Your sperm: and how to look after them
You don’t often think about fertility or the health of your sperm until it comes time to start a family. For the best chances of starting a healthy pregnancy you need to make large numbers of sperm that are good swimmers, and that ‘know’ how to fertilise the egg when they arrive. Sperm also has to contain genetic information (DNA) in good condition. Having regular sex also helps!
Whether young or old, with a current partner or not, you should be looking to protect your fertility so that natural conception can happen when you’re ready to have children. In about half of cases where couples have trouble getting pregnant naturally, the problem lies with men. In many cases, there are no treatments to correct poor sperm production, blockages to sperm tubes or when couples have difficulty having sex, which means that assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment are needed.
There are certain things that you can also do to protect your fertility, protect your partner’s fertility and lessen the chances of needing IVF treatments in the future.
And don’t forget, it ‘takes two to tango’, so taking into account your partner’s age is important when starting a family as a woman’s fertility levels naturally drop after the age of 35.
Your chances of fathering a child may be better if you pay attention to your overall health, which means:
- Exercising regularly
- Having a healthy diet
- Watching your weight
- Not smoking
Can smoking affect my fertility?
Smokers beware! Tobacco smoking is a well known major cause of many health problems, including lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease. But there is another reason to QUIT!
Smoking cigarettes also reduces your fertility – heavy smokers produce up to 20 per cent fewer sperm, and it may increase the number of abnormally shaped sperm, making it harder for sperm to fertilise the egg.
New evidence shows that the sperm DNA (genetic material) is damaged by the chemicals in tobacco smoke – this may lower the chance of a healthy pregnancy and may affect your child’s future health.
Does drinking alcohol affect my sperm?
Drinking alcohol is a part of daily life for some people and drinking in moderation is not harmful to fertility.
However, binge drinking and regular heavy drinking can harm your health. Drinking heavily may cause liver problems, and affect a whole range of body functions including sexual and reproductive function. Also, drinking heavily, even if there is no damage to the liver, may damage the function of the testicles.
Is being overweight affecting my sperm health?
The number of overweight and obese men in Australia is rapidly rising. Studies show that obese men are less fertile than men of normal weight, have lower sperm counts and fewer sperm that can swim well. Men who are very obese are particularly at risk. We are not sure why this happens but changes in hormone levels and too much heat around the scrotum may play a part. Weight loss may improve fertility but we can’t be sure to what degree.
Should I be watching what I eat?
‘You are what you eat’ and having a healthy diet is important for general health and wellbeing, especially when trying to start a family. Sometimes, foods such as pumpkin seeds, parsley, as well as vitamins such as zinc, vitamin E and B12 and various antioxidants are promoted as improving fertility in men.
There is no strong scientific evidence to show that specific foods or other natural therapies improve fertility. So by all means eat healthily, but don’t rely on eating a handful of nuts a day to strengthen your sperm.
A healthy lifestyle will also improve your quality of life and that of your family, so it’s a win-win situation for all!
For more information on the effects of lifestyle on fertility visit the Your Fertility website, brought to you by the Fertility Coalition: VARTA, Andrology Australia, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health and the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Institute.