Are there treatments for increasing sperm count?
Having a low sperm count is one reason couples find it difficult to get pregnant.
In fact, about one-third of couples looking to start or expand their families find that abnormalities with sperm contribute to some kind of fertility issues.
Luckily, there are many treatments — hormonal, medicinal and natural — for increasing sperm count.
Fertility Treatment Options for Low Sperm Count
Hormone treatments and medications
In cases where the cause of low sperm count is a hormone imbalance or an issue with how the body is using reproductive hormones, your doctor may suggest hormone replacement therapy or medicine to increase sperm count.
The parts of the brain that regulate reproductive hormone production are called the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.
Medicines to increase sperm count target these parts of the brain to stimulate the production of two hormones that are important in sperm production: follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).
With low sperm count treatment, the most common form of therapy is gonadotropin injections.
With this form of fertility treatment, patients inject human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) several times a week to encourage the body to create its own testosterone, which helps with sperm production.
Studies have shown that hCG injections, with regular monitoring, can lead to increased sperm production.
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 in vitro fertilization (IVF), also address male infertility.
Other Ways to Improve Sperm Count
Many men wonder how to increase sperm count and volume. If you suspect you have low sperm count, know there are some measures you can take prior to taking prescription fertility drugs.
Having a healthy lifestyle — quitting tobacco products, regularly exercising, and eating well — is crucial. In addition, you may consider dietary supplements, such as folic acid.
While folic acid is a necessity for pregnant women (and those who are planning to become pregnant) to prevent birth defects in infants, it’s just as important in mens’ diets.
If you are wondering how to make sperm stronger for pregnancy, a fertility specialist may suggest folic acid, which some studies show can increase sperm count by nearly 75%.
Other supplements, such as FertilAid For Men can offer other nutrients and minerals — including zinc, methylfolate, and L-carnitine — that are linked to higher, healthier sperm production.
How Can You Increase Sperm Count Naturally?
Keep a healthy weight and diet
Eating a diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes can help increase sperm count.
Foods such as dark chocolate, walnuts, bananas, carrots and spinach have all been reported to have positive effects on male fertility.
Being too far to either side of the weight spectrum can also 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.
Whether they’re prescribed medications or 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, but can lead to ovulation problems, miscarriage, birth defects and reproductive damage. Quitting is difficult. Ask for help.
Reduce alcohol intake
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’s processed in the liver, which 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 to 100%.
Get enough C and D vitamins
Studies have linked vitamin C and D consumption to increased sperm count.
Studies show that taking 1,000 mg of vitamin C twice a day for up to two months increases 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.
Soy is generally considered a healthy food but is not recommended for men with fertility issues.
Soy contains 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%.
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 the deformed sperm count by 30%.
Modern milk production often uses hormones, which are not friends to male fertility.
Choose low-fat, non-fat or alternative milks (such as almond or coconut) when trying to increase sperm count.
What is Sperm Count?
If you and a partner are having difficulty getting pregnant, a fertility specialist may recommend that you have your sperm analyzed.
During this kind of testing, doctors will examine a man’s semen to determine how many sperm are present, if they are shaped correctly, and how they are moving.
General, a normal sperm concentration is between 15 million and 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen. If a man’s sperm count falls outside of this range, it’s possible to have difficulty with conception.
If a man’s sperm count is too low, the condition is called oligospermia. If no sperm are present, a man may be diagnosed with azoospermia.
What Determines Sperm Health?
When it comes to determining if sperm abnormalities play a role in your infertility, a doctor will look for the following signs of healthy sperm:
- How many sperm are present — a normal sperm count is between 15 million and 20 million per milliliter
- How the sperm are shaped (sperm morphology) — healthy sperm will have an oval-shaped head and other features, such as an acrosome (cap) that covers the sperm head
- How the sperm are moving (sperm motility) — normal sperm will move at least 25 micrometers per second; slow-moving or non-moving sperm may have difficulty reaching an egg
- The ratio of semen to sperm — some men have a large amount of semen that dilutes the number of sperm it contains, which can make getting pregnant difficult
The general health of sperm is important to know, because even though a man has a high sperm count, abnormalities in sperm shape and movement can make it difficult for sperm to find and fertilize an egg.
How Much Sperm Count is Normal?
When a man ejaculates there are usually millions of sperm swimming in his semen.
But for couples who have trouble conceiving through natural methods (such as timing intercourse), he may begin to wonder if his semen is as “potent” as it should be.
The normal level for sperm count is between 15 million sperm and 20 million sperm per milliliter (mL).
On average, a man ejaculates between 1.25 and 5 milliliters of semen at a time, though semen volume differs based on how frequently sex occurs, age and other health factors.
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 sperm should be alive when they leave the body, leaving the remaining 25% dead on arrival.
Around 30% should have a normal size and shape, and one-quarter should be rapidly swimming forward.
What Are the Signs of Low Sperm Count?
If you’re wondering if you have a low sperm count, you may be questioning “What does healthy sperm look like?” While it’s not possible to perform your own semen analysis, you can take clues from your sperm’s appearance.
In healthy samples, semen is usually a cloudy white or gray color, with a gelatinous consistency. Healthy semen often has an ammonia or bleach-like scent due to alkaline components that allow it to survive in the vagina.
There are some symptoms linked to low sperm count and infertility, including:
- A decrease in body and/or facial hair
- Swelling, pain or a lump in the testicles or surrounding area
- Issues with sexual function, such as erectile dysfunction or low sex drive
Can you tell if a man has low sperm count based on his appearance? Generally, no, but newer research linking male pattern baldness and fertility shows that men who have higher levels of hair loss around age 30 may have a greater risk of having low sperm counts.
Still, you should know that it’s nearly impossible to determine if a man has low sperm count without confirmation from a semen analysis.
Causes of a Low Sperm Count
There are a variety of reasons why a man may have low sperm count, from health concerns to lifestyle factors.
And while some men just may naturally produce less sperm, when compounded with multiple factors, the amount of sperm created and released by the body may make it difficult to conceive.
Some of the most commonly known causes of reduced sperm include:
- Oxidative stress (OS): This kind of imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants can damage sperm within the body, making it difficult for the sperm to form and move correctly.
- Tobacco use: Smoking and using tobacco have been linked with male infertility. That’s because tobacco use not only decreases sperm count, but impacts how sperm swim and how they are shaped.
- Drug and alcohol use: Drugs and alcohol can lower a man’s testosterone levels, making it difficult for the body to produce high-quality sperm in the correct amounts.
- Lifestyle and emotional stress: Long periods of stress can impact the body’s ability to regulate hormones that lead to sperm production.
- Environmental and work-related factors: Even everyday job duties, such as sitting for long periods of time or working with hazardous chemicals can impact a man’s sperm count. Being exposed to chemicals, heavy metals, and radiation over a period of time can make it difficult for the body to properly create sperm.
- Too-warm testicles: Keeping the testicles too warm can kill sperm and lead to a decreased sperm count. This condition is often caused by regular use of hot tubs or saunas and wearing restrictive clothing.
- Medical causes: There are many health conditions that can lead a man to have a low sperm count, such as difficulty ejaculating, having a sexually transmitted infection (STI), having varicose veins in the testicles, undescended testicles, undiagnosed hormone imbalances, having an unhealthy weight, or undetected chromosome and birth defects. In some cases, medications for unrelated health conditions can reduce the body’s ability to create sperm.
While these are common causes of low sperm count, researchers are still investigating just how these conditions and other environmental and lifestyle factors can impact a man’s fertility.
Working with your fertility specialist to rule out these causes can put you on the right path to increasing your sperm count.
Why Does Sperm Count Matter?
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, and 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 creating a “best man wins” scenario,” it encourages second-rate sperm to be left behind.
The human body does its best to increase the chance of success at creating life, which includes controls to mitigate 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, or later lead to miscarriage.
How Does Sperm Count Affect Fertility?
Sperm count plays a large role in a man’s fertility and potential conception with a partner.
That’s because the potency and quality of sperm determine how easy it will be for conception to occur.
Having a low sperm count can make it hard for enough sperm to survive the difficult journey from the testicles to the vaginal canal.
And, if a sperm count motility analysis shows that the sperm aren’t shaped normally, that means their ability to find and fertilize an egg becomes that much harder.
Because abnormal sperm may be less healthy, they could carry chromosomal or genetic defects that lead to miscarriage, or impact a future baby’s health.
Generally speaking, low sperm count leaves much room for error in an already complicated process. This goes to show that when starting a family, men’s health is just as important as women’s.
Can a Man With Low Sperm Count Get a Woman Pregnant?
Yes, it’s possible for a man with low sperm count to become a father! That’s because any time an unfertilized egg is exposed to sperm creates the potential for conception.
With the right conditions (perfectly timed intercourse, if a woman releases multiple eggs during ovulation, etc.), a man may not even know he has a low sperm count.
Still, many men with low sperm counts come to discover this information because they have difficulty getting a partner pregnant.
With help from a fertility specialist, it’s possible for a man to increase his sperm count enough to help his partner conceive.
Ways to Test Your Sperm Count
There are two main ways to examine your own sperm count: through an at-home sperm count test, or through semen analysis provided by your doctor or fertility specialist.
At home-sperm tests provide a basic level of information about your semen within a few minutes; they work by detecting the amount of a specific protein present in sperm.
If there are few sperm, a lower level of the protein will register, prompting the test to show you have a low sperm count. These tests are limited in that they can’t tell you if you have healthy or normally functioning sperm.
A semen analysis performed by a doctor’s office can give you a more in-depth look at the health of your sperm.
This kind of test can determine how many sperm are present in your semen, if they are moving properly, if they have the correct oval-shaped head (as well as other defining features), and other factors.
These tests are easily performed because they require the simple collection of your sample, which is then analyzed under a microscope. Results are normally back a few days to a week.
Understanding Your Semen Analysis
When it comes to understanding the results of a semen analysis, you should know that the information you receive will be broken down into five main areas:
- Sample volume — how much semen was in the sample. An average amount is between 1.5 and 5 milliliters of semen.
- Sperm concentration — how many sperm were in the sample. A normal sperm count has between 15 million and 20 million sperm.
- Sperm morphology — how the sperm are shaped, and how many are shaped correctly. In a normal sample, at least 4% of sperm will be correctly shaped.
- Sperm motility — how the sperm are moving, and how many are moving. Almost 50% of the sperm should be moving rapidly forward; sperm that move slowly or have unusual movements may be problematic.
- Sperm vitality — how many sperm are alive in the sample. Not all sperm make it through ejaculation alive, though at least 75% are alive in a normal sample.
Some semen testing may also include a sperm DNA fragmentation analysis. This kind of testing looks for broken sperm and analyzes the number of regular to damaged sperm.
In some cases, sperm DNA fragmentation testing can provide information about the causes of infertility that sperm count and motility testing cannot.
If you receive back any abnormal results from either type of test, don’t panic.
Knowing where to start with fertility treatment, and the potential causes of low sperm count and motility problems, for example, is one step closer to finding a fertility solution.
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 causes 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?
Sometimes, despite all the best treatments, it’s not possible to increase a man’s sperm count.
If you have struggled to improve conditions that impact your reproductive health, don’t be afraid to speak with a board-certified urologist or another reproductive specialist for a second opinion.
In some cases, working with a urologist can highlight other health factors that have gone unnoticed — such as prostate cancer — that can impact a man’s fertility.
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.
At What Point Should We Consider Other Alternatives, Such as a Sperm Donor or Adoption?
Deciding at what point you should use a sperm donor or consider other ways of having a child (such as adoption) is a very personal moment for a man and his partner.
There are many factors that impact this decision, such as budget, a person’s reproductive health and treatment outcomes, age, and personal feelings.
Fertility problems and treatment can be difficult because they impact not only your physical health, but also mental health.
Some couples consider the use of donor sperm or alternatives such as adoption when:
- Sperm count has not decreased
- Sperm has abnormalities that cannot be remedied
- They have a genetic condition that you do not want to pass along to a child
- Sperm has difficulty fertilizing an egg despite the help of intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF)
Only you and your partner can decide if you want to press forward into alternative fertility treatments, choose to use donor sperm or consider adoption.
When making this choice, remember to be honest about your feelings and how you want to proceed. There are many ways to start a family.