For couples who want to start a family, male infertility is an all too common roadblock. In fact, about one-third of couples who have trouble conceiving can directly attribute their struggle to male infertility.
In 2017, an alarming paper published in the journal Human Reproduction Updateconcluded that over the past 40 years, men's sperm counts have dropped more than 50 percent in Western countries. Study co-author Dr. Hagai Levine said that if this trend continues, it could lead to "extinction of the human species."
And while scientists not associated with the study have expressed skepticism towards Levine's comments, the problem still stands: sperm counts are dropping, and fast.
While the reasons behind the decline are difficult to pinpoint, scientists believe our sedentary lifestyles, obesity problem, and happy hour culture could be contributing to the problem.
What makes sperm healthy?
While you may think that sperm count is the most reliable indicator of male fertility, it's not the only factor at play. Here's what else makes your sperm strong and healthy:
- Quantity, or how much sperm is present in semen. Guys who have less than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen are considered to have low sperm count.
- Motility, or how well your sperm can move to implant an egg.
- Morphology, or the shape and size of your sperm. Normal-sized sperm have oval heads and long tails, while abnormalities can include misshapen heads and crooked or even multiple tails.
Here are 6 science-backed ways to boost your overall sperm health and get those little swimmers moving fast.
1) Eat the right foods.
Here's another reason to eat your fruits and veggies: guys who eat produce that is rich in antioxidants have higher concentrations of sperm.
"One of the factors that affect sperm quality is something we call oxidative stress," urologist Dr. Ali Dabaja tells MensHealth.com. Oxidative stress occurs when there are too many unstable atoms called free radicals in our body. Antioxidants help counteract these harmful substances.
Dabaja recommends eating several servings of antioxidant-rich foods, like berries, a day. Try adding blueberries to your breakfast, as they offer about 9019 total antioxidants per cup. Other good sources of antioxidants include prunes, blackberries, and grapes.
Dabaja also advises getting plenty of vitamin E. Studies have shown that vitamins C and E can also improve sperm shape. The recommended adult dose of vitamin E is 15 milligrams per day. Including one-fourth of a cup of sunflower seeds and a cup of spinach into your day will help you get this amount of the good stuff.
2) Limit your alcohol intake.
You may want to rethink having drinks at happy hour and at dinner. "Alcohol can be toxic to sperm in itself," Dabaja says.
How much is too much? More than 10-15 drinks a week, according to Dabaja. For guys trying to boost their sperm count, "it’s recommend not to have more than three to five drinks a week," he says.
3) Maintain a healthy weight.
A study published last year found that overweight or obese guys had lower sperm count and decreased motility compared to men with lower BMIs.
"If you have a lot of body fat, you’re going to have a lot of oxidative stress to the body," Dabaja stresses.
He advises patients to exercise regularly in order to stay slim.
4) Avoid hot tubs.
Dabaja warns that the high temperatures found in hot tubs could increase the temperature of your testicles, which could reduce how much sperm is produced. A study from 2013 also found that using a hot tub twice a week reduced sperm count and motility.
5) Avoid tight underwear.
This might seem obvious, but wearing tight underwear and pants could lead to your testicles becoming overheated, which could wreak havoc on your sperm count.
"If you’re wearing support that's hugging your gonads very close to your body, that might lead to an increase in testicular temperature," Dabaja explains.
Loose boxers or moisture-wicking, boxer briefs (like this pair from Mack Weldon's Silver line) are good options.
6) Try acupuncture.
Acupuncture doesn't have a direct impact on sperm quality, but it has been shown to reduce stress - which, in turn, could help with sperm count. In 2014, researchers found that men who reported high stress levels had less sperm with reduced motility than men who reported lower stress levels. "A healthier body = healthier sperm," says Dabaja.