Do you know what it takes to have strong sperm? Why is having strong sperm important? Perhaps the first thing men and women think of when they hear the term “strong sperm” is fertility. When women want to conceive, they have access to much information about what they should eat, the right exercises to do, which supplements to take, and the importance of not smoking or consuming alcohol.
However, how much are men told about the impact of their lifestyle choices on the health and quality of their sperm? The presence of healthy sperm is critical when couples are planning to start a family, yet we don’t hear much about the significant impact lifestyle choices can have on a man’s sperm and by extension, his fertility and the health of his offspring.
The good news is there is a growing recognition and appreciation for the importance of strong sperm, and one reason may be the accompanying growth in the field of epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of how we can change or modify gene expression through lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise, and stress management.
Even though DNA is hardwire coded in our cells, it is possible to change the codes over time by our habits, both positive and negative. Some experts even say that men who modify their behavior now may change their DNA to the point that they pass the changes down their family tree, affecting future generations.
Why strong sperm is important
Men with the characteristics of strong sperm—high sperm count, good morphology and motility—are more fertile. A healthy sperm count (concentration) can range from 15 million to more than 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. Counts lower than 15 million or less than 39 million total per ejaculate are considered to be low.
Sperm motility refers to the ability of sperm to move or swim toward its target (eggs). Poor sperm motility means the sperm don’t swim properly, which can result in infertility in men. Men with motility greater than 45 percent and otherwise healthy sperm count are usually fertile.
Sperm morphology refers to the shape and size of sperm. Normal sperm have a long tail and an oval head, while abnormal sperm may have a variety of abnormalities, such as a crooked or double tail or an oddly shaped head. Abnormal sperm have a negative impact on fertility.
Men who are experiencing problems with fertility may want to consider changing some of their lifestyle habits, including their dietary choices. Approximately one third of fertility challenges between couples can be traced back to the man, while the remaining two thirds are about evenly divided between the woman and both partners.
While women have been encouraged for many years to alter their lifestyle before and during pregnancy, it’s time for men to step up and realize their habits have an impact on fertility and sperm as well. As Aimee Eyvazzadeh, MD a Bay Area fertility specialist has noted, “I can’t say to a woman, ‘Wait two months and your eggs will be better. But I can say that to a guy about his sperm.”
Men who clean up their lifestyle habits can have a positive effect on their sperm quality, motility, and morphology and thus on the outcome of their offspring.
How to develop strong sperm
According to some experts, including Ajay Nangia, MBBS, a professor of urology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, “normal sperm counts have declined in the last several decades,” and part of that decline may be associated with men’s lifestyle choices. Therefore, here are seven tips on how to develop strong sperm by making lifestyle modifications.
Get sufficient sleep. The ideal amount of nightly sleep for men appears to be between 7 and 8 hours. Any less may reduce male fertility rates by 31 percent, according to one study in Fertility & Sterility. One reason may be that insufficient sleep may lower testosterone production, which is essential for making sperm.
Beware of lube. Use of commercial lubes that are thick can interfere with the ability of sperm to swim efficiently toward the egg. Some lubes also contain hydrochloric acid, which is a sperm killer. The best lubes to use if fertility is your goal are thinner products that don’t contain hydrochloric acid, such as PreSeed.
Go omega-3. Men who focus on getting lots of omega-3 fatty acids in their diet or through supplements tend to have higher sperm counts and greater levels of healthy sperm than men who consume less of these essential fats, a least according to Harvard scientists. The best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and herring, which you should consume at least twice a week. Fish or krill oil supplements are also recommended, especially for men who don’t like or choose not to eat fish.
Pass on processed meats. It may be difficult to pass up the hot dogs at ballgames or pepperoni on your pizza, but there is evidence that men who eat these and other processed meats have the high levels of morphology and the lowest sperm counts. Processed meats also may be associated with declining levels of testosterone.
Spurn sugar. A study appearing in Human Reproduction reported that men who consumed more than one sugary soda daily had lower sperm motility than men who never or rarely drank these beverages. When men consume too much sugar, it result in insulin resistance, which can then result in inflammation that can have a negative impact on sperm movement.
Subdue stress. Stress is a great unequalizer, as it can throw your hormone levels into disharmony and your sperm quality into a downward spiral. A Columbia University study team found that sperm quality was worse among men who had higher levels of perceived stress than men who reported feeling less stress. Managing stress on a daily basis by engaging in stress reduction practices such as meditation, exercise, yoga, tai chi, or visualization can be helpful.
Avoid alcohol. This doesn’t mean an occasional glass of wine or cocktail will do real harm to your sperm. However, heavy alcohol consumption can lower sperm counts and the number of healthy sperm. One Danish study put the number of sperm-quality declining drinks at 25 or more, while upping that number to 40 can result in 51 percent less healthy sperm than seen in men who consume only 1 to 5 drinks weekly.
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