If you’re trying to conceive (or even just thinking about it), consider this a friendly reminder that preparing for pregnancy is a shared endeavor. A male partner’s role isn’t limited to the obvious—sperm health plays a critical role in conception, and several factors can impact the sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg. In fact, in at least half of all cases of infertility, a male factor is a major or contributing cause.
What’s more: Sperm develops over four-ish months. That means that a man’s current habits can impact the sperm he ejaculates four months from now. So just as your female partner takes steps to prepare her body for pregnancy, you should be doing the very same: adjusting your diet, managing stress, and cutting back on vices (like smoking) that can impact sperm health.
But what contributes to healthy sperm? And how do we know if there’s a larger issue at play? Let’s get into male fertility 101 below.
Sperm Health: The Basics
The health of a man’s sperm plays a critical role in conception. Here are some of the most important characteristics that contribute to sperm quality.
There are two measurements used to determine sperm quantity: the total count, and the concentration within semen. A sperm count of 40,000,000 or more and a sperm concentration of 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 or more per milliliter are typically considered normal. If the sperm count is lower, it may be a cause of infertility. That said, it is important to note that there are men with low sperm counts who go on to have children. 1,2
Sperm have to be able to travel through a female’s cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes in order to fertilize an egg. But some sperm do not move swim well enough to make the journey. Research suggests that if at least 40 percent of the sperm are able to swim (motile), pregnancy is possible.
Healthy sperm are built to move—they have oval heads and long tails, which propel them forward. If the sperm are malformed, they may have trouble moving through the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes to fertilize an egg.
What causes fertility issues in men?
In order for a man to impregnate his partner, the following must happen:
The man must produce healthy sperm.
The sperm must be able to be transported to the semen.
There needs to be a sufficient sperm count within the semen.
The sperm must be mobile enough to reach and penetrate his partner’s egg.
A disruption of any part of this process could lead to fertility issues, but the majority of men experiencing infertility struggle with healthy sperm production. Their sperm may be immature, abnormally shaped or unable to swim. Some men don’t make enough sperm (and some don’t make any). This problem may be the result of previous or existing infections or inflammatory conditions, issues with hormone levels, immune problems, genetic diseases or environmental and lifestyle factors like heavy alcohol, tobacco or steroid use. Certain health conditions are also associated with reductions in fertility. Men with high blood pressure (hypertension) have been shown to have impaired semen quality. 3,4
Other potential causes of male infertility include blockage caused by structural issues, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, or liver or kidney disease.
How can men produce healthy sperm?
While certain fertility problems may need to be addressed with hormone therapy or surgery, there are several lifestyle improvements that could help increase your chances of healthy sperm production, like:
Achieve (and maintain) a healthy weight. Some research indicates that an increase in body mass index (BMI) is associated with a decrease in both sperm count and sperm movement.
Eat a healthy diet. A balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables and packed with antioxidants may have protective properties for sperm.
Engaging in regular, moderate-effort physical activity is a great way to increase the levels of powerful antioxidant enzymes in your body, which can keep sperm strong. (It’s also great for stress reduction.)
Reducing stress is powerful: It can reduce sexual function and negatively impact your hormone levels—including those required to produce healthy sperm. Finding healthy ways to manage your stress is a critical piece of the fertility puzzle.
Plus, taking a vitamin for fertility tailored specifically to men is a great way to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need on your fertility journey. Perelel’s Men’s Multi Support Pack was designed to support your general and reproductive health. We specifically included CoQ10, a nutrient linked to healthy sperm production.* 5
Shop the Article:
What habits should men avoid to help with fertility?
Just as there are several lifestyle factors that can help your chances of being fertile, there are several that can hurt them.
To eliminate any additional hurdles in your fertility journey, consider making the following lifestyle changes:
Don’t use steroids or drugs. Anabolic steroids can cause the testicles to shrink and sperm production to slow. Using cocaine or marijuana may negatively impact the number and quality of sperm as well.
Reduce or abstain from alcohol. Drinking alcohol can cause reductions in testosterone levels and affect sperm production. It can also cause erectile dysfunction. Excessive drinking can lead to liver disease, which may also contribute to infertility.
Stop smoking. Male smokers may have a lower sperm count than non-smokers. (Secondhand smoke may impact male fertility as well.)
Should I see a fertility specialist?
If you and your female partner have been unsuccessfully trying to conceive using timed intercourse for 12 months, you should both be evaluated for infertility. If your partner is over the age of 35, she may be advised to be evaluated sooner.
Many health experts advise that both partners get evaluated. This reduces the likelihood of a couple turning to expensive procedures like in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive techniques targeted at females when the issue is actually with the male’s fertility.
What are some signs of high fertility in men?
Fertility is not something that can be assessed with just a physical exam. If you want to determine yours, consider a semen analysis. A semen analysis can provide insight into your sperm health, which is at the root of most fertility issues. It involves providing a semen sample and having it evaluated in a lab. A medical professional will then evaluate the sperm count, motility and more to determine your overall fertility.
1. Mayo Clinic. 2022. Healthy sperm: Improving your fertility. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/getting-pregnant/in-depth/fertility/art-20047584> [Accessed 10 August 2022].
5. Salvio G, Cutini M, Ciarloni A, Giovannini L, Perrone M, Balercia G. Coenzyme Q10 and Male Infertility: A Systematic Review. Antioxidants (Basel). 2021 May 30;10(6):874. doi: 10.3390/antiox10060874. PMID: 34070761; PMCID: PMC8226917.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.