The 4 Biggest Factors That Determine Healthy Sperm
About 9 percent of men experience infertility, and up to one-third of fertility issues in couples can be attributed to male reproductive problems, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
While a number of reasons can contribute to infertility, some men may have unhealthy sperm. If you and your partner are struggling to conceive, learn the biggest factors that determine sperm quality and what you can do to improve your odds of fatherhood.
Like a salmon swimming upstream, your sperm have a long, arduous journey to reach the egg. Most researchers agree that you'll need at least 40 percent of your sperm to be strong enough swimmers to travel up the cervix, the uterus and the fallopian tubes. In most cases, this means your boys need to muster a speed of at least 25 micrometers per second; any less, and you may need to make some lifestyle changes.
The causes of poor sperm motility vary, but you may be able to improve your sperm's movement and speed by:
- Quitting smoking, which can also help alleviate erectile dysfunction (ED), or at least cutting your intake to fewer than 10 cigarettes per day
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Limiting exposure to cell phones and not carrying a phone in your pocket
2. Volume or quantity
The volume of your sperm is essential for fertility, but that doesn't mean just the amount of ejaculate you produce. The crucial factor is how much sperm is within each milliliter of semen. A healthy, fertile male should have a minimum of 15 million swimmers in each milliliter of semen. Considering the average amount of ejaculate is 3.7 milliliters, you should have about 55 million sperm all vying for the prize of being the first one inside the egg.
Boosting your sperm count follows many of the same ideas as improving motility, but you can also turn to a few other tactics:
- Take extra vitamins and supplements (vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc and aspartic acid)
- Minimize stress as much as possible
- Try a natural remedy such as maca, a Peruvian vegetable; fenugreek, a clover-like plant; or tribulus terrestris, a fruit-producing plant.
3. Shape or morphology
Also known as morphology, shape is another vital aspect that determines healthy sperm. Just like an Olympic swimmer, sperm need a special set of characteristics to reach their final destination. Healthy-shaped sperm are characterized by a rounded head, long tail, no visible abnormality and no added fluid droplets within the head. With these attributes, sperm are more likely to penetrate the egg rather than ram their head into it to no avail.
Age and genetics can play a role in sperm morphology, but men can also make some lifestyle changes to improve the shape of their sperm. Some examples might include:
- Hour-long workouts three times a week
- Adding supplements or multivitamins, especially those that contain selenium, vitamin C, vitamin E and folate
- Eliminating or reducing cigarette smoking
4. pH level
Though you may not think of your ejaculate in terms of acidic or basic, the pH balance of semen is integral to the health of sperm. The World Health Organization states that the proper balance is between 7.2 and 7.8 on the pH scale, signaling that it's a mild basic. If the pH level drops below 7 or above 8, it can harm the mobility and overall health of your sperm.
Experts aren't sure whether a man can change the pH balance of his sperm, but levels that are too high or too low are usually indicative of treatable causes. If the pH balance is too low (acidic), the cause is often blocked seminal vesicles, which can be treated with a minimally invasive operation. If the pH balance is too high, an infection somewhere within the reproductive or urological systems is usually to blame. These infections are treated with antibiotics and clear up within a matter of days or weeks.
Don't be shy about going to a fertility clinic
A common misconception is that infertility somehow makes an individual less of a man. This simply isn't true. An inability to conceive can be frustrating, but the assistance of a fertility clinic coupled with boosting the health of your sperm can help you and your partner start a family. If you need additional support or someone to talk to, call the National Infertility Association helpline at 866-NOT-ALONE (668-2566). You can remain confidential and gather the information and confidence you need to address any infertility issues.