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New Data Reveals Why Men Should Improve Their Sperm Health

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study found that sperm does more than simply fertilize the egg during reproduction.
  • According to researchers, sperm health affects the health of the baby, making male lifestyle factors an important consideration.
  • Diet, weight, alcohol, and smoking are just a few of the things that affect sperm health.

Sperm plays a crucial role in reproduction—fertilizing the female’s egg—but it does a lot more than that, say researchers from the University of Adelaide. 

Their recent study, published in the journal Communications Biology, found that sperm also sends signals to the female reproductive tissues to boost the chances of conception. According to the scientists, their research is the first to show that these signals persuade the female immune response to allow fertilization. 

The team studied global gene expression in the uteri of female mice after they mated with two groups of male mice. One group had intact sperm, while the other had been vasectomized (made sterile). The male mice with intact sperm activated a greater change in female genes, especially in relation to immune response pathways. Female mice that had contact with intact sperm produced stronger immune tolerance than the mice who mated with vasectomized males. 

The findings suggest that sperm health affects the health of the baby, giving weight to the argument that male lifestyle factors such as diet, weight, alcohol, and smoking are an instrumental part of pregnancy health beyond conception.

Improving Sperm Health 

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, director of medical content at Ro, says there are a number of lifestyle modifications men can make to optimize sperm health. First of all, the basics: eating a healthy diet with lots of antioxidants, maintaining a healthy body weight (being overweight or obese is associated with decreased sperm number and health), and exercising regularly. 

“It’s important to minimize things that can harm sperm,” Dr. Bohl adds. “Avoid smoking, drugs, and excess alcohol, and get checked (and treated, if necessary) for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).” 

Other environmental exposures to avoid if you're trying to conceive are heat (e.g., hot tubs, Jacuzzi, and hot baths), lubricants, and pesticides. "These have all been associated with a negative impact on sperm health," explains James Wren, MD, urologist at the Northwestern Medicine Fertility and Reproductive Medicine in Highland Park, IL.

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

It’s important to minimize things that can harm sperm. Avoid smoking, drugs, and excess alcohol, and get checked (and treated, if necessary) for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

— Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Sperm does better at temperatures lower than body temperature—this is why the scrotum and testicles are external to the body (unlike the ovaries, which are internal), Dr. Bohl explains. To help keep your testicles cooler, avoid tight, non breathing underwear and opt for lighter fabrics and boxers.

Additionally, sperm health can be affected by medical conditions. “One of the most common is varicoceles, which are dilated veins in the scrotum,” says Dr. Wren. These veins (which are present from puberty and occur in 15% of the male population) result in overheating, which can impair the total number of moving sperm. “They can result in a progressive decline in sperm health over time but can be surgically corrected to help optimize sperm health,” Dr. Wren says. 

Low testosterone is also associated with impaired sperm health, but supplementing with testosterone will actually worsen sperm production, Dr. Wren warns. If low testosterone is an issue, it’s important to be assessed and treated by a male infertility specialist in order to get the right medication.

Supplements for Sperm Health

Lots of men turn to nutritional supplements to improve their sperm heath. "Commonly used over-the-counter supplements include Coenzyme Q10, fish oil, zinc, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin E," says Dr. Wren.

A report published in JAMA Network Open found that fish oil supplement consumption was associated with a higher sperm count, larger testes and improved levels of hormones that contribute to male fertility. And a study in infertile men showed that taking 1,000-mg vitamin C supplements twice a day for up to two months increased sperm motility by 92% and sperm count by more than 100%, and reduced the proportion of deformed sperm cells by 55%.

However, Dr. Wren notes that in general, the data on all of these supplements is conflicting and is currently insufficiently robust to support their routine use to optimize sperm health.

What This Means For You

If you are concerned about your fertility and want to improve your sperm health, speak to your doctor in the first instance. Depending on how long you've been trying to conceive, semen analysis tests may give a clearer picture.

 

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  1. Schjenken JE, Sharkey DJ, Green ES, et al. Sperm modulate uterine immune parameters relevant to embryo implantation and reproductive success in mice. Commun Biol. 2021 May 14;4(1):572. doi:10.1038/s42003-021-02038-9

  2. Jensen TK, Priskorn L, Holmboe SA, et al. Associations of fish oil supplement use with testicular function in young men. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(1):e1919462. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.19462

  3. Imamovic Kumalic S, Pinter B. Review of clinical trials on effects of oral antioxidants on basic semen and other parameters in idiopathic oligoasthenoteratozoospermia. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:1-11. doi:10.1155/2014/426951