This week, Dr. Joe DeOrio, a urologist in Chicago, tackles questions about male sexuality. To ask Dr. Joe your own question, click here.
Dear Dr. Joe,
Is there any way to increase sperm count to help my wife and I get pregnant?
First off, let’s distinguish between a low sperm count (oligospermia) and NO sperm count (azospermia). If you have azospermia, then your body either doesn’t make the little swimmers or your pipes are blocked, and they can’t escape. Either way, there is nothing that you can do about that on your own. See a physician. If you have a low sperm count (defined as less than 20 million sperm per milliliter of ejaculate), or you are just looking to beef up your numbers, there are a few things that you can try. Remember, though, that spermatogenesis, or making sperm, takes about 65-80 days, so any changes you make will not have a noticeable effect on your sperm count for about 3 months. Here we go:
- Stop smoking. This one just keeps coming up. Smoking is bad for your health in almost every way, and it can decrease your sperm production as well. Kick the habit.
- Cut out the alcohol and recreational drugs as well. Yep, Jack is gonna be a very dull boy for a while.
- Get adequate rest. Sleep repairs our bodies, and it also helps us make sperm. Aim for 7-9 hours per night.
- Keep your balls cool. Your family jewels hang between your legs for a reason: they stay about 2 degrees cooler than core body temperature, creating an ideal environment for sperm production. Overheating the testicles with frequent dips in the Jacuzzi, long rests in the sauna, or working with a laptop on your legs can hamper sperm production. Avoid them all. Eschewing tighty-whiteys, despite the common wisdom, however, doesn’t really have much of an effect on temperature – so just be comfortable.
- Check yourself for a varicocele, a cluster of dilated veins surrounding the testicles that can raise their temperature. It often feels like a “bag of worms.” If you think you may have one, have a doctor check you out.
- Have sex less often. Huh? Yah, I know, but decreasing the frequency of ejaculation can increase your sperm count in the short term as your body has time to stockpile a few before eruption. When evaluating patients, I usually have them wait 3-5 days before providing a semen sample for analysis.
- Do not use anabolic steroids. Sure, these drugs might bulk you up, and your bigger physique may score a few more ladies, but the health consequences just aren’t worth the risk. Exogenous steroids disrupt your body’s normal hormone production and in some cases may lead to permanent sterility.
- Exercise. A healthy body does everything better, and resistance training can naturally increase your testosterone level, which may result in better sperm production. In addition, exercise can reduce stress, another culprit in low sperm count.
- While exercising, avoid trauma to the testicles. I realize I probably don’t need to tell you to protect your nuts, but certain sports, such as cycling, can irritate the love spuds. Notice some numbness or tingling? Try something else.
- Keep the cell phone out of your pocket. Increasing evidence suggests that radio waves from cell phones can disrupt spermatogenesis.
- Eat a healthy diet. Avoid processed foods with preservatives. Try to eat a balanced diet high in protein, with plenty of vegetables and whole grains. If possible, eat organic to avoid exposure to pesticides.
- Avoid environmental hazards. This includes pesticides, lead, radiation, and heavy metals. If you work in a nuclear reactor, or as part of a HAZMAT team, then yes, I am talking to you, Homer.
- Take a multivitamin. Look for one with the recommended daily allowances of Vitamins C, E, and A, as well as zinc, folate, selenium, and chromium. You may also consider supplementing your diet with L-arginine and L-carnitine, amino acids that may enhance spermatogenesis.
For the best chance at improving your sperm count, follow all of these recommendations. After a few months, if you don’t notice any change, see a medical professional. We have a number of tests, including hormonal and genetic assessments, which may pinpoint a correctable problem. Finally, it is important to realize that sperm count does not necessarily equate with fertility, so don’t focus too hard on the number. It only takes one sperm to have a child.
— Dr. Joe
Dr. Joe earned his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology from Princeton University. After attending the Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, he completed his residency training in urological surgery at the Los Angeles County Medical Center. He lives and works in Chicago, IL. Keep an eye out for his upcoming blog at docjoe.net.