How much sperm count is normal?
When a man ejaculates there are usually tons of sperm swimming in his semen. But for couples who have trouble conceiving through natural methods (e.g. timing Intercourse), he may begin to wonder if his semen is as “potent” as it should be.
The normal level for sperm count is at least 20 million (yes, million!) per mL. A man ejaculates about 2 mL at a time.
You’ve probably heard that sperm are fragile. It’s one of the reasons it takes so many to be present in order to conceive. About 75% of the sperm should be alive when they leave the body, leaving the remaining 25% dead on arrival, if you will.
Around 30% should be normal size and shape and one quarter should be rapidly swimming forward.
As I’m sure you’re thinking, these numbers aren’t very meaningful without a semen analysis to tell you where you or your partner stands or just how off from normal his counts may be.
What are the signs of low sperm count?
Low sperm count is the biggest cause of male infertility and having issues conceiving is the most common symptom. Other symptoms, especially seen in more extreme cases, include: signs of hormone or chromosome abnormalities, such as a decrease in body and/or facial hair; swelling, pain or a lump in the testicles or surrounding area; and issues with sexual function, such as erectile dysfunction or low sex drive.
Why does sperm count matter?
If in the end it only takes one sperm to conceive a baby, so it seems you should only need one strong and normal sperm to make it to the egg to be successful, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple. There’s a reason normal semen carries a sperm concentration of 20 million sperm per mL.
It’s true that only one sperm can fertilize an egg (aside from the rare case of twins), but it takes many sperm to make that happen. The egg is covered with a layer that the sperm travel through.
One sperm cannot do it alone. Rather, many “lay” on the layer until one is able to break through. You may think of this like a piñata—lots of people try to break through, but only one does in the end.
Additionally, many sperm have genetic defaults that do not make them suitable to create life. By nature essentially creating a “best man wins” scenario,” it encourages second-rate sperm to be left behind.
The human body does it’s best to increase the chance of success at creating life, which includes controls to mitigate the mutations as much as possible in the first few days of fertilization. In fact, many fertilized eggs are “rejected” in those first few hours if they are genetically incomplete.
Many of the miscarriages that are so common in the first 12 weeks are also due to these controls.
How does sperm count affect fertility?
The potency and quality of sperm both affect fertility. Abnormal sperm count may lead to difficulty getting pregnant, making it through the first trimester without miscarrying or carrying a healthy baby to term.
Generally speaking, low sperm count leaves much room for error in an already complicated process.
Are there treatments for increasing sperm count?
There are many treatments—hormonal, medicinal and natural—for increasing sperm count.
Hormone treatments and medications
In cases where the cause of low sperm count is an imbalance of hormones or an issue with how the body is using those hormones, your doctor may suggest medications or hormone replacement therapy. The parts of the brain that regulate hormone production related to reproducing are called the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.
In those cases, the gondatropin treatment, where human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and recombinant human follicle stimulating hormone (rhFSH) are used, is the most common treatment for male infertility. It includes medications and/or hormone injections and monitoring testosterone levels.
Assisted reproductive technology
There are a variety of assisted reproductive technology (ART) options to address male infertility, such as IUI, which extracts sperm from a partner or donor and implants it directly into the female reproductive tract for higher success rates. More intensive ART services, such as IVF, also address male infertility.
How can you increase sperm count naturally?
Keep a healthy weight and diet
Eating a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and grains and legumes can help increase sperm count. Foods like dark chocolate, walnuts, bananas, carrots and spinach have all been said to have positive effects on male fertility.
Being too far to either side of the weight spectrum can reduce sperm count. Eating and weighing too little may lead to lower sex drive and changes in the structure of reproductive tissue, which can cause infertility.
Eating and weighing too much is linked to impotence and low sperm count, which may be caused by increased temperature around the testicles from excess fat.
As you might expect, testosterone plays a large role in male reproductive processes. Because of this, increasing testosterone levels naturally can have a positive effect on sperm count and male fertility.
Exercise is one of the best ways to increase testosterone naturally. Weight lifting has been proven to be the most effective type of exercise to increase male fertility as muscle mass correlates to testosterone levels.
From prescribed medications to illegal substances—drugs are just plain bad for male fertility. While many prescribed medications have serious effects on male fertility, DO NOT discontinue any prescribed medications without consulting your doctor.
Smoking is categorically horrible for fertility. Both partners should stop smoking immediately if they wish to get pregnant as cigarettes can negatively influence the process from conception to birth.
Smoking not only lowers sperm count and decreases sperm motility, it can lead to ovulation problems, more miscarriages, birth defects and reproductive damage. Quitting is difficult. Ask for help.
Alcohol consumption has been directly linked to sperm count. If you want to increase your sperm count, reduce your alcohol intake or, better yet, eliminate alcohol from your diet if you are serious about increasing sperm count.
Alcohol influences sperm count because it is processed in the liver. Processing alcohol through the liver increases estrogen levels and hinders sperm production.
Take D-AA supplements
While you likely haven’t heard of D-aspartic acid (D-AA), it can be helpful in restoring male fertility. D-AA is a type of amino acid that you can buy as a dietary supplement.
Be careful not to confuse it with L-aspartic acid, a much more commonly taken amino acid that makes up the structure of multiple proteins. D-AA is present mostly in glands, including the testicles, and in semen and sperm.
Research suggests that D-AA is a factor in male infertility, as levels of D-AA have been found to be significantly lower in men who are infertile. Taking 2.66 grams of D-AA per day for three months has been shown to increase sperm count and motility by 60–100%.
Get enough C and D vitamins
Studies have linked vitamin C and D consumption to increased sperm count. Taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C twice a day for up to two months increased sperm count by more than 100% and sperm motility by more than 92% Additionally, it showed a 50% reduction in the proportion of deformed sperm cells.
Vitamin D has been linked to testosterone levels. Men with low testosterone levels who took 3,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily for one year saw around a 25% increase in testosterone levels. In some cases, high vitamin D levels have also been linked to greater sperm motility.
What foods should you avoid when trying to increase sperm count?
Pesticides and preservatives
Consuming pesticides and preservatives have been shown to decrease sperm production by more than 50%. Choose organic produce and meats to keep sperm count from dropping because of it.
Soy is generally considered a healthy food but it is not recommended for men with fertility issues. Soy is full of isoflavones, which are linked to low sperm quality. One study showed that men who consumed high amounts of soy decreased sperm production by close to half.
Too much sugar
Consuming just one sugary drink daily can decrease sperm count by up to 20 percent.
Processed foods contain lots of preservatives, which are not friendly to sperm count. Regularly eating processed meat, for example, can lower sperm count and increase deformed sperm count by 30%.
Full fat dairy
Modern milk production often uses hormones, which are not friends to male fertility. Choose low-, non-fat or alternative (e.g. almond) milks when trying to increase sperm count.
How long does it take to increase sperm count?
The life cycle of a sperm—from creation to maturation to ejaculation—is about 72 days. Therefore, it takes about two to three months to see any improvements in sperm count.
The process however, can be slow as it’s rare that a fertility treatment essentially “flips the switch” of fertility in one sweep. With hormone therapy for example, it can take up to two years to reach normal fertility.
The root cause(s) of male fertility have the most bearing on how soon you can expect to see an increase in sperm count.
What if treatments to increase sperm count do not work?
For couples who’ve exhausted options to improve male fertility that make sense for them, but are still experiencing issues with male fertility, electing to use donor sperm or adopting a child are additional avenues to consider exploring.