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