A man’s reproductive system is specifically designed to produce, store, and transport sperm. Unlike the female genitalia, the male reproductive organs are on both the interior and the exterior of the pelvic cavity. They include:
- the testes (testicles)
- the duct system: epididymis and vas deferens (sperm duct)
- the accessory glands: seminal vesicles and prostate gland
- the penis
Sperm are produced in the testicles and develop to maturity while traveling from the seminiferous tubules through the epididymis into the vas deferens. Fertility challenges can be tough. On top of the emotions and impact on your relationship, sperm health has historically been tied to the concept of male virility, or “manliness.”
ELEMENTS OF A HEALTHY SPERM
Healthy sperm have rounded heads and long, strong tails. Shapely sperm are more likely to make it to an egg.
You have control over several things that shape how healthy your sperm is. Here’s what you can do to make those sperm work for you both now and later.
Not every sperm moves effectively or even at all, but this is normal. Only about 40 percent or more of them need to be moving and grooving for you to be fertile.
A healthy sperm count is about 15 million or more for every milliliter (mL) of semen. The more you have, the more likely one of them will make it through the female reproductive system to an egg.
WAYS TO BOOST YOUR SPERM COUNT
1. Exercise regularly, but don’t overdo it
Even light exercise can increase sperm quantity, movement, and shape. A 2005 study found that the combination of low activity and high body mass index (BMI) contributed directly to poor semen quality. Being overweight or obese can affect testosterone levels, too, which can lower your sex drive. Exercise and weight loss can boost your sperm count and quality in mere weeks. Try going on a 20-minute walk, doing some pushups, or finishing some yardwork. The extra hormones, endorphins, and blood flow can also boost your sex drive. So get moving, but don’t get too crazy. Intense physical activity, especially cycling, jogging, and mountain climbing, are linked to decreased semen quality. This may be due from injury from bicycle seats or scrotum movement or hormone changes from stress. One 2003 study found male rats exposed to high altitudes had lower sperm count, too.
2. Think before you drink alcohol or caffeine
A 2017 review of studies involving almost 20,000 men suggested that caffeine in soda and soft drinks may damage sperm DNA. This can decrease sperm count. Consuming more than three cups a day of caffeinated drinks — whether coffee, energy drinks, or soda — raises the risk of miscarriage. It didn’t matter whether or not the man or woman was downing cold brews. Both parents were a factor. That said, the review notes two cups of caffeine a day is completely safe. Go easy on the alcohol as well. A 2014 study found that having five or more units of alcohol per week had lower sperm count and motility. The effects increase the more you drink, too. Five units is equal to about:
- 40 ounces of beer
- 25 ounces of wine
- 7.5 ounces of spirits
Another 2017 review of just over 16,000 men found that alcohol affects how many sperm come out in each ejaculation. You don’t need to go cold turkey on the alcohol. Just keep it to four drinks or less per week.
3. Eat well
You are what you eat — and so are your sperm. There are both good nutrients and bad nutrients to consider in keeping sperm healthy. People eating a “Western” diet — consisting of processed meats, grains, dairy, sweets, snacks, and pizza — are especially affected when it comes to sperm motility in comparison to those who eat a diet higher in chicken, fish, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Go light on the processed stuff and eat more lean meats and whole foods. Try some of these foods and vitamins for a sperm boost:
- Vitamin B-12. This potent vitamin is found in meat, fish, and dairy. It has all sorts of positive effects throughout your body. Among other things, vitamin B-12 protects your sperm from inflammation and oxidative stress caused by harmful free radicals in your body.
- Vitamin C. Eating more oranges, berries, potatoes, tomatoes, and spinach can all contribute to a higher sperm count. In some cases, it can even double it after a couple months.
- Nuts. Nuts have long been associated with benefitting sexual health, and the evidence keeps piling on. A 2018 study of 119 men found that a diet high in almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts over a 14-week period increased sperm count by up to 16 percent.
- Lycopene. Lycopene gives foods like tomatoes and watermelons their rich red color. It can reduce reactive oxygen species (ROS) in your body, too. ROS can damage DNA and hurt sperm. Taking 4 to 8 milligrams (mg) of lycopene a day was found to improve sperm count and motility.
4. Boxers or briefs?
Let’s get right to the point: Your underwear is probably fine, no matter your preference. A 2016 study found pretty much no difference in underwear type and sperm count. But then, a titillating 2018 study found that men who wore boxers had 17 percent more sperm than men who wore briefs. But don’t go throwing out all your undies just yet. Researchers from the 2018 study warned that results aren’t entirely conclusive because they didn’t measure other factors that affect sperm count, such as type of pants or underwear material. And they also suggest that your body may compensate for the extra heat on your testicles from briefs by releasing more sperm-producing follicle-stimulating hormone. So really, it’s up to you. The evidence only points a little bit more toward boxers as conducive to higher sperm count.
5. Take a supplement
If you’re trying to boost your sperm quality, you can get several important vitamins and minerals through the foods you eat. You also could consider popping a daily supplement to make conceiving a little easier.
Supplements for sperm health
- vitamin C for sperm count and motility
- vitamin D for a testosterone boost if you have a vitamin D deficiency
- zinc if you have low levels
- Ashwagandha root extract for sperm count and motility
- coenzyme for semen quality