Written by Hannah Sutton (Chinese Medicine Practitioner)
There is a growing trend where more & more couples are finding it difficult to fall pregnant. When it comes to issues with fertility, most solutions are focused on the woman in the equation. However, the health of the father-to-be is an equally important factor in getting pregnant. If ever there is a time to focus on improving your health it should be when you and your partner are trying to conceive.
Sperm quality is extremely important whether you are trying to conceive naturally AND if you are going down the path of IVF. Sperm production is happening in the body continuously, it takes approx. 100 days for each sperm to develop and mature. By reducing lifestyle factors that are known to harm sperm and improving your overall health, sperm quality & quantity can be improved relatively easily. To optimise your fertility potential, you should always allow at least three months for preconception care to improve sperm quality before starting to try for a baby.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) sets the standards for minimum parameters for sperm quality and quantity – here is a little background on sperm pathology testing for you:
In 1980 the minimum standards were as follows:
Fast forward to 2012, the minimum standards have been altered significantly:
Count = the total number of sperm in the semen sample
Motility = the percentage of sperm that are moving around and progressive motility is an indicator of the percentage of sperm moving in a forward direction (very important!)
Morphology = the percentage of sperm that are deemed to look “normal” – have one head, neck/midpiece and one tail
What this means is that a sperm test analysis from the 1980’s that was deemed as being subfertile is now considered to be “normal” in our mean population. The most alarming being that the average morphology rates in 1980 were 80% and now the average rate is just 4%. . See below image representation of what normal (blue) vs abnormal (pink) sperm looks like.
Understandably the deterioration of the quality of sperm over the past 30 year has had a dramatic effect on couples’ ability to conceive. There are lots of theories out there as to why this has occurred and to date none of them have been fully substantiated, but it is likely to be a combination of lifestyle factors, technology and diet. On a more positive note we often see changes to these sperm test results in clinic for those that are willing to make some lifestyle and dietary changes.
Here is some basic diet and lifestyle advice on how to improve your overall health and therefore improve your sperm quality to optimise your fertility potential: –
1. Healthy Diet – fresh foods from quality food sources. Lots of fruit and vegetables (especially leafy greens), preferably organic. The less processed, refined foods the better. Stay away from high sugar & take-away junk foods. Eat plenty of foods rich in anti-oxidants – green tea, blueberries etc.
Here is a great combination of sperm supercharging foods to combine into a trail mix for a snack throughout the day, they contain the essential nutrients which benefit sperm: –
– Goji Berries – antioxidants
– Brazil nuts – highest food source of selenium and increases testosterone
– Walnuts – polyunsaturated fatty acids
– Raw cacao nibs – magnesium, iron and potassium
– Pumpkin seeds – zinc
2. Keep your phone out of your pocket!!! This one is super important, keep your mobile phone out of your pocket and well away from your pelvis AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Also no laptops or iPad’s directly on your lap – preferably have them on a table. There is a direct correlation between mobile phone radiation, DNA fragmentation and decreased sperm motility.
3. Overheating of testes – increased scrotal temperatures affects sperm production, count & motility. Sperm needs to be stored in the testes at a lower temperature than the rest of the body – optimal temperature of the scrotum is around 34 degrees Celsius. Points to be mindful of: –
– Avoid sitting for long periods of time, get up from your desk & move around
– No heated seats in cars, sitting on heated floors, electric blanket
– Wear loose fitting underwear & clothing. Preferably natural fibres like cotton.
– Avoid hot baths/saunas
– No laptops/iPads on laps & keep mobile phones out of trouser pockets
– Avoid bike riding long distances
4. Exercise – try to incorporate regular exercise into your week. Avoid cycling as sitting for long periods on a hard, narrow bicycle seat puts pressure on the perineum & reduces blood flow to the scrotal area. Lose some excess weight if you are overweight, however extreme dieting is not advised.
5. Stress / Sleep – reduce stress as much as possible and get ENOUGH sleep. A good sleep routine is extremely valuable in helping with the rest/repair of our body & reduce stress. Aim to get a solid 8hrs sleep. This means getting into bed by 9.30-10pm with no stimulation from devices/TV etc.
6. Drink water! Keep hydrated, approx.. 1.5 – 2L daily; filtered/purified water is best. Avoid/eliminate caffeine & alcohol. Consumption of alcohol, particularly binge drinking, has a significant effect on sperm production & sexual function. Important to remember that a heavy drinking session will still be affecting the developing sperm two months on.
7. Substance Abuse / Medications – smoking, cocaine, marijuana etc. Contributes to increased number of abnormal sperm, lower sperm count & lowers libido. Also limit use of medications known to cause fertility issues e.g. Anabolic steroids, some antibiotics & anti-fungals, reflux medication, Ventolin. It is important to inform your GP that you are trying to conceive so they can review your medication.
8. Environmental toxin & Chemicals – avoid environmental hazards such as pesticides, lead, heavy metals, BPA plastics, radiation, hydrocarbons, sunscreen, toxic paints, paint stripper, arsenic etc. Wear a mask and protective clothing whenever necessary.
9. Timing of Sex – it is important to be timing sex to be within the woman’s fertile window, which is 5 days before ovulation and one day after. Generally speaking ovulation occurs on Day 14-16. It is a good idea to have sex every day (or more, it’s up to you!) during this fertile period. Most sperm can live for 2-4 days and ideally you want sperm to be present in the fallopian tubes ready for when the egg is released from the ovary.
10. Frequency of Sex – is important to have regular sex with your partner at any time of the month. Maintaining sexual pleasure and intimacy during non-fertile periods is just as important so that sex doesn’t always become about the “baby-making” routine. Keep the joy and romance of lovemaking alive by making an effort to include lots of non-sexual but intimate time together. Enjoy sex just for the sake of it rather than letting it become a monthly chore. Remember why you and your partner got together in the first place and why you want to make a baby together :0) If you have a low sperm count you should ejaculate less frequently during the non-fertile period in order to conserve your sperm. If you have a low morphology (high number of abnormal forms) issue you should ejaculate regularly throughout the month, approx. every 3 days, so the turn-over of sperm is high and “fresher” sperm will be ejaculated in the fertile period.
11. Get Acupuncture & take Chinese Herbs – this is suitable for men who fit any of the below categories: –
– Want to improve their health prior to conceiving
– Have had a poor semen analysis
– Whose partner has had repeat miscarriage or failed IVF
The goal of a Chinese Medicine Practitioners is to optimise a patient’s health which then has a direct effect on sperm quality. Studies have shown that acupuncture can increase the percentage of sperm with normal morphology. Sperm takes approximately 90 days to fully mature, with some studies showing positive results after only 5 weeks (bi-weekly treatments). Improving morphology with acupuncture has been shown to improve the fertilisation rates in couples undergoing IVF. Administering acupuncture around the woman’s ovulation/fertile window may also increase chances of natural conception by boosting sperm motility.
If you are struggling with your fertility journey remember it takes two to tango. It is important for couples to be working towards optimising their health together to not only conceive but also to gift that child the BEST possible chance of being strong and healthy.
If you would like to book an appointment at In Symmetry you can call the clinic on (03) 5429 3610 or book online by clicking the link below.
Research and references
Gorpinchenko, I, Oleg, N, Oleg, B and Shulyak, A. 2014. The influence of direct mobile phone radiation on sperm quality. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4074720/
Jensen, TK, Carlsen, E, Jørgensen, N, Berthelsen, JG, Keiding, N, Christensen, K, Petersen, JH, Knudsen, LB and Skakkebæk, NE. 2002. Poor semen quality may contribute to recent decline in fertility rates. https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/17/6/1437/2919195
Siterman S, Eltes F, Wolfson V, Zabludovsky N, Bartoov B. 1997. Effect of acupuncture on sperm parameters of males suffering from sub-fertility related to low sperm quality. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9272232/
Paulus WE, Zhang M, Strehler E, El-Danasouri I, Sterzik K. 2002. Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11937123/