It takes just one sperm to fertilise an egg and achieve healthy pregnancy and baby. But did you know that men release between 100-400 million sperm per ejaculate? So why are so many sperm released if it only takes one to fertilise the egg? This is because sperm must travel an incredible distance from the vagina to the fallopian tubes to meet the waiting egg- which can take between 1-10 hours. Few sperm survive this trip. The few that make this journey then have to penetrate the egg which has a very thick layer making fertilization even more difficult. Sperm are also very easily damaged. Sperm are the tiniest of all cells found in humans with a very simple membrane structure and do not contain the enzymes needed to repair damage like all other cells in the body do. For this reason there are many factors than can damage or destroy sperm and reduce fertility. Experts believe this process allows for only the healthiest sperm to fertilise the egg which provides the best chances of producing a healthy baby. Male fertility can be an often over looked part of getting pregnant.
What makes sperm healthy?
- The amount and the thickness of the semen (2-6mL is ideal, less or more could affect fertility)
- Sperm concentration- the number of sperm per mL of semen (20 million or more per mL is considered normal)
- Sperm motility- whether the sperm are able to move- they need this to swim quickly to the egg
- Sperm morphology- the shape, size and appearance of the sperm see the picture below for an example of abnormal sperm morphology.
All of these factors contribute to fertility which is why healthy sperm is so important.
What is preconception care for men?
It takes around 3 months to produce a fresh batch of sperm and during this time they are easily susceptible to damage while in storage. For male fertility it is so important for men to partake in preconception health care, not just the women. Preconception health care for men often includes detoxification, optimizing nutrition and leading a healthy lifestyle. Sperm as easily damaged by heat, caffeine, smoking, alcohol, heavy metals, chemicals, pesticides and other chemicals. Our aim is to provide men with enough nutrition to ensure health sperm are created, and that they are protected until they find their way to the egg. As Naturopaths, we can help create a healthy eating plan that suits you and covers all nutritional requirements for healthy sperm production. If further testing is required your naturopath can organise this to ensure we are covering all bases.
Our top tips for improved male fertility
- Avoid cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and caffeine as all of these contain compounds that can damage sperm. This may seem hard for some, but please keep in mind that women have to avoid these things for up to 2 years during the preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding period!
- Avoid exposure to toxins such as pesticides and heavy metals. A heavy metal analysis may be useful to determine if heavy metals are affecting sperm health
- Heat kills sperm! Avoid hot baths, spas and saunas. Cool down adequately after exercise.
- Radiation from your mobile phones, laptops and computers also kills sperm. Don’t keep your mobile phone in your pockets and avoiding using a lap top if it is sitting on your lap.
- Keeping your scrotum cool and unrestricted as this slows sperm production. Wearing boxers rather than briefs has been well documented to improve sperm count.
- Increasing your antioxidant level is the number one most important step you can take to improve your sperm health. This is because they have a protective effect on sperm and can improve sperm parameters- count, concentration, motility and morphology. Antioxidants are found in high amounts in brightly coloured fruit and vegetables- aim to eat every colour of the rainbow every day. The best antioxidant rich foods include berries, beetroot, garlic, tomatoes, spinach, carrots, oranges, kiwi fruit, goji berries, cacao, chia seeds, acai berries and green tea.
- Include oily fish in your diet at least 3 times per week for Omega 3 (essential for energy production of the sperm).
- Go organic! Pesticides are not only hurting the planet they could be killing your swimmers!
- Treat yourself and eat some oysters weekly! Oysters are sperms best friend. They are rich in protein, omega 3, calcium, iron, iodine and especially zinc, all of which are essential for male reproductive health