10 ways to improve male fertility
Improve your fertility with these simple lifestyle changes.
Infertility is classified as a couple being unable to get pregnant after 12 months or more of having regular unprotected sex. Fertility issues in couples are more common than many of us realise, with around one in every seven couples being affected by fertility issues, a quarter of which being due to factors affecting men. While medical intervention may be necessary in many cases, male fertility can also be improved with healthy lifestyle changes.
What causes male infertility?
- Male fertility consists of multiple different functions, all of which can impact your ability to conceive.
- Here are some of the ways male fertility can be affected:
- Libido – This is the term for sex drive or desire to have sex. In some cases, low libido levels can indicate an underlying medical problem, such as reduced hormone levels, and may affect fertility.
- Erectile dysfunction – also referred to as impotence, this is the persistent difficulty to develop or maintain an erection. The causes of erectile dysfunction may be psychological or medical and can impact sexual performance and the ability to ejaculate.
- Sperm count - This refers to the number or concentration of sperm cells in a given amount of semen (the fluid released during ejaculation) and is an important aspect of semen quality.
- Sperm motility - This is measured as the percentage of moving sperm cells in a sample of semen. The ability of sperm cells to “swim” is crucial for them to reach the egg in order to fertilize it.
- Testosterone levels - This male sex hormone is crucial for male reproduction, affecting everything from sperm production to sex drive. Low levels of testosterone, or hypogonadism, can be responsible for infertility in some men.
- Problems with the testicles - If they are damaged from injury or infection, or are kept too warm due to environmental factors, sperm production and quality can be affected. There is also a condition called varicocele, a cluster of enlarged veins in testicles, which accounts for approximately 15% of cases of infertility in men.
- Lifestyle factors - There are many lifestyle factors which can affect fertility. Alcohol, drugs and even certain medications have all been shown to have a significant impact on fertility.
How can male fertility be improved?
Although male infertility will often need to be treated medically, there are things you can do to give your fertility a boost:
Have regular sex
It may seem obvious that regular sex is necessary in order to conceive, but how often you have sex can actually have an impact on sperm quality.
The traditional advice when it came to conceiving was that it was necessary to wait and ‘store up’ sperm for when the woman was ovulating, however, this theory has long been refuted. And waiting as long as possible to have sex could actually be detrimental as it can result in lower numbers of active, healthy sperm in the semen (1). Most fertility specialists suggest a couple trying to conceive have sex every day to every other day to give them the best chance.
Keep your testicles cool
There’s a reason the testicles hang outside of the body. In order to produce the best quality sperm, they need to be kept slightly cooler than the rest of the body, ideally around 34.5C which is slightly below body temperature (37C). Certain jobs such as being a chef or factory worker may result in a person being in hot environments for long periods of the day, therefore raising the temperature of the testicles.
If you are trying to conceive, here are a few things you can do to keep them cool:
- Avoid very hot showers and baths, saunas and jacuzzis
- Avoid sitting for long periods with a laptop on your lap
- Wear loose trousers and underwear
- Avoid cycling for long periods
Exercising not only improves overall mood and confidence, but it may also raise testosterone levels. Studies show that men who exercise regularly have higher testosterone levels and better semen quality than men who are inactive (2,3).
However, over-exercising can actually reduce testosterone levels so it is important not to overdo it. The NHS recommends being physically active every day, even for a short time, and incorporating strength training into your exercise plan - which has also been shown to boost testosterone (4). If you rarely exercise but want to improve your fertility, becoming more physically active is a good place to start.
Lose excess weight
The NHS suggests losing excess weight to improve sperm quality, and obesity has been shown to be associated with infertility (5). If you are overweight and struggling to conceive, losing excess weight would not only benefit your overall health but could help improve your fertility.
Eat a balanced diet
According to the NHS, eating a healthy, balanced diet is crucial for keeping your sperm in good quality. They recommend your diet include at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, unrefined carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread and pasta and healthy sources of protein such as lean meat, fish and pulses.
Ensure vitamin and mineral levels are within a healthy range
Studies suggest that nutrients such as C, D and zinc are important for fertility. Vitamin C has been shown to improve semen quality (6), whilst vitamin D could give testosterone levels a boost (7). Observational studies also show that low zinc levels in the body are associated with poor sperm condition, low testosterone and an increased risk of male infertility (8). If you are trying to conceive, ensuring you get enough of these nutrients could help. If you want to check your vitamin and minerals levels are within a healthy range, our Health and Lifestyle Blood Test includes tests for vitamin D and B12 as well as cholesterol and liver health.
Get enough sleep (but not too much!)
We all know sleep is important for health, but can too little sleep affect fertility? Whilst more research is needed in this area, studies have shown getting too little or too much sleep, as well as going to bed late, can have a negative impact on sperm health (9). Sleep will also improve mood and overall health, so it’s worth aiming for around eight hours per night to be on the safe side.
Limit alcohol intake
Regularly drinking alcohol above recommended levels can cause problems with fertility for both men and women. It can not only cause loss of interest in sex but also reduce testosterone levels and sperm quality and quantity (10).
The good news is these effects can be reversed if you cut down on the amount you drink and stick to the recommended guidelines of drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol per week.
Smoking can affect almost every aspect of male fertility, from sperm quality, count and motility, to the ability to get and maintain an erection. Not only this, but second-hand smoke can put the pregnant mother at risk (11).
As with alcohol, the negative effects of smoking can be improved and sometimes even reversed, so if you smoke, quitting is one of the most important things you can do for the health of you and your partner.
Try to de-stress
It might seem impossible, but it is important to try and keep stress to a minimum when trying to conceive. Stress can not only affect your relationship but can also lower your sex drive (libido). According to the NHS, severe stress can also hinder sperm production. So when trying to conceive, reducing the amount of stress in your life is important. It might also help to remember that conceiving naturally can take several months to a year, so if it hasn’t happened yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean it won't.
Are there tests for male infertility?
There are a number of things you can do to investigate your fertility. A good place to start is with a blood test. Medichecks Men’s Advanced Fertility Hormone Blood Test test is a simple finger-prick blood test you can do at home which will measure the amount of testosterone in the body, a crucial hormone for fertility.
There are other tests your doctor may wish to perform, such as a sperm test or semen analysis. This will analyze the sperm to see how well it is functioning. They may also carry out an ultrasound or biopsy of the testicles to look for any abnormalities.
Finally, it is worth considering sexual health tests, as previous STI’s are a cause of infertility in both men and women. It is therefore important to consider your sexual health when trying to conceive.
How is male infertility treated?
There are a number of ways male infertility is treated, these include:
- Surgery - for example, to remove a varicocele or clear a blockage.
- Medication or counselling - to help improve issues with erectile dysfunction.
- Antibiotics - to treat an infection of the reproductive tract.
- Hormone treatments - if there is a problem with your hormone levels that could be affecting fertility.
- Assisted reproductive technology (ART) - sperm is obtained from the man and inserted into the female genetical tract or used for in vitro fertilization.
Trying to conceive can be a stressful time for couples, particularly if it is taking longer than expected. If you or your partner are worried about conceiving, a simple fertility blood test is a good place to start. It is also advisable to see your doctor to discuss any concerns you have. You can read more about male and female fertility in our fertility guide.