Sperm are your body’s specialist cell designed to transport your DNA to your partner’s egg. You make new batches of sperm every three months and simple lifestyle changes can help you improve the quantity and quality of your sperm.
DNA damage (fragmentation) is usually caused by oxidative stress. Oxidative stress produces free radicals which attack the DNA molecule causing breaks in the DNA strands. Sperm DNA damage is often associated with underlying medical conditions (including: varicocele, infection or fever), or certain lifestyle choices (including: drinking, smoking or heat).
The power to improve your fertility is in your hands. A few lifestyle changes can make a difference to the quality of your sperm DNA:
Smoking over 20 cigarettes a day has been shown to reduce sperm count and motility. Tobacco contains over 4,000 ingredients and lots of them are toxic to sperm including cyanide, carbon monoxide, lead, cadmium and ammonia. One of the big problems with smoking is that it produces lots of ‘free radicals’ and these can kill sperm or make them dysfunctional. Smokers often have lower sperm counts, more abnormal looking sperm and slower swimmers. In one study, 42% of men who smoked couldn’t have a family compared to 28% of non-smokers.
Drinking more than 2 pints of beer or 1 large glass of wine a day increases your risk of infertility. Alcohol can reduce sperm count and motility. When starting a family, try to keep alcohol intake to a minimum for at least 3 months prior to trying for a baby. UK guidelines say that men trying for a baby shouldn’t drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a week.
Stress can limit sperm production and quality by producing free radicals, but one of the worst results of stress is it can put you off sex. Taking some of the stress out of your life can go a long way to improving your sperm quality.
Until recently, nobody thought age affected a man’s ability to father children. However, the latest figures show that men over 45 make up nearly a quarter of fertility consultations. Ageing causes sperm DNA damage. Even if your partner gets pregnant, this damage can cause both short and long-term problems for your child’s health.
Cannabis damages sperm in many ways. It slows sperm down and changes the way they act, making it harder for them to find the egg and to penetrate it when they do. Regular cannabis use over a few years can permanently reduce a man’s ability to make sperm.
Being overweight (having a body mass index of over 25) may affect the quality and quantity of your sperm. Regular exercise with healthy eating is essential to lose weight and maintain a balanced lifestyle.
Sperm production works best at a lower temperature than your normal body temperature (which is why the testes are where they are). So, if you increase your testicular heat, it’s bad for your sperm. If you wear compression shorts or tight underwear, spend all day sitting at a desk or even do lots of cycling, you can damage your sperm. Changing these habits can dramatically improve sperm production and quality.
Making sure you regularly eat a healthy balanced diet is important for healthy sperm. Just like you, sperm need lots of different nutrients to function properly. Your diet should have:
Lots of fruit and steamed vegetables
Some starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes and pasta
Some protein like meat, fish, eggs and beans
Some milk, yoghurt and cheese
Not too much fat, sugar or salt