“Make your swimmers into winners”

By: Dr. Ed Coats

30% of couples who have been unsuccessful with natural conception will discover that sperm quality has been suboptimal. This news can come as quite a shock, especially if the focus has been on the woman’s fertility up to that point.

Sperm develops in the testicles in a system of tiny tubes (seminiferous tubules). The sperm then moves to the sperm ducts (vas deferens). Seminal fluid (white in colour) is secreted from the seminal and prostate glands mixing with sperm to create semen, which is ejaculated.

There are a number of points along this pathway where something can go wrong. The testicles are instructed to produce sperm by hormones released from the central brain. If a problem occurs with these hormones or the testicles themselves then sperm may not develop. A blockage can occur in the sperm ducts preventing the ejaculation of normal semen. In the majority of cases there are in fact no problems here but semen quality remains abnormal.

A fertility doctor will look at a number of different features in the semen when making an assessment. Usually a sample is produced by masturbation after abstaining from sexual intercourse for 2-4 days. The volume, the concentration, the motility and the percentage of normal sperm in the ejaculated sample are important. Any change in these parameters could impact on your chances of natural conception.

Whilst there are no proven ways to increase the number of sperm or the motility there are a number of measures men can take to try and optimise their sperm quality. It take around 90 days for mature sperm to completely develop in the testicles, so making changes to lifestyle and dietary factors should improve sperm gradually over a few months.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Maintain a healthy BMI between 18-25 (BMI = weight [kg] / height2 [metres]). This simple index combines your height and weight. You can calculate your BMI with this online tool

Healthy diet

Avoid foods containing trans fats. Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Food stuffs containing trans fats are vegetable oils, margarine, fried fast foods, bakery products etc. These foods also increase your risk of developing heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Regularly eat foods containing unsaturated fats e.g. oily fish, nuts and olive oil which are a good source of Omega-3.

Increase your anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C and E by ensuring you eat your “5 a day” but also try to include superfoods such as blueberries, broccoli, 100% cocoa chocolate.

Enhance your diet with a pre-conception supplement such as Wellman of Proxeed Plus. Supplements should contain zinc, selenium, anti-oxidants and omega-3.

Smoking

Smoking is harmful to sperm so quitting will make a difference. If you have smoked marijuana this can also harm sperm so changing your lifestyle here could make a significant difference. Help with quitting smoking can be obtained from your GP or online – Quit smoking now.

Alcohol

Limit your alcohol intake to around 5 units each week. Use this online tool (Hyperlink) to understand the alcohol content of different drinks.

Heat

Excessive heat damages sperm. The testicles hang outside the body so anything that raises the average temperature of the testicles can effect sperm quality. Some men are more susceptible to this than others. Self-examination is important and if you suspect you have an abnormal swellings around the testicle (varicocele) always consult your doctor early.

Avoid hot baths, saunas, tight underwear and excessive exercise. If your occupation involves excessive heat exposure try to find ways to reduce the average temperature of the testicles throughout the day e.g. loose fitting cotton boxers.

Drugs 

Certain drugs can affect a man’s fertility. Always consult a doctor before starting new medication as it may affect your sperm quality. Using anabolic steroids in the gym to build muscle bulk will reduce overall sperm quality.

Despite making alterations to your lifestyle and diet some men will unfortunately not see a dramatic improvement in the semen quality. It is important to remember though that the embryos created through natural conception or in an IVF cycle are dependent on good quality eggs and sperm. Simple changes you make now could impact on your chances of success.