Top tips for healthy sperm
Would-be fathers often ask if there is anything they can do to get their sperm into tip-top condition. Here, top sperm-expert Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield, gives his top ten suggestions:
The chemicals and toxins in cigarette smoke don’t seem to change how many sperm men produce, but they do damage the DNA contained in the sperm that are made. This can increase the risk of miscarriage in their partner if she becomes pregnant and has even been linked to an increased risk of some diseases in any children born to fathers who smoke. Therefore if you are a smoker, and you want to be a dad, you need to stop. Join a smoking cessation programme if you need help.
Wear loose underwear
Various studies have shown that men who wear tight underwear are more likely to have lower numbers of swimming sperm compared to men who wear loose underwear like boxer shorts. Therefore, if you are a fan of tight Y-fronts, perhaps you could switch them for some looser ones. Some companies produce special cooling underwear specifically designed to improve spermicide quality. But there is no real evidence that they are any better than wearing regular boxers.
Get checked for infections
Sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia can damage sperm production, cause blockages in the small tubes designed to carry sperm out of the testicle, or can even latch on to sperm and kill them. Often men and women don’t even know they have chlamydia and so it’s a good idea to get checked with your partner before you try for a baby. There is no need to see your GP, just make an appointment with your local Genito Urinary Medicine Clinic.
There is no need for a faddy diet, just make sure you are getting five portions of fruit and vegetables each day – more if you can manage it. Many studies have now shown that men who eat a diet higher in antioxidants have better quality sperm than men who don’t. If you don’t like eating your greens, then a homemade ‘smoothie’ can be a good way to get all the goodness in you. And if you really can’t stomach a ‘smoothie’ then take a supplement!
Think about your job
Apart from making you too busy to have sex, there are many aspects of a man’s working life that can damage sperm in one way or another. For example, men who drive all day can heat their testicles just as if they were wearing really tight pants. Men exposed to chemicals in the workplace (such as glycol ethers present in some paints and glues) should make sure they use the protective equipment provided by their employers.
Keep off the drugs
We don’t know enough about how street drugs affect fertility in men, but we do know that men who regularly smoke marijuana generally have poorer quality sperm than men who don’t. Also, men who take anabolic steroids at the gym are usually infertile. So the best advice is to stay off any drug that’s not been prescribed by your doctor.
Many partners think men have to give up alcohol in order to father a child, but the evidence is that drinking one or two units of alcohol per day does not do any harm to sperm production. However, drinking a lot of alcohol in one go, is thought to be bad so perhaps you’d better reign in those Friday night binges with the lads. Instead, why not swap them for a glass of wine with your partner?
Sperm are produced all the time, but often men with a low sperm count or sperm with poor motility try save up their sperm by not ejaculating regularly. However, this can do more harm than good as old sperm begin to die and this can damage the new more vigorous sperm being produced. So the best advice is to ejaculate two or three times per week, preferably during intercourse with your partner.
Ditch the stress
Stress can affect fertility in many ways, including taking the magic out of a couple’s sex life and leading to less interest in sex (and that’s not good for making babies). Whilst stress probably does not alter how many sperm men produce, there is some evidence that it can reduce how many are released each time a man ejaculates, and that will lower your chances of pregnancy. So make sure you take time to unwind and do whatever you need to do to relax.
Use the shower
In the same way that tight pants can reduce sperm production, taking long how baths or using a sauna could in theory reduce sperm production too. No one wants you to become smelly, so perhaps the most sensible thing to do is take a shower rather than a bath.
For each of these suggestions, men need to know that it takes about 3 months to produce a sperm from start to finish. So any of the lifestyle changes listed above need to take place over a long period of time. If you change something on Friday, your sperm won’t be improved by Monday. But if you make a change in September you might see a difference by Christmas.