How to Increase Sperm Count, Motility, Morphology And Overall Male Fertility
Although it makes sense, it may still surprise you that half of all infertility cases can be attributed in part or in full to the man (aka male factor infertility). The good news is that most men are constantly producing new sperm and with the right lifestyle changes a man can significantly increase his sperm count and motility, improve their morphology, and increase their overall male fertility.
Pro tip: Sperm takes anywhere from 40-80 ish days to develop from start to finish , so it is ideal if changes are made a minimum 40-90 days prior to semen (re)assessment or attempting to conceive or with fertility treatments like IUI or IVF.
Assessing Male Fertility
Before we get started on how to increase male fertility, let’s do a quick refresher on how sperm are analyzed and how you would know you need to increase your sperm count, motility, or the likes. It tall starts with the semen analysis (well perhaps first is realizing that your having trouble getting pregnant). The semen analysis is the go-to and gold standard for assessing sperm count, motility, and fertility. A semen analysis will help a doctor determine the viability of a man’s sperm. It will also check if low sperm count or sperm dysfunction are causing infertility. A semen analysis is a very simple male fertility test that collects a number of key data points, but focuses on three main attributes of sperm:
- Sperm Count – the concentration of sperm per mL of semen
- Sperm Motility – how well sperm move with forward progression
- Sperm Morphology – the shape and appearance of sperm
If a semen test returns abnormal results, then your fertility specialist may recommend additional male fertility testing. It is important to remember that the results of a semen analysis are just a measure of your sperm parameters at one specific time. There are a lot of ways for you to increase your sperm count and improve your overall fertility – and that is what the rest of this article is all about!
How to Increase Sperm Count, Motility, and Overall Male Fertility Naturally
While you may have come to this article looking for things you can eat, take, or otherwise add to your lifestyle to improve your sperm count and motility, the reality is that eliminating things can increase male fertility as much as adding a few special things in. Here, we’re going to break down both the things that you should stop and things you should add to your life to increase your sperm count, motility, and more.
The census is in. Smoking is flat out bad for nearly all measures of male fertility. One study of over 2,000 men found that heavy smokers had 19% less sperm than those who didn’t smoke.
Interestingly enough, some studies have even found potential mechanisms whereby tobacco may harm fertility. Zinc is a critical nutrient for sperm production and smoking seems to lower the level of zinc in semen. One study found that levels of zinc found in the ejaculate in smokers to be associated with the level of damage done to sperm. While most smokers tended to have lower level of zinc and sperm parameters, men that still had normal zinc levels despite smoking seemed to be less affected; but we’d say it’s still not worth the risk. Other studies , by studying oral tobacco as well as nicotine metabolites in the semen have shown that it’s the toxins in the smoke itself that is causing the damage.
All this leads to a pretty resounding conclusion that stopping smoking can increase sperm count, motility, and other male fertility parameters.
Conclusion: Stop smoking to increase sperm count and motility.
In the past, a majority of the research on alcohol and its effects on fertility was focused on women, mainly because we are so aware of the risks associated with drinking during pregnancy. But the times they are a-changing. New research focusing on men is showing that alcohol can affect overall sexual health and male fertility. One particular study focused on the difference in sperm quality between alcoholic and non-alcoholic men. The results showed that progressive deterioration in semen quality is linked to increasing alcohol cosumption . Sperm volume, vitality, and survival rate also decreased as the quantity of alcohol consumed went up. Of the alcoholics tested, only 12% had normal semen parameters. 37% (three times as many) of the non-alcoholic men had normal semen parameters. The study concluded that alcohol abuse targets sperm morphology and sperm production .
Another study focused particularly on men with a history of chronic alcohol intoxication. The study displayed a drastic improvement of semen characteristics within three months of alcohol withdrawal . A review of 15 studies on alcohol and its effects on male fertility found that daily alcohol consumption had a consistently negative impact on sperm morphology and volume . Using alcohol and tobacco together has also been tied to declining semen quality and sperm DNA damage .
Conclusion: Limit alcohol consumption to increase male fertility and reduce DNA damage of sperm.
Heavy drinking can affect sperm health. Alcohol consumption can cause a shrinking of the testes, changes to the shape, size, and movement of sperm, and lower testosterone levels. The good news is that alcohol’s effects on sperm health appear to be reversible. Sperm take up to 80 or so days to develop, so if you think you want to have a baby, consider cutting back on alcohol consumption three months prior to trying to conceive.
Get Tested for STIs and STDs
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are known to affect the male reproductive process. Studies have shown that chlamydia can cause inflammation in the testicles . This inflammation can cause epididymal obstruction. The epididymis connects the testicle to the male reproductive system. In addition to causing male fertility issues, chlamydia is known to negatively impact female fertility. If left untreated, chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) .
STDs are associated with infectious semen and they increase the chances of transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV causes immunodeficiency along with semen deterioration in men . If passed to the female partner, HIV can cause reduced pregnancy rates and higher chances of miscarriage.
If you believe you or your partner may have an STI or STD, it is important to get tested. A review of studies published by the World Health Organization found that in 2012 alone there were approximately 273 million cases of curable STIs among adults aged 15-49: 128 million cases of chlamydia, 27 million cases of gonorrhea, 101 million cases of trichomoniasis, and 18 million cases of syphilis. . There are fertility treatments available to help both men and women who have been diagnosed with STIs and STDs.
Conclusion: Test and treat any curable STIs to increase sperm count by alleviating sperm blockages due to inflammation caused by STI.
Keep Those Swimmers Cool – Avoid Hot Tubs, Saunas, and Other High Heat Situations
Spermatogenesis, the production or development of mature sperm, takes place in the testicles. The temperature in the testis is about 30-45°F cooler than the rest of the body. This lower temperature environment is necessary to ensure successful spermatogenesis . Higher temperatures lead to an increase of testicular metabolism that results in spermatic damage . In one study, heat stress caused a decrease in motility and an increase in the percentage of sperm cells with major and minor defects .
A study conducted by the University of California San Francisco found that exposure to hot baths or hot tubs can lead to male infertility . The study focused on 11 male patients who were regularly exposed to “wet heat” from a heated jacuzzi or hot tub. All of the participants were asked to abstain from wet heat exposure for at least three months. Five of the patients (45 percent) showed a mean increase in total motile sperm counts of 491 percent after three to six months. Among responders, sperm motility rose from a mean of 12 percent at the start of the study to 34 percent post-intervention. The results of this experiment were statistically significant. Five of the six patients who did not see an increase in their sperm count or motility were chronic tobacco users. Tobacco use emerged as a possible differentiating factor in this research . Based on the results of the UCSF study, it appears that the negative impact of wet heat on sperm motility can be minimized over time. Fertility specialists recommend avoiding wet heat from hot tubs or heated jacuzzis prior to and while trying to conceive.
Another study published in 2013 focused on the effects of continuous sauna exposure on seminal parameters. The study produced similar results to UCSF’s study on wet heat exposure. Sauna exposure was found to cause impairment of spermatogenesis, including alteration of sperm parameters and sperm DNA packaging .
So keep those swimmers cool! Avoid extreme heat when trying to get pregnant, but don’t panic if you’ve been using the hot tub or sauna. Research has shown the damage caused by exposure to heat, whether dry or wet, is reversible.
Environmental toxins have become more prevalent over the last few decades causing an increase in exposure to human populations. Studies on exposure to environmental toxins suggest a negative impact on semen quality, in terms of sperm concentration, motility, and/or morphology . Many men are exposed to toxins at work. A study in Spain focused on the role environmental toxins play on male infertility in men being treated at an assisted reproduction clinic. The study had 61 participants: 30 infertile males and 31 males with sperm considered to be normal. Of the 30 infertile males, 23 had been exposed to toxins or pollutants at work. Of the 31 men with normal sperm, only 10 had been exposed to toxins occupationally. The toxins included glues, solvents, and silicones. The results of the study suggest that occupational exposure to toxins may often be the cause or a contributing factor to male infertility .
Other research has confirmed the findings of the previously mentioned studies and concluded that toxins also make the chances of IVF success much less likely . The study found that the worst fertility disrupters are organochlorine compounds (chlorinated pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and dioxins), bisphenol A (BPA), and organophosphate pesticides and herbicides. Other chemicals, metals, and air pollutants were also found to damage fertility. For men, environmental toxins cause infertility by disrupting the endocrine system and damaging the male reproductive system. Reducing exposure to environmental toxins can be difficult, especially if you encounter them at work every day. But toxins don’t only enter our bodies through our environment, and reducing exposure elsewhere can be much easier.
Toxins are everywhere. They can be found outside, in the food we eat, and in the cookware and bottles in our kitchens. As you know, fruits and vegetables are often treated with pesticides to deter insects and other organisms from eating them. Unfortunately, these toxins don’t just wash away, and they end up in our food. Pesticides aren’t only found in vegetables because pesticide treatment leads to tainted water supplies. These tainted water supplies cause fish and meat also to contain toxins .
You’ve undoubtedly heard the warnings about BPA, a chemical used to make plastics, and its health effects. BPA is found in most food packaging, cans, and water bottles. BPA products contaminate the foods and water they contain. BPA and other chemicals within pesticides act as xenoestrogens (chemicals that mimic estrogen) . Research has shown that xenoestrogens cause a decrease in motile sperm counts and overall semen quality .
Minimizing exposure to toxic chemicals can be quite easy. Simply limit the use of products known to contain toxins and be mindful to consume foods that are a single ingredient as much as possible. Also, avoid using non-stick cookware as it contains some of the same chemicals found in pesticides.
Limit Soy Intake
Soy products contain phytoestrogens. Just like xenoestrogens in chemicals and pesticides, phytoestrogens are known to damage sperm concentration . A study of 99 men attending a fertility clinic found that a higher intake of soy is associated with lower sperm concentration . The results of this study have been published and discussed in the Harvard Health Publishing by the Harvard Medical School . The adverse effects of dietary soy are of great interest because soy has been touted for its health benefits like lowering cholesterol. Soy is a main staple of many Asian diets and can be found in foods like edamame, meat alternatives, and soy products like soymilk.
Don’t Eat Trans Fats
Trans fat can be found in food either as naturally-occurring or artificial trans fats. Naturally-occurring trans fats are produced by animals and can be found in milk and meat products. Artificial trans fats are most commonly found in processed foods that contain “partially hydrogenated oils.” In the past, research has predominantly focused on how trans fats increase the risk of heart disease. Research has shown that the negative impact of eating trans fats doesn’t stop there. Trans fats have been linked to a decrease in sperm counts .
To reduce trans fat intake, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of foods you eat that contain hydrogenated vegetable oils. Be sure to check for them on the ingredient list on food packages .
Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Over time, continued stress can cause serious health problems. Stress causes strain on almost every part of the body, so there’s no wonder it impacts male fertility. Stress is one of the most complicated causes of male infertility because a diagnosis of infertility only makes the problem worse. Stress can increase after diagnosis of male infertility, follow-up appointments, and failed in vitro fertilization treatments Studies have found that semen parameters and stress are linked. Stress can negatively impact luteinizing hormone (LH) and testosterone production causing complications in spermatogenesis and reduced sperm quality .
Infertility related stress can be caused by social pressures, testing, diagnosis, treatments, failures, and the costs of fertility treatment . Couples undergoing fertility treatment are known to experience distress, depression, anxiety, and decreased quality of life. Relaxation techniques like yoga, exercise, and meditation are great ways to combat stress, especially stress related to infertility. A review of 37 studies found that relaxation techniques can reduce negative emotions in patients undergoing medical treatment . In extreme cases, fertility specialists may recommend psychological intervention. A review of 12 different studies found that psychosocial interventions to eliminate stress improved psychological outcomes, marital relationships, and pregnancy rates among infertile couples . We recognize the importance of reducing stress to ensure better results; that is why we offer fertility support and many resources to our patients who are looking for a little empathy and encouragement.
Stress from work, or occupational stress, and its effects on male fertility have also been researched. One study found that many stressful situations at work can affect semen volume and the percentage of sperm with observed normal motility . The results confirmed that occupational stress could affect semen quality.
Get Enough Sleep
Everybody needs sleep! Many studies have confirmed that insufficient sleep can cause serious medical conditions like obesity, diabetes, and infertility. One study of 981 healthy men reviewed the affect sleep patterns have on sperm morphology, count, survival, and motility. Sperm counts and their survival rates were lower in men considered “short sleepers” compared to those who got sufficient sleep . Short sleepers are defined as men who sleep less than six hours per night. Semen motility was also lower in the short sleepers when compared to the average and long sleepers. The study concluded that short and long sleep durations and late bedtime were associated with impaired sperm health .
In addition to sleep duration, sleep quality is believed to have an impact on male fertility. One study focused on the sleep quality of 970 men undergoing fertility treatment. They found that poor sleep quality is correlated with lower total motility, progressive motility, concentration, total sperm count, and normal sperm morphology .
If you want to increases your fertility, it is essential to focus on your sleep. Ensure you are getting 7-8 hours a night of good quality and restful sleep. One way to improve sleep quality is to reduce stress through the methods we discussed above. Reduced stress is related to better sleep. You can also increase sleep quality by sticking to a schedule, get up and go to bed at the same time every day. Try getting more sunlight, especially in the mornings to wake yourself up and keep you energized throughout the day. This will help you to eliminate the need for napping throughout the day, which is known to hinder quality sleep at night.
Start Regular Low-Intensity/Impact Exercise
Exercising provides a ton of benefits for fertility and overall health. Exercise helps to strengthen your heart and improve circulation. As we discussed earlier, exercise can also help to reduce stress and ensure good quality sleep. Studies have shown that men who exercise regularly have higher testosterone levels than inactive men .
If you are experiencing fertility issues and you don’t exercise regularly, consider adding 30 minutes to an hour of low-intensity movement into your daily routine. One study placed 41 overweight and obese men into a 12-week lifestyle modification program that required aerobic exercise training. After the 12 weeks, all of the men in the study showed a significant increase in testosterone levels in their blood .
Fertility specialists recommend against high-intensity and rigorous exercise when you are trying to get pregnant. Too much exercise can have a negative effect on male fertility. Studies have found that exhaustive exercises cause a decrease in thyroid hormones and testosterone levels . In one study, men who were sedentary, or did not exercise regularly with high intensity, had higher levels of testosterone compared to men who engaged in either resistance or endurance training. The men in the study who were endurance-trained runners displayed altered sperm density, motility, and morphology . Other studies have focused on the difference in semen parameters for men who exercise at different intensities. One study found that semen parameters are progressively affected as intensity and volume of exercise increase, especially for morphology .
Eat Healthy Fats
Fat is the foundation of fertility. It provides key building blocks for every cell in our body, is used in the synthesis of many influential reproductive hormones. Dietary fat is needed for energy and for essential fatty acids that the body can’t produce on its own. The fatty acids found in animal meat help to control blood clotting and aid in brain function. Fat also allows the body to absorb vitamins A, D, and E, which are all essential for fertility. Most Importantly, eating high levels of fat helps to reduce inflammation!
Inflammation is associated with oxidative stress, which is known to impair sperm function. Studies on male fertility have shown that an increasing number of infertile men have acute or chronic inflammation in their genitourinary tract (male genital and urinary organs). This inflammation is linked with oxidative stress, which can cause DNA damage in sperm.
Eating fat also lubricates the lymphatics and filters out harmful pathogens to protect the body from illness-causing invaders. The lymphatic system is critical to maintaining optimal health. It is part of the circulatory system and the immune system. Healthy fats can be found in meat, fish, cheese, eggs, and nuts. Remember to reduce trans fat intake and increase healthy fat intake.
Vitamin D – Get Some Sunshine
The sun is the best possible source of vitamin D for your body. When your body is exposed to the sun, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol. Vitamin D can also be found in food like cheese, egg yolks, and fatty fish like salmon, or it can be taken as a supplement.
Vitamin D has many roles in the body and is considered essential for overall health and male fertility. Research has shown that vitamin D has a positive effect on male fertility, particularly sperm motility . Other studies show that in addition to supporting sperm motility, vitamin D has a positive effect on overall semen quality .
Studies have shown that around 40% of adults in the U.S. suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. Research has shown vitamin D deficiency can negatively impact fertility in men . A recent study showed that vitamin D deficient men had significantly lower total sperm motility and total number of motile spermatozoa . Fertility specialists recommend supplementing vitamin D to improve the overall health of sperm, including concentration, morphology, and motility.
Another study showed that men suffering from vitamin D deficiency were more likely to have lower testosterone levels . Testosterone is required for many aspects of overall male health, including sperm production. Research has shown that supplementing vitamin D can increase testosterone levels by 25% in one year .
Take Your Supplements
Many of the vitamins and nutrients in male fertility supplements are found naturally in food. However, it is nearly impossible to ensure your body consumes food with adequate levels of all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that can improve male fertility. As research continues to emerge and support the importance of specific vitamins and minerals for male fertility, the popularity of these supplements continues to rise. If you plan on taking male fertility supplements, ensure they have the following ingredients:
Heightened levels of Co-Q10 in the blood have been linked to increased male fertility levels. Recent studies have shown that supplementing Co-Q10 can improve sperm concentration and motility in men, especially those suffering from infertility issues . CoQ10 supplementation has been found to specifically help infertile men suffering from asthenozoospermia or poor sperm motility . Experts believe this is due to CoQ10s antioxidant properties and its contribution to cell energy production. Another study showed that men who had oligoasthenoteratozoospermia, a low number of sperm, saw significant increases in sperm concentration and motility when treated with CoQ10 = .
Studies have shown that folate plays a vital role in spermatogenesis, the development of sperm cells . Folate is necessary for DNA synthesis, which is an essential process during DNA replication that helps to avoid mutations. Sperm DNA undergoes many more replications compared to oocytes in women. Proper folate levels are necessary to ensure that sperm DNA synthesizes correctly during replication.
Getting appropriate levels of zinc is considered essential for male fertility, but proper levels can be challenging to achieve if you don’t eat a lot of meat, fish, or eggs. Studies show that low zinc levels are associated with low testosterone levels, poor sperm quality, and an increased risk of male infertility . Zinc supplementation has been shown to increase testosterone levels and sperm count in men with low zinc. As previously mentioned, men who participate in excessive amounts of high-intensity exercise are more likely to experience low testosterone. Studies have shown that zinc supplementation can significantly increase testosterone levels in these men .
Medications to Increase Sperm Count, Morphology, and Overall Male Fertility
Clomiphene Citrate (Clomid)
Clomid is the popular brand name for generic clomiphene citrate (CC). The FDA has not approved Clomid for use in males, but it’s often prescribed off-label to increase sperm count, testosterone, and to combat overall male infertility.
A study published on the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) website measured the effectiveness of clomiphene citrate treatment in men with idiopathic oligozoospermia and infertility. The study split the men into two groups, a control group of 30 men and a treatment group of 30 men who received clomiphene citrate. The pregnancy rate for the treatment group was nearly three times that of the control group, 37% compared to 13.3%. The treatment group also saw a higher increase in sperm count and progressive sperm motility .
Additional research has focused on how clomiphene citrate can help patients with low testosterone. CC indirectly enhances the amount of LH and FSH secreted by the anterior pituitary. The research showed that increasing LH and FSH increases both testosterone production as well as spermatogenesis in men with low testosterone .
Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN)
Lod dose naltrexone (LDN) is used to reduce the symptoms of many medical conditions due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Because of this, LDN is often prescribed for male factor infertility as it is believed reducing inflammation will result in better blow flow and nutrient delivery to the developing sperm.
New research has also indicated that LDN may be an effective treatment for men who have erectile dysfunction. One study of 30 men measured the effects of naltrexone on idiopathic impotence. Of the 15 men treated with naltrexone, 11 experienced significantly improved sexual performance. All 15 of the men who received treatment experienced an increase in morning and spontaneous erections. Two months after the LDN treatment was stopped, 1/3 of the men reported complete recovery of their sexual ability .
Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
Research around HGH and its effects on male fertility is on the rise. Studies have shown that the human growth hormone (HGH) plays an important role in spermatogenesis and male fertility . Fertility specialists believe, HGH may be an effective treatment for infertile males who are growth hormone-deficient. One study found that HGH can help restore sperm concentration, morphology, and motility in GH-deficient men .
Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (hcG)
hcG, aka the pregnancy hormone, has been approved by the FDA to treat certain medical conditions in both men and women. hCG injections are FDA-approved for men with reduced spermatogenesis whose bodies don’t adequately stimulate the gonads to produce testosterone. Research has shown that hCG therapy can help induce testis growth, spermatogenesis, and fertility in gonadotrophin-deficient men . One study focused on hcGs effects on men with low testosterone who could not produce mature sperm. The study concluded that spermatogenesis could effectively be initiated and maintained by hCG treatment . Other studies have confirmed these results and shown that hCG improves spermatogensis by increasing intratesticular and serum testosterone levels .
hcG is the only on-label pharmaceutical drug approved for the treatment of male infertility. hCG hormone therapy is very effective in treating infertility, but it is expensive and is not available in pill form. hcG must be administered by an injection into the abdomen.
Treatment Options for Improved Pregnancy Rate with Male Infertility
Interutinary Insemination (IUI) – An IUI, commonly referred to as artificial insemination, is a simple procedure in which sperm is collected, concentrated, and deposited into a woman’s uterus.
Invitro Fertilization (IVF) – IVF is the gold standard of fertility medicine and the most effective fertility treatment available. IVF treatment offers the highest success rates and quickest time to pregnancy of any Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART).
Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) – ICSI is an advanced reproductive procedure done in an embryology lab during an IVF treatment in which a single sperm is injected directly into a woman’s egg in order to create a fertilized embryo.
Testicular Extractions – Sperm extractions procedures are surgical procedures done to retrieve sperm from some part of the male reproductive tract when there is no sperm present in the semen.
Testicular Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) – PRP is a concentrated blood product that contains a high percentage of biomolecules with natural healing and regenerative properties. Testicular PRP is an innovative and experimental technique used on men with azoospermia (zero sperm in the ejaculate) with the goal of achieving even a small number of active sperm in the ejaculate, which can then be used for IVF with ICSI. Here at CNY, Dr. Mariabelle Vardiales is currently conducting research to determine the efficacy of the treatment, so far the results look promising.
Bottom Line About Increasing Sperm Count, Motility, and Other Male Fertility Parameters
As you can see, there are lots of ways to increase sperm count and motility, improve sperm morphology, reduce sperm DNA damage, and increase overall male fertility. Whether you have already seen a fertility specialist or you are just getting started and haven’t had a semen analysis to confirm what you may be thinking, all of the above ideas can help. You can commit yourself to just a few of the discussed strategies or you can dive head in and take them all on, either way, you will be more physically and mentally prepared for the fertility journey.
May your sperm soon be swimming like 2008 Michael Phelps!