Ladies, listen up! Top tips for healthy sperm
Would-be parents often ask if there is anything they can do to get sperm into tip-top condition. Here, top sperm expert Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield, gives his top ten suggestions to encourage your man to produce the best he can:
Stop him smoking
It’s well known that women shouldn’t smoke when they are trying to conceive or are pregnant, but it’s bad for dads too. The chemicals and toxins in cigarette smoke don’t seem to change how many sperm men produce, but they do damage the DNA contained in the sperm that are made. This can increase the risk of miscarriage when you become pregnant and has even been linked to an increased risk of some diseases in any children born to fathers who smoke. Therefore if he’s a smoker, and you want to be parents, you both need to stop. Join a smoking cessation programme if help is needed.
Various studies have shown that men who wear tight underwear are more likely to have lower numbers of swimming sperm compared to men who wear loose underwear like boxer shorts. Therefore, if he is a fan of tight Y-fronts, perhaps you could buy him some looser ones. Some companies produce special cooling underwear specifically designed to improve spermicide quality. But there is no real evidence that they are any better than wearing regular boxers.
Get checked for infections
Sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia can damage sperm production as well as wrecking women’s reproductive systems. It causes blockages in the small tubes designed to carry sperm out of the testicle, or can even latch on to sperm and kill them. Often men and women don’t even know they have chlamydia and so it’s a good idea to get checked with your partner before you try for a baby. There is no need to see your GP, just make an appointment with your local Genito Urinary Medicine Clinic.
There is no need for a faddy diet, just make sure you are both getting five portions of fruit and vegetables each day – more if you can manage it. Many studies have now shown that men who eat a diet higher in antioxidants have better quality sperm than men who don’t. If he can’t eat his greens, then a homemade smoothie can be a good way to get all the goodness into the system. And if he can’t stomach a smoothie then he could take a supplement!
Think about work
Apart from making men too busy to have sex, there are many aspects of working life that can damage sperm in one way or another. For example, men who drive all day can heat their testicles just as if they were wearing really tight pants. Men exposed to chemicals in the workplace (such as glycol ethers present in some paints and glues) should make sure they use the protective equipment provided by their employers.
Keep off drugs
We don’t know enough about how street drugs affect fertility in men, but we do know that men who regularly smoke marijuana generally have poorer quality sperm than men who don’t. Also, men who take anabolic steroids at the gym are usually infertile. So the best advice is to stay off any drug that’s not been prescribed by your doctor.
Many partners think men have to give up alcohol in order to father a child, but the evidence is that drinking one or two units of alcohol per day does not do any harm to sperm production. However, drinking a lot of alcohol in one go is thought to be bad so perhaps he’d better rein in those Friday night binges with the lads. You might even be able to encourage him to swap them for a glass of wine with you.
Sperm are produced all the time, but women often get men to save up their sperm for several weeks in the mistaken belief that when he next ejaculates, he will release super sperm! However, this can do more harm than good as after a few days of abstinence old sperm begin to die and this can damage the new more vigorous sperm being produced. So the best advice is to ejaculate two or three times per week, preferably during intercourse.
Ditch the stress
Stress can affect fertility in many ways, including taking the magic out of a couple’s sex life and leading to less interest in sex (and that’s not good for making babies). Whilst stress probably does not alter how many sperm men produce, there is some evidence that it can reduce how many are released each time a man ejaculates, and that will lower your chances of pregnancy. So he needs to make sure he takes time to unwind and do whatever he needs to do to relax.
Use the shower
In the same way that tight pants can reduce sperm production, taking long hot baths or using a sauna could in theory reduce sperm production too. No one wants their man to become smelly, so perhaps the most sensible thing to do is make it a shower rather than a bath.
For each of these suggestions, you need to know that it takes about 3 months to produce a sperm from start to finish. So any of the lifestyle changes listed above need to take place over a long period of time. If he changes something on Friday, his sperm won’t be improved by Monday. But if he makes a change in September you might see a difference by Christmas.