Sperm are male reproductive cells present in the ejaculate. As sperm is needed together with an egg for successful reproduction, they are essential for fertility. Many factors can affect sperm health, such as diet and exercise.
There are different ways to measure sperm health. For example, tests can determine the number of sperm cells in ejaculate, and how mobile they are. Both of these factors can affect fertility.
People who try for a baby may need to make lifestyle changes to improve the male factor of reproduction. These adjustments may help improve fertility and increase the chances of pregnancy.
This article will discuss what healthy sperm is, and the factors that affect it.
Healthy sperm generally refers to its capacity to fertilize a female egg.
Sperm is a male reproductive cell, which the testicles produce in the body. They are essential in fertilizing a female egg to create a human embryo.
To assess sperm health, doctors can carry out a semen analysis. This is a procedure that looks at several factors: sperm number, size, shape, and motility.
A doctor may use semen analysis to determine an underlying issue if someone is struggling to conceive, or to confirm the outcome of a male sterilization procedure, such as a vasectomy.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the following are the normal ranges for healthy sperm.
|WHO reference range|
|Semen volume||1.5–7.6 ml|
|Sperm concentration||15–259 million per ml|
|Total sperm in ejaculate||39–928 million|
|Total motility (progressive and non-progressive)||40–81%|
Several factors determine how healthy sperm is. These include:
Sperm count refers to the volume of sperm cells in ejaculate. Doctors can measure this by analyzing a semen sample in a laboratory.
Males need a sufficient number of sperm cells to have a chance that one will fertilize an egg. However, a 2012 report suggests a sperm concentration of 40 million per milliliter provides the maximum benefit for fertility, and higher concentrations are unlikely to increase fertility potential.
Motility and velocity
Motility and velocity determine how well the sperm swims to the egg.
According to national infertility association RESOLVE, at least 50% of sperm cells should be active for healthy sperm. The semen analysis will also rate the quality of movement from 0–4. A score of two or more is healthy.
Previously, experts understood that a sperm’s movement was comparable to that of a snake. However, a 2020 study suggests they instead move in a corkscrew fashion. This finding could help provide more effective treatments for male infertility.
The size and shape of sperm cells also affect the chances of fertility. At least 50% of sperm cells should be a standard size, shape, and length. If there is more abnormal sperm present, there is a greater likelihood of infertility.
Several other factors influence how healthy sperm is:
- Acidity: Semen should have a pH of 7.2–7.8.
- White blood cell count: Too many white blood cells can reduce the chances of fertility. There should be fewer than 1 million white blood cells per milliliter.
- Fructose: Semen should contain at least 150 milligrams per deciliter of fructose.
- Liquefaction: Semen must be able to change into a liquid state quickly enough to fertilize the egg.
There are several possible ways to increase the chances of a good sperm count.
Regular exercise is important for keeping sperm healthy. A 2016 study found that an hour of exercise on a treadmill three times per week was enough to improve semen shape, count, and motility in sedentary individuals with overweight.
A person can also follow a healthful diet to increase sperm count. A 2017 review found the optimal diets are rich in:
- low-fat dairy products
Several factors can reduce sperm count and semen quality. These include:
- Alcohol: Alcohol can lower the production of testosterone, which reduces sperm count.
- Recreational drugs: Some drugs can damage sperm quality. However, a 2019 study suggests that cannabis could increase sperm concentrations.
- Certain medications: Some medications, such as antidepressants, can reduce fertility. However, a 2019 study suggests that the effects may be reversible.
- Smoking: Smoking can reduce sperm count and affect fertility in males.
- Having overweight: Fat cells can cause the conversion of testosterone into estrogen, which reduces sperm count and fertility.
- Overheating: Sperm needs to be at the right temperature to stay healthy, and overheating can reduce someone’s sperm count. Someone who wears close-fitting underwear or tight clothing may raise their testicular temperature. Saunas and hot tubs could also overheat someone’s sperm.
According to the University of Chicago, people should avoid the following dietary ingredients to help keep their sperm healthy:
- processed meats
- trans fats
- soy products
- some pesticides
- high-fat dairy products
Men who try for a baby will experience different degrees of success. It can take some couples a long time to become pregnant, while others can get pregnant fairly quickly. Fertility declines with age, so older couples may take longer.
Before people see a doctor, they could try some lifestyle changes. Males who eat well, have a healthy weight, and exercise regularly will take less time to reach pregnancy with a partner.
If lifestyle changes do not help with pregnancy after several months, people can consult with a doctor. Medical professionals might order a semen analysis and help identify any underlying issue.
The WHO define infertility as a disease of the reproductive system, which results in the inability to achieve pregnancy after 12 or more months.
Healthy sperm is vital for fertility. There are several ways to determine the health of sperm, including volume and size. Some factors can reduce semen quality, such as having overweight, or smoking.
Males can try lifestyle changes for healthier semen, such as eating well and avoiding recreational drugs. If these changes do not work after several months, a doctor might be able to help.