It’s time we talked

Andrew Coutts


Admit it. Us men in general don’t talk about our sperm do we. But perhaps we should.

Around a third of fertility issues are male issues and in a world where fertility rates are dropping in the vast majority of countries the importance of keeping healthy down there is more important then ever.

But why should we?

Well, remember if it takes two to tango and you are not doing your bit, two ain’t going to be three anytime soon.

So, what determines sperm health and how can we improve ours?

Essentially sperm health revolves around three key indicators – quantity, movement and structure.

Basics. The semen discharged in a single ejaculation contains at least 15 million sperm per millilitre. Too little sperm in an ejaculation might make it more difficult to get pregnant because there are fewer of the little fellas trying to fertilize the egg. So, more is better then – job done. Well, no, not quite.

Motility. It is no good if you have plenty of potential candidates but none of them are that active! To reach and fertilize an egg, sperm must move and navigate through a woman’s cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes. So, not only do you have to produce semen but you have to produce semen that are capable of moving!

Morphology. To the men – do you know what your sperm looks like? “Little tadpoles” I hear you shout. Well, good call – healthy sperm have oval heads and long tails which enable them to move effectively. The more normal looking sperm you have, the more likely you are to be fertile.

So, we know where we need to be but how do we get there?

Firstly, it is not going to happen overnight. Sperm is produced constantly and can be up to three months old at any time therefore anything we did or didn’t do for the previous three months can affect our sperm today. So, let’s forward plan.

There are a number of simple lifestyle changes you can make without causing too many hardships which can substantially improve your sperm health.

A healthy weight supported by a balanced diet is a good starting point. Research suggests that high body mass index (BMI) is linked to low sperm counts and movement. Reducing your red meat and increasing your oily fish intake as well as taking on plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants will help.

If you smoke, don’t. If you can’t give up permanently do so whilst you are trying to get ‘sperm healthy’… men who smoke cigarettes are more likely to have low sperm counts.

Limit alcohol. Heavy drinking can lead to reduced testosterone production, impotence and decreased sperm production. If you have to drink alcohol, try to do so in moderation!

Don’t stress. Most of us will feel anxious, threatened or under pressure at some time and those times tend to come thick and fast when we are trying for a family.

Stress can be a serious and insidious problem; it can jump up and smack you in the face without warning or it can envelope you subtly overtime. Whatever form it takes it can decrease sexual function and interfere with the hormones needed to produce sperm.

Stress is a natural feeling of not being able to cope with specific demands and events – whilst we may not be able to eliminate it we can try to manage it by reviewing our diet and stopping or reducing our alcohol and nicotine intake.

And there is always exercise. Moderate physical activity can help decrease stress levels whilst increasing levels of antioxidant enzymes, which can help protect sperm.

Our sperm health is in our hands. We can influence it by removing, modifying or adopting personal lifestyle choices and actions as well as limiting our exposure to external or environmental factors such as excessive heat or toxic chemicals.

Keep your cool. It has long been argued that increased scrotal temperature can hamper sperm production. We can help ourselves by wearing loose-fitting underwear, avoiding saunas and hot tubs, and limiting scrotum exposure to warm objects, such as laptops.

Seek and heed advice regarding any medications you take. Tricyclic antidepressants, anti-androgens, anabolic steroids and other medications can contribute to fertility issues.

Keep toxins at arms length. Exposure to pesticides, lead and similar can affect sperm quantity and quality. If you have to work with these do so with caution, avoiding skin contact and always protect yourself with appropriate clothing.

So, we can have a decisive impact on our sperm health by making and taking, tweaking and eliminating lifestyle changes as well as avoiding or making safe environmental dangers.

We can all do it and maybe it’s a good idea to talk about it too.

The International Fertility Company is pleased to be working in partnership with a carefully selected group of companies who offer products to promote good sperm health. You can view these here.

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