Why, you ask, is it important to keep your sperm healthy? It's not a question to dwell on, but there are certain times in most of our lives when we feel the urge to propagate the species and it is then that the importance of delivering the goods in great condition makes sense.
50 million sperm are discharged during just one ejaculation in a normal healthy male. It can take that many to begin the journey to the vagina, the cervix and on to the fallopian tubes. From all those millions only one or two will make it to a mature egg that is ready to be fertilized.
Until recently the health of sperm was identified by microscopic observation of their speed and shape. Advances in genetics looking at the composition of sperm are leading to more accurate identification of healthy sperm.
Current research indicates that male sperm counts are declining in many parts of the world, including America and Europe. In one Danish study a 1 per cent decline per year in the sperm count has been recorded over the last 50 years. Such findings have their critics particularly in the face of more recent studies that suggest no such decline. On balance however the current wisdom suggests there is some decline in sperm counts and there seems to be consensus on at least most of the causes; the most important of which are listed below:
what can you do?
It is important to remember that there is still a lot to be learnt about male fertility. We do know that a lot of the things that make sperm healthy are the things that are healthy for men anyway. So even if it takes a while for your partner to get pregnant you are not wasting your time!
- Tight trousers and underwear, synthetic material and heat. It has been suggested that all these effect fertility so get out those baggy cotton boxers! Keep the family jewels cool. It is known that the scrotum area needs to be 4 degrees lower than body temperature.
- Climate. Some experts suggest that climate and seasons, countries, regions and different years may all have an influence on sperm counts and fertility. One piece of research showed the sperm count in New York was much higher than Los Angeles, that Finland's was higher than Britain.
- Hot Tubs. Frequent hot tubs have been shown to cause a low sperm count. Have a shower instead.
- Alcohol. Alcohol can damage sperm. Limit your alcohol intake when you are trying to improve your fertility.
- Drugs. There are a number of drugs that affect fertility, amongst them are steroids, cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatments and opiates. Contact your family doctor if you are on any long term medication that you are worried may affect your fertility. Doctors should always inform you of any side effects but it is always easy to check if you have forgotten.
- Environmental Toxins. There is quite a lot of conflicting evidence about the substances that may cause damage to sperm. It is known that radiation causes damage and birth defects. Other substances thought to have a detrimental effect on sperm are some perfumes containing phthalates, some types of pesticides, organic mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, estrogens in water supply. Many of these substances are still the subject of on-going research.
- Supplements. Folic acid in combination with zinc sulfate has been shown to have often dramatic effects on sperm counts. Some men when taking these supplements increased their sperm count by as much as 74 per cent.
Paul Ellis - Men's Health