Episode 99: Answering your questions about male infertility

In this episode, Dr Bahijja answers your questions about male infertility with Dr Sarah Martins da Silva, Clinical Lecturer in Reproductive Medicine at the University of Dundee.

How can you increase your sperm count?

When considering how to increase sperm count, it’s important to know what can decrease it. Dr Martins da Silva highlights that smoking, alcohol, obesity, and poor diet can all reduce sperm count. It is uncertain as to whether caffeine is beneficial or harmful, as adding pure caffeine to sperm in a lab environment boosts their ability to swim, however, drinks that are loaded with caffeine and sugar are best to avoid when trying to increase sperm count. Scrotal temperature is also thought to have a role; ideally, testicles should be slightly cooler than the rest of the body, but excessive sitting can increase the scrotal temperature in a way that could harm sperm.

Taking supplements can be beneficial, but it’s important to consider whether they contain testosterone or steroid-like testosterone. Testosterone is important for building sperm, however taking in it supplement form stops the body from producing it naturally, causing sperm count to decrease overall.

More on smoking

“Oxidative stress is the key component” – Dr Martins da Silva

Smoking creates a hostile environment within the testes where high-energy reactive oxygen molecules attack the sperm, damaging the cell membrane and DNA. Sperm don’t have much ability in defending themselves against harmful agents, with very little cytoplasm – they have lots of lipids and fat in their membrane due to their need to swim, however, this makes them prone to damage by oxidative stress, which damages lipids.

Is mint harmful to sperm?

One study investigated the potential effects of spearmint on sperm count in adult male rats, suggesting that extremely high levels of the substance cause sperm count to slightly decrease, although not to a level of significance.

It’s important to note that the key transport channels in sperm, “catsper channels”, are different in rats, so this study can only offer an idea of what may happen in human sperm.

What is a healthy amount of sperm?

“16 million per mL or greater” – Dr Martins da Silva on a healthy sperm count

Having at least 16 million sperm per mL of semen has been identified as a healthy sperm count, however this doesn’t mean that lower sperm counts are comparable to sterility.

“1.5 mil or greater” – Dr Martins da Silva on a healthy ejaculate volume

Dr Martins da Silva points out that having more ejaculate fluid doesn’t necessarily mean more sperm – it usually means that there’s more prostatic secretions and seminal plasma. Having a low volume of ejaculate fluid may indicate a different issue, however, such as prostate problems and infections.

How does masturbation affect sperm?

“Sperm production is continuous” – Dr Martins da Silva

Masturbating more or less often won’t affect the amount of sperm produced, as it is a continuous process, but the intervals between ejaculation can affect sperm count and quality. For example, if there are long intervals between ejaculation, a larger volume of ejaculate may be produced, however, the sperm quality is poorer. On the other hand, with very frequent ejaculation (i.e., every day), the sperm count of each ejaculation is low. Dr Martins da Silva recommends having sex every 2-3 days for couples that are trying to conceive.

Dr Martins da Silva’s concluding comments

Dr Martins da Silva aims to put male infertility on the agenda and highlights that we so often emphasize contraception and avoiding pregnancy without also bringing light to issues surrounding fertility. She hopes that fertility awareness will eventually be as widespread within sex education.

Listen to the full episode here

Photo credits:

Nadezhda Moryak and Yigithan Bal from Pexels

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