Healthy Sperm for Fertility Treatment
Many male patients ask: ‘What can I do to improve our chance of success?’.
This information gives some ideas about how a man can improve the quality of his sperm and ensure he is doing everything possible to optimise the chance of a positive outcome.
Reach and maintain a healthy weight
Body fat is closely associated with the production of male reproductive hormones. Too much or too little body fat can disrupt hormones and cause an imbalance in testosterone and oestrogen levels. Any change in a man’s hormones can affect his sperm and its production. Body Mass Index (BMI) is calculated as weight divided by height then squared and should be below 30 and ideally between 20 and 25. In some areas, men must have a BMI of less than 30 to be eligible for NHS-funded fertility treatment.
Staff at Midland Fertility are able to calculate a patient’s BMI, or alternatively search for ‘BMI calculator‘ .
Exercise – but don’t over-do it
Exercise, especially if it involves movement of the legs, improves pelvic blood flow, which in turn helps keep the scrotum cool, and so improves testicular function.
Strive to be emotionally balanced
Stress increases the production of cortisol in the body which leads to changes in male hormones. Any way of reducing levels of stress will improve a man’s overall wellbeing and in turn may help him to conceive. Therapies such as yoga, hypnotic relaxation or massage can help relieve stress – and massage also has the added benefit of increasing blood circulation.
Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated
A sensible, healthy diet that includes more fresh raw, vegetables and fruit and less red meat can help improve sperm counts and motility. Also drink at least a litre of water a day.
– decrease the dairy
An American study in 2012 examined the impact of dairy intake on sperm and found that as dairy intake increased, semen quality declined. The relationship was even stronger as more full fat dairy products were consumed. Increased consumption of full fat dairy products was associated with lower sperm motility and concentration.
– up the protein and lower the carbs
The same data was used to examine the relationship of carbohydrate consumption and semen quality and concluded that a higher concentration of carbohydrates in the diet, was associated with a decline in sperm concentration in young men. Carbohydrates are:
- complex carbohydrate starches – eg cereals, bread, and pasta
- simple carbohydrates – eg sugar (found in sweets, jams and desserts)
Another study found that patients eating more proteins and fewer carbohydrates had higher rates of fertilised eggs developing to blastocyst stage and higher pregnancy rates. Meat, eggs and fish are sources of complete protein, as well as cereals and pulses, and milk/milk-derived foods (but see information above about too much full fat dairy).
A set of patients who had poor development of fertilised eggs to the blastocyst stage were asked to increase their protein intake and decrease their carbohydrate intake for two months before attempting another IVF cycle. In their next cycle, following the nutrition change, the blastocyst formation increased from 19% to 45% and the pregnancy rate went from 17% to 83%.
– supplements and vitamins
Anti-oxidants such as folate (naturally occurring soluble vitamin B), vitamin C, vitamin E along with selenium and zinc may help to increase the quality of sperm and are found in:
- fresh fruit (especially citrus fruit)
- vegetables (especially peppers and spinach)
- wholegrains, nuts, seeds (especially sunflower and pumpkin seeds)
- legumes/pulses (eg alfalfa, peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, peanuts)
Any man trying to conceive may benefit from supplementing his diet with a multi-vitamin containing the vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants required for quality sperm production, including:
- vitamins E and C
- vitamin B12
But do not exceed the recommended dose – too much will upset the balance!
Also see the section on pre-conception supplements for men.
Certain environmental factors have been reported as having a detrimental effect on sperm production. Exposure to pesticides, heavy metals and adhesives should all be avoided or kept to a minimum. Sensible precautions such as washing fruit and vegetables and wearing protective face masks when working with toxic substances will all help.
Injury and illness
Injury or surgery to the genital region will interfere with normal sperm production and may even stop it completely. Infections, even the common influenza (‘flu) virus, can dampen down the ability to produce sperm. Some illnesses, such as mumps, can lead to sperm problems and sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia can cause blockages within the sperm-carrying tubes.
Prevent overheating testicles
Any increase in the temperature of a man’s scrotum can dramatically decrease the sperm count so he should avoid:
- wearing tight fitting underwear
- hot baths or saunas
- any activity which involves sitting for prolonged periods of time (ie driving on heated seats!)
- using lap-top or tablet directly on his lap
Avoid anabolic steroids, testosterone-based supplements and anti-androgen drugs
Anabolic steroids such as those used by body builders have an extremely detrimental effect on sperm production. The most common anti-androgen drugs are those to treat prostate enlargement, prostate cancer and male pattern baldness.
Avoid tobacco, marijuana and alcohol
‘Recreational’ drugs have been linked to low sperm counts and may also cause sperm abnormalities. Alcohol affects the liver and its function which alters the hormone levels that affect sperm production. As little as two alcoholic drinks each day can have long term adverse effects on sperm production.
Several studies have compared the semen of men who smoke cigarettes to that of men who do not smoke, to determine any detrimental effects. Smoking does not seem to affect every aspect of the semen quality; for instance the sperms seem to be as active in the smokers as in the non-smokers. However, studies have found a decrease in the number of sperms present and this has been attributed to the presence of Cadmium within the blood stream and the seminal plasma passed from the cigarettes. The chromosomes packed within the head of the sperm also seem to be at an increased risk of damage. The damage to the chromosomes may not only lead to fertility problems but may also increase the chances of fathering offspring with chromosomal disorders.
Avoid cimetidine (Tagamet)
This over-the-counter drug is used to treat heartburn and ulcers, but regular use has been strongly linked to low sperm counts. Any man trying to conceive who has been prescribed this drug, should contact his GP before stopping the medication.
Avoid large amounts of caffeine
Coffee, tea, cola based drinks and chocolate can decrease sperm motility.
Go to the Midland Fertility Patient Treatment Information page and download:
- Healthy Sperm
- Private Sperm Analysis
- Producing a Sperm Sample for Use in Treatment