence the quality of sperm?

Generally, unless there are underlying medical factors influencing sperm production, the quality of sperm can be improved with a healthy diet. This can be a real team effort because most nutrients that are good for the male reproductive system are also beneficial to female fertility. Iron, zinc and folic acid are only three of the important nutrients that are good for fertility. Also essential for men are vitamins C and E. Their effect as antioxidants protects against free radicals and has been proven to improve sperm quality. A lot of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as valuable vegetable oils (rapeseed, olive or coconut oil) and nuts should not be missing from the male diet.

Physical activity outside in the fresh air is also good for the body and for general well-being. Vitamin D in particular, which is produced in our skin through sunlight, can boost sperm performance. While we might not recommend hours of sunbathing, a healthy exposure to sunlight is definitely a good idea when you are trying for a baby.

The lesser known amino acid L-carnitine is also said to have a positive effect on sperm quality. You will find it in high-quality meat, fish and poultry. A balanced and varied diet are key for male fertility. In addition, you should also give the “swimmers” enough time for regeneration. If you have sex every second or third day, you can be confident that there will be enough healthy sperm developed and ready to go!

What can limit male fertility?

Not surprisingly, smoking is a factor that can physically damage a man’s sperm. Not only is mobility severely restricted, making fertilization more difficult, there is also the risk of fetal malformation, resulting in miscarriage. For this reason, men should definitely stop smoking when they are ready to start a family - for their own health and for the sake of their children.

The evidence on other factors which can influence sperm quality and health varies. Lifestyle factors such as stress, a bad diet or being overweight can affect fertility. Saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs, or anywhere where the testicles are exposed to high temperatures for longer periods, are also believed to reduce the sperm count - because the optimal “operating temperature” of the testicles is slightly below body temperature.

Environmental and medical factors are less easy to influence - toxins, hormone deficiencies and certain (past) illnesses or injuries can all contribute to a low sperm count, abnormal sperm production or abnormal sperm function. Experiencing difficulty conceiving a child can be stressful and frustrating but there are a number of male fertility treatments available.

Last but not least

Environmental and medical factors are less easy to influence - toxins, hormone deficiencies and certain (past) illnesses or injuries can all contribute to a low sperm count, abnormal sperm production or abnormal sperm function. Experiencing difficulty conceiving a child can be stressful and frustrating, thankfully once you have a diagnosis there are a number of male fertility treatments available and fathering a child is definitely still possible.

Sources:

https://www.rbmojournal.com/article/S1472-6483(10)00133-1/fulltext (Studie zu Vitaminen und Nährstoffen und Spermienqualität)

https://www.swissmom.ch/schwangerschaft/medizinisches/komplikationen/fehlgeburt/spermien-und-fehlgeburt/

https://www.lungenaerzte-im-netz.de/news-archiv/meldung/article/bei-kinderwunsch-unbedingt-mit-dem-rauchen-aufhoeren/