If you and your partner are trying to conceive a baby, you may be looking for information about how to increase sperm count to improve your chances of getting pregnant. A healthy sperm count is necessary for fertility.
How To Increase Sperm Quality
For pregnancy to occur, only one sperm and one egg are needed, so why does sperm count matter? In short, it increases the odds for a successful pregnancy. When a man ejaculates into a woman, the chances that one sperm will reach and implant itself into an egg increases if more sperm are in the semen.
Normal semen contains 40 million to 300 million sperm per milliliter. A low sperm count is considered to be anything between 10 and 20 million sperm per milliliter. Twenty million sperm per milliliter may be adequate for pregnancy if the sperm are healthy.
What Is Low Sperm?
A “normal” sperm count is anywhere from 15 million to 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen, according to the Mayo Clinic.
And, according to the World Health Organization‘s 2010 guidelines, a sperm count of 15 million sperm per milliliter is considered low.
A semen analysis can give you an accurate headcount of your little soldiers so you know where you’re at.
Low sperm count and motility is a fertility issue for men. It may make it harder to get a partner pregnant. There are myriad causes for this condition, including:
- Taking certain medications
- Scarring from past surgery or infection
- Cancer or prior cancer treatment
- Hormonal imbalances
- Certain diseases like Celiac d isease
- Some genetic disorders
- Undescended testicles
- Anti-sperm antibodies
- Swelling in the testicular veins
- Illicit drug use
- Alcohol abuse
- Having a job that requires prolonged sitting or exposure to certain industrial chemicals
- Smoking tobacco products
- Emotional stress or depression
The main symptom of low sperm count and motility is difficulty getting a partner pregnant. Motility refers to the ability of sperm to move through a woman’s cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes.
In some cases, other symptoms may include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Pain or swelling in testicles
- Other signs of a hormonal abnormality like body hair changes
What Is Quality Sperm?
Even if you have a normal sperm count, they still have to be healthy enough to make the journey from your partner’s vagina to the cervix and uterus to the fallopian tubes. If they’re not, you’ll have a hard time getting them pregnant.
- Quantity. You’re most likely to be fertile if your ejaculate — the semen discharged in a single ejaculation — contains at least 15 million sperm per milliliter. Too little sperm in an ejaculation might make it more difficult to get pregnant because there are fewer candidates available to fertilize the egg.
- Movement. To reach and fertilize an egg, sperm must move — wriggling and swimming through a woman’s cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes. This is known as motility. You’re most likely to be fertile if at least 40% of your sperm are moving.
- Structure (morphology). Normal sperm have oval heads and long tails, which work together to propel them. While not as important a factor as sperm quantity or movement, the more sperm you have with a normal shape and structure, the more likely you are to be fertile.
If you’re trying to conceive naturally, a healthy sperm count is often necessary. Even though it only takes one sperm and one egg to get pregnant, more healthy sperm will increase your chances of pregnancy each month.
Even if you aren’t trying to conceive, your sperm count may be an important measure of overall health. One study found men with a low sperm count were more likely to have a higher percentage of body fat (bigger waistline and higher BMI) and higher blood pressure than men with higher sperm counts. They also experienced a higher frequency of metabolic syndrome, or higher chance of developing diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
For these reasons, if you’re diagnosed with a low sperm count, your primary care doctor may want to evaluate your testosterone levels, lifestyle, and overall health.
Sperm count can affect fertility because your chance of getting your partner pregnant decreases with a lower sperm count. Problems with the quality of sperm can also affect your chances of getting a woman pregnant.
Male infertility factor, often due to a low sperm count, is a common reason many couples have trouble conceiving. But couples may also experience other health issues that can affect fertility. In some cases, infertility may be due to female factors, like:
- low ovarian reserve
- a blocked fallopian tube
Lack of conception may also be the result of not trying to conceive for long enough. In many cases, it can take six months to a year to get pregnant when there are no fertility concerns.
If you are over 35, and you and your partner have been trying to conceive for six months, your doctor may refer you to a fertility specialist. If you have been trying to conceive for over one year, and you and your partner are under 35, see your doctor for a referral.
What causes male fertility problems?
Various medical issues can contribute to male fertility problems, including:
- A problem in the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland — parts of the brain that signal the testicles to produce testosterone and sperm (secondary hypogonadism)
- Testicular disease
- Sperm transport disorders
Age can also play a role. The ability of sperm to move and the proportion of normal sperm tend to decrease with age, affecting fertility, especially after age 50.
What’s the best way to produce healthy sperm?
You can take simple steps to increase your chances of producing healthy sperm. For example:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Some research suggests that increasing body mass index (BMI) is linked with decreasing sperm count and sperm movement.
- Eat a healthy diet. Choose plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants — and might help improve sperm health.
- Prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Sexually transmitted infections — such as chlamydia and gonorrhea — can cause infertility in men. To protect yourself, limit your number of sexual partners and use a condom each time you have sex — or stay in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who isn’t infected.
- Manage stress. Stress can decrease sexual function and interfere with the hormones needed to produce sperm.
- Get moving. Moderate physical activity can increase levels of powerful antioxidant enzymes, which can help protect sperm.
Take Supplements That Can Improve Sperm Count
The following supplements may improve sperm count and male fertility issues.
- D-aspartic acid (D-AA). Experts believe this amino acid is related to low sperm count because men with fertility issues have lower levels of it. Studies show that taking this acid as a supplement can raise testosterone levels. If hormonal issues are the cause of your low sperm count and motility problems, this supplement may help.
- Vitamin C. This powerful antioxidant protects your body’s cells from oxidative stress, which leads to deterioration of cells. Oxidative stress can contribute to anything from heart disease to cancer. Studies show it may also lead to infertility. One study showed that taking 2,000 milligrams of vitamin C per day for two months increased sperm motility by over 90% and doubled sperm count. It also decreased the amount of damaged sperm by more than half.
- Vitamin D. Studies show that people deficient in vitamin D are more likely than others to have low testosterone levels, which could lead to lower sperm count. One study showed that taking vitamin D for a year increased testosterone levels significantly.
- Fenugreek. One study showed that taking Testofen — a supplement made from fenugreek extract — improved testosterone levels, sexual function, and sexual frequency. This is another supplement that may help hormonally related low sperm count and motility issues.
- Zinc. Studies show that zinc supplementation increases both sperm count and testosterone levels, but only in those already deficient in it. However, too much zinc in semen may damage sperm, so further study is needed to determine the exact dosage and application for this use.
- Ashwagandha. Supplementing with the herb ashwagandha daily for three months led to a more than 150% increase in sperm count in one study. The same study also showed a more than 50% increase in motility.
- Maca root. One preliminary study showed that taking maca root powder daily for four months improved both motility and sperm count. However, more study is needed.
- Coenzyme Q10. Early studies show that using this supplement increased sperm counts by about 17% and motility by over 50%. However, more study is needed to determine if this supplement leads to more live births or simply better sperm counts.
Sperm can be especially vulnerable to environmental factors, such as exposure to excessive heat or toxic chemicals. To protect your fertility:
- Don’t smoke. Men who smoke cigarettes are more likely to have low sperm counts. If you smoke, ask your doctor to help you quit.
- Limit alcohol. Heavy drinking can lead to reduced testosterone production, impotence and decreased sperm production. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
- Avoid lubricants during sex. While further research is needed on the effects of lubricants on fertility, consider avoiding lubricants during intercourse. If necessary, consider using baby oil, canola oil, egg white or a fertility-friendly lubricant, such as Pre-Seed.
- Talk to your doctor about medications. Calcium channel blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, anti-androgens and other medications can contribute to fertility issues. Anabolic steroids can have the same effect.
- Watch out for toxins. Exposure to pesticides, lead and other toxins can affect sperm quantity and quality. If you must work with toxins, do so safely. For example, wear protective clothing and equipment, and avoid skin contact with chemicals.
- Stay cool. Increased scrotal temperature can hamper sperm production. Although the benefits have not been fully proved, wearing loose-fitting underwear, reducing sitting, avoiding saunas and hot tubs, and limiting scrotum exposure to warm objects, such as a laptop, might enhance sperm quality.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer can impair sperm production and cause infertility that might be permanent. Ask your doctor about the possibility of retrieving and storing sperm before treatment.
When is it time to seek help?
Adopting healthy lifestyle practices to promote your fertility — and avoiding things that can damage it — can improve your chances of conceiving. If you and your partner haven’t gotten pregnant after a year of unprotected sex, however, you might consider being evaluated for infertility. A fertility specialist also might be able to identify the cause of the problem and provide treatments that place you and your partner on the road to parenthood.
When to See a Doctor
You should call your doctor if you have been having unprotected sex for a year and no pregnancy has occurred yet. You may want to call your doctor sooner if you have:
- Issues with sexual function
- Pain or swelling in the groin area
- A lump in the groin or testes
- A history of past reproductive health issues
- A recent genital surgery
Depending on the cause of your low sperm count, your doctor may recommend any of the following:
- Surgery for blocked ejaculatory ducts
- Medication for erectile dysfunction
- Counseling to help with sexual dysfunction
- Hormonal treatment