When couples have problems conceiving, women often begin to blame themselves.
However, male fertility has been falling steadily since the 1950s. According to Infertility Network UK, sperm counts have reduced by 53% in the last 50 years, and a study conducted in 1992 concluded that men in Western countries today have less than half the sperm production their grandfathers had at the same age.
Fertility problems in men are becoming increasingly common, but the information available on male fertility is still limited. Here, we look at what you can do to boost male fertility, and factors that could be causing the difficulties in the first place.
Male fertility: the facts
- Men are the cause of the problem in nearly half of all cases of infertility
- Male fertility is affected by two factors: sperm production and sperm delivery
- Male sperm counts have halved in the last 50 years
- 1 in 3 couples have problems conceiving
- A man’s general health is often overlooked when it comes to conception and fertility problems
- When there’s a problem conceiving, the problem is only with the woman in around 35-40% of cases
- When there’s a problem conceiving, the problem is with the man in around 30-35% of cases
- 25% of male infertility still remains unexplained
How to boost male fertility
Things to avoid
The occasional pint is not going to have a massive effect, but too much alcohol won’t help. The breaking down of alcohol can lead to a poisonous effect on sperm, causing stunted growth and lowering their ability to move properly. Too much booze can also lead to brewer’s droop, meaning the sperm won’t even start their journey!
Take our quiz to see if you might be drinking too much
A Danish study discovered that men who drink 1 litre of cola every day could be harming their sperm. On average, the participants’ sperm counts were almost 30% lower than men’s who didn’t drink cola. More than 2,500 men were included in the study, and not only did those who didn’t drink cola have better sperm quality, they also tended to have a healthier lifestyle in general – another factor than can have a significant impact on fertility.
Men who smoke are more likely to have a lower sperm count and be only half as fertile as non-smokers – in fact, smoking over 20 cigarettes a day has been shown to reduce both the sperm count and mobility. On top of that, smoking lowers levels of certain vitamins and minerals that are important for conception: vitamin C, selenium and zinc.There is also research that suggests that men who smoke are more likely to have children with a higher risk of developing cancer.
Whether you work as a chef, or simply love jacuzzis and hot tubs, heat can be bad news if you’re trying to get pregnant. Chefs have lower sperm counts than average, because they’re exposed to the intense heat from the ovens. This also means that men shouldn’t wear tight pants and trousers, as these can cause the sperm to overheat too – if it gets too warm around a man’s groin, fertility can be affected.
Drugs are a no-no for any kind of healthy lifestyle, but they’re particularly harmful if you want to up a man’s fertility. Cannabis has been shown to make sperm move too fast, so they tire out before they reach the egg. It also lowers a man’s libido, meaning he’s less likely to want to have sex in the first place! It’s not just illegal drugs that can affect a man’s sperm, though – prescription drugs or painkillers can also have an impact, so it’s important to talk a doctor about possible side-effects if you’re taking regular medication.
Things to try
Improve your diet
Eating fertility boosting food is a great place to start. There are certain vitamins and minerals in particular that are really important for improving the quality of a man’s sperm:
Vitamin B12: found in fish, eggs and cheese
Vitamin E: found in nuts and seeds, eggs, green leafy vegetables
Omega-3 fatty acids: found in fish and plant oils.
Take a vitamin tablet
Eating properly will have a big impact on a man’s fertility, but to make sure he’s getting all the right vitamins and minerals, it can help to pop a pill. One of the more difficult nutrients to get naturally is something called Co-enzyme Q10. It has been shown in studies that as little as 10mg a day can improve sperm count and motility (i.e. how well they move) in just two weeks.
Drink more water
It stands to reason that sperm need to swim, and they can’t do that if a man is dehydrated, so if you don’t know how much water to drink every day, now is the time to find out. Most men don’t drink enough – 2 litres a day is typically a good amount, although this can vary based on your size and activity level. And, of course, drinking more water should hopefully mean replacing the caffeine-rich drinks that can affect sperm counts.
A little worry can be healthy, but studies have shown that stress plays havoc with your body’s hormones. Try to reduce hours at work, if possible, and take it easy when you are at home. Stress in particular blocks the production of the hormone GnRH, which is vital for sperm production.
Obviously exercise is good because it keeps you fit, helps you relax and reduces stress. As fertility expert Zita West says, ‘Being overweight will mean you are hormonally imbalanced’, so exercising more regularly can also help you to shift excess weight. Just make sure you don’t over-exercise, because this can be as bad as not exercising at all – putting too much demand on a man’s body can stop it producing sperm. Doing something simple like jogging, swimming or even walking will be good for your body and your fertility. A word of warning: Hard bike saddles really can affect sperm production, so be careful if you’re a cyclist!
Other things to consider
Female fertility begins to decline from the age of 30, and although there are lots of reports of older men fathering children, sperm counts naturally decrease and become less mobile with age too. Zita West explains, ‘A recent study showed that men aged 35 or older are 50% less likely, over a 12-month period, to achieve conception with a fertile partner than men under 35.” If you’re an older father-to-be, it is worth speaking to your doctor, who can advise on the best course of action.
Illness and injury
There are various conditions that can reduce sperm production. STIs like gonorrhea can make a man infertile, while a high fever can damage sperm for up to six months, and long-term illnesses such as cancer can also have a significant impact. External injuries, such as a nasty blow to the groin, from a ball for example, can also cause problems. Damage like this can cause torsion of the testis, which is basically when the testes twist on themselves – if it’s not diagnosed quickly, it can leave a man infertile. Again, seek the advice of your doctor if you are concerned.