Healthy sperm: Improving your fertility
Healthy sperm aren't always a given. Understand how lifestyle factors can affect your sperm and what you can do to improve your fertility.By Mayo Clinic Staff
Do your sperm pass muster?
If you and your partner are planning a pregnancy, you might be wondering about the health of your sperm. Start by understanding the various factors that can affect male fertility — then consider steps to help your sperm become top performers.
What determines sperm health?
Sperm health depends on various factors, including quantity, movement and structure:
- Quantity. You're most likely to be fertile if your ejaculate — the semen discharged in a single ejaculation — contains at least 15 million sperm per milliliter. Too little sperm in an ejaculate might make it more difficult to get pregnant because there are fewer candidates available to fertilize the egg.
- Movement. To reach and fertilize an egg, sperm must move — wriggling and swimming through a woman's cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes. This is known as motility. You're most likely to be fertile if at least 40 percent of your sperm are moving.
- Structure (morphology). Normal sperm have oval heads and long tails, which work together to propel them forward. While not as important a factor as sperm quantity or movement, the more sperm you have with a normal shape and structure, the more likely you are to be fertile.
What causes male fertility problems?
Various medical issues can contribute to male fertility problems, including:
- A problem in the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland — parts of the brain that signal the testicles to produce testosterone and sperm (secondary hypogonadism)
- Testicular disease
- Sperm transport disorders
Age can also play a role. The ability of sperm to move and the proportion of normal sperm tend to decrease with age, affecting a man's fertility. Some research shows that it takes longer for men in their mid-30s and early 40s to achieve pregnancy than it does for younger men.
June 02, 2015
See more In-depth
- Swerdloff RS, et al. Causes of male infertility. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 17, 2015.
- McAninch JW, et al. Male infertility. In: Smith and Tanagho's General Urology. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2013. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed April 27, 2015.
- Wein AJ, et al., eds. Male infertility. In: Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 27, 2015.
- Protect your fertility: A guide for prevention. American Society for Reproductive Medicine. http://www.reproductivefacts.org/publications/index.aspx?id=6557. Assessed April 27, 2015.
- Fritz MA, et al., eds. Male infertility. In: Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011. http://www.ovid.com/site/index.jsp. Accessed April 27, 2015.
- Agarwal A, et al. Clinical relevance of oxidative stress in male factor infertility. American Journal of Reproductive Immunology. 2008;59:2.
- Hall E, et al. Male fertility: Psychiatric considerations. Fertility and Sterility. 2012;97:434.
- Moyad M. Heart health = urologic health and heart unhealthy = urologic unhealthy: Rapid review of lifestyle changes and dietary supplements. The Urologic Clinics of North America. 2011;38:359.
- The effects of workplace hazards on male reproductive health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/malrepro.html. Accessed April 17, 2015.
- Kumar S, et al. Lifestyle factors in deteriorating male reproductive health. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology. 2009;47:615.
- Swerdloff RS, et al. Evaluation of male infertility. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 28, 2015.
- Cooper TG, et al. World Health Organization reference values for human semen characteristics. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/infertility/human_repro_upd/en. Accessed April 17, 2015.
- Chiu YH, et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic. Human Reproduction. In press. Accessed April 21, 2015.
- Olive DL. Exercise and fertility: An update. Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2010;22:259.
- Hornstein MD, et al. Optimizing natural fertility in couples planning pregnancy. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 28, 2015.