They say it takes two to tango …. Well, the same can be said when it comes to making a baby! Fertility issues are not specific only to the female gender; in fact, it’s been documented that infertility affects both men and women equally. While female fertility issues are discussed more freely and openly, male fertility is just as important to address.
To get started, let’s kick off with a few statistics on today’s state of male fertility and sperm health:
How crazy are those stats?! So much has changed in the past few decades, and a lot of that can be attributed to changes in the way we live, eat, and function on a day to day basis. Do you think your great Grandfather used to veg out to Netflix to relax?! Definitely not. I have good news for you – there are ways for men to improve their fertility health, so we can start improving those statistics. Supporting optimal sperm production and health is possible through diet, lifestyle modifications, supplements, and increased circulation to the reproductive system. It should be noted that sperm are some of the most delicate cells in the body and, therefore are easily damaged. More good news – sperm respond very quickly to health and lifestyle modifications, as well as targeted nutrition supplements.
The Male Factor refers to three areas: low sperm count, low sperm morphology, and low sperm motility. To get a better understanding of what these three terms refer to, let’s begin with understanding basic sperm production.
Within the adult testicle, there is 700 feet of tubing – seminiferous tubules – within which sperm is made. Sperm is made from precursor cells – germ cells – that give rise to approximately 120 million sperm daily, in a process – spermatogenesis – that takes anywhere from 75 to 90 days. Within the seminiferous tubule, germ cells are arranged in a highly ordered sequence from outside to inside. Lining the tubules, there are adult testis stem cells that begin the process of sperm production. Overall there are 13 recognizable germ cell types in the human testis; however, despite the high volume production of sperm, quality control checkpoints exist throughout the sperm production process to ensure the biological and genetic integrity of ejaculated sperm. While these checkpoints are often able to “catch” less than ideal sperm, some do get through, leading to low sperm count, low sperm morphology, and low sperm motility.
The simplest measurable part of a man’s reproductive health is sperm count, or the number of sperm in his ejaculate, most often expressed as the number of sperm found per milliliter (ml) of semen with each ejaculation. A sperm count anywhere in the range from 15 million to 150 million per milliliter is considered normal: therefore, low sperm count refers to when the semen ejaculated during an orgasm is fewer than 15 million per milliliter of semen. A lower-than-normal sperm count is also referred to as oligospermia, while a complete lack of sperm in the semen is called azoospermia.
Also known as teratozoospermia, low sperm morphology refers to the shape and size of sperm. Ideal sperm should have a head that is oval in shape, have a mid-section, and have a long, straight tail. If sperm have a double tail, no tail, or a head that is crooked, misshapen, has double heads, or a head too large, it is considered to be abnormal, and likely unable to successfully penetrate an egg. Most men have a large percentage of abnormal sperm morphology, with only 4-15% of their sperm being considered normal. When considering optimal sperm health, it’s important that those 4-15% have extremely good vitality and motility!
Also known as asthenospermia, low sperm motility is, quite simply, the sperm’s inability to move correctly. It means your little swimmers have a mind of their own, and they’re going to their own party! If the movement of the sperm is sluggish or not in a straight line, then the sperm will have a hard time attempting to invade the cervical mucus, or penetrate the egg. The sperm have to be very quick to get where they are going, and in some cases if they are not strong enough swimmers, they will perish before they ever reach the egg. If less than 40% of the sperm can move in a straight line, then low sperm motility is usually diagnosed.
Healthy, normal shaped, quick swimming sperm are pertinent in not only fertilizing an egg, but also in providing optimal DNA so that the embryo is genetically healthy and has a greater chance of surviving.
In most cases there are no obvious signs of male infertility. Intercourse, erections, and ejaculation will usually happen without difficulty. The quantity and appearance of the ejaculated semen generally appears normal to the naked eye, which is why medical tests are absolutely necessary to find out if a man is suffering from low sperm count, poor motility or poor morphology.
Sperm regeneration can take upwards of 60-90 days, and in similar practice to improving a woman’s egg quality, the sperm are affected by both healthy or unhealthy influences during this time.
There are many contributing factors that affect the health of sperm – medical conditions, environmental factors, and overall health and wellness. Men who smoke cigarettes, consume excess alcohol and caffeine, and/or are overweight have lowered fertility due to a negative impact on sperm health. Step one in improving sperm health is eliminating these top lifestyle factors that harm sperm quality. Here are some additional steps that I recommend taking in order to support and improve a man’s fertility health.
Oxygen rich blood flow to the testicles is essential for healthy sperm formation. Decreased blood flow can result from a lack of exercise, dehydration, and thick blood. To increase blood flow to the testicles follow these suggestions:
Focus on eating real, whole, fresh food that you cook yourself. This will help protect and positively impact your sperm health. Be sure to incorporate the following into your daily diet:
To ensure your body is capable of doing all of the above, we need to ensure that your body has optimized nutrient levels to promote high quality sperm that can get the job done. There a TON of options when it comes to supplements, but I’ve narrowed down my top 6 for you:
“Endocrine disrupting compounds” (EDC) found in synthetic chemicals, like phthalates, mimic estrogen in the body and can have a negative impact on hormonal balance. The endocrine system is responsible for the intricate dance of hormones that are constantly ebbing and flowing. EDC have the ability to mimic estrogen in both men and women, and in men this can cause a decline in testosterone and affect the quality of the sperm. To reduce your exposure to EDC:
While many people consider this an old wives tale, heat has a huge impact on your little swimmers. The testicles need to keep the sperm at a healthy temperature (which is less than the body’s temperature). It is thought that this may be in part why the male reproductive organs are external. Increased temperatures around your testicles can impact sperm production. To keep your testes cool as a cucumber, avoid the following:
If you’re a cyclist, you should also be aware that riding a bike more than two hours a day, six days a week could negatively affect sperm health. If you’re a hardcore cyclist, make sure you take frequent breaks and get those bike shorts off IMMEDIATELY after a ride.
The present world is filled with stress, that’s non-negotiable. But how you respond and react to stress is entirely in your control. Practice managing your daily stressors with ease. This may be one of the most important things you can do to optimize your fertility health.
Easier said than done: get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis! Consistent, adequate, and unmedicated sleep is critical in improving your sperm health, and it’s something that I cannot stress enough. Wind down a few hours before bedtime, and ensure that you remove all distractions from your bedroom.
While not exactly something that you can change, the vericocele factor is something that can be addressed by a healthcare provider. A varicocele is a group of swollen veins around one or both testicles, and can be felt through the skin of the scrotum. It is believed that the swollen veins may keep the testicle too warm, which can lower the sperm count and movement of the sperm. Approximately 40% of men with fertility problems have a varicocele.
While there are often there are no symptoms of a vericocele, your testicle may have a dull, achy feeling. There may be some painful swelling. Symptoms may develop gradually, long after the varicocele is first discovered. If you feel an abnormality in your testicle(s), please see your healthcare provider. A varicocele usually doesn’t need any treatment, but surgery to repair the veins may be recommended if there is a risk that the varicocele may be the cause of your fertility problems. The purpose of surgery is to seal off the veins with poor blood flow and redirect the blood flow into other, normal veins.
I’d love to use this space as a forum of sorts, providing inspiration and community among my readers, so … I want to hear from you!
Did you know that fertility issues affect men and women equally?
Have you, or someone in your life, been diagnosed with male infertility?
What are some of your favorite nutrient-dense recipes?
Spread some sperm lovin’! Sharing is caring, and I bet the men in your life would love to read this too :).
Looking to have a more in-depth conversation about your hormonal wellbeing? Schedule a consultation with me!