Men's Health, Pregnancy | November 30, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Sperm count is a measure of fertility. For sperm cells, conception is a race to fertilise an ovum and greater numbers put the odds on your side. Sperm count below 20 million per mL of semen is considered to be “low” and being at the higher end of the “normal” range is best if you're trying to conceive .
A 2012 study of 4,867 men showed that only 23% of participants had optimal sperm numbers and concentration .
Don't worry – it's easy to boost sperm production with natural therapies.
First, here's a run-through of what occurs during sperm production and what can go wrong:
Sperm cells are little packets of genetic material with a flagella (a kind of “tail”) to propel them to their target, the ovum. These sperm cells are produced within the tiny tubes of the testes from germ cells, and sertoli cells foster their growth and development.
But the story of sperm begins in the brain. The pituitary gland within the brain releases luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to trigger sperm production in the testes. The germ cells within the tubes of the testes respond to this signal and begin to divide multiple times until they produce immature sperm cells called spermatids .
These divisions occur close to sertoli cells which give the immature sperm cells structural and metabolic support. They secrete substances that create a happy environment for sperm production, protect the sperm from immune attacks, and send hormonal messages to the pituitary gland. If you want to enhance sperm production, you have to take care of your sertoli cells!
Testes produce up to 300 million immature sperm cells per day, but only half of these become viable sperm. A sperm cell takes ~75 days to mature – any changes you make now will improve your sperm count within 2 – 3 months.
Sperm cells move through more tubes within the testes as they mature, and then swim through the epididymis, the vans deferens, through the groin and into the pelvis where they finally reach the prostate.
The prostate gland is partly responsible for producing fluid that mixes with the sperm to create semen before ejaculation .
NOTE: Sperm numbers are not everything! Sperm need to have healthy “morphology” - they must be normally shaped, able to swim in a sustained forward motion, and they need to have the type of metabolic activity that promotes longevity, speed and endurance. The most robust and undamaged the DNA within the sperm cell, the greater the chance of conception and healthy offspring .
The quality of the seminal fluid, its mineral content and viscosity is also essential for conception .
There is a lot that can go wrong on the sperm's long journey from development to maturity. Anything that impacts the secretions of the pituitary gland all the way to the act of ejaculation can injure cell numbers and morphology and reduce your sperm count.
1. Hormones: Looking at the big picture, the pituitary gland and hormonal signalling pathways need to be healthy and responsive for sperm to be produced in adequate numbers. All hormones interplay with each other – from sex hormones like testosterone through to stress hormones, thyroid hormones, and even the ones that regulate blood sugar. Stress is the most common cause of hormone imbalances, followed by obesity and endocrine conditions such as diabetes mellitus .
2. Temperature: The temperature of the testes needs to be maintained at an ideal 34°C during sperm development.
The ideal temp is actually quite a bit colder than 37°C body temperature – that's why the testes are located outside the body and have a very tightly controlled blood supply.
Relaxing in a hot tub or sauna, wearing tight underwear or damaging the testes blood vessels (e.g. by smoking) can halt sperm production .
3. Nutritional Insufficiencies: A nutritional deficiency will almost certainly impede sperm production, but did you know that missing just a little bit of a key nutrient will also slow down the process? A healthy diet full of fresh vegetables, whole grains, fruits and healthy fats can help to boost sperm production and supplements can help to fill any nutritional gaps during preconception. We'll talk about specific nutrients in a moment!
4. Oxidative Stress: Any kind of oxidative stress can cause damage to the DNA and reduce the number and quality of sperm being produced. Exposure to pesticides, cigarettes, recreational and some prescription drugs, x-rays and alcohol can significantly bring down sperm numbers . Excessive exercise, infection, surgery or a diet low in antioxidants can cause a huge spike in oxidative stress, too.
5. Stagnation: New research suggests that ejaculating daily can increase the number and quality of sperm . Sperm that hangs around too long is subject to oxidative attacks and DNA damage. Daily ejaculation “clear out” the old sperm to make way for the new, fresh cells and regular sex increases chances of conception.
Cigarettes, alcohol and even coffee have been shown to impair sperm production. Get help to kick your bad habits and be sure to reward yourself along the way. Avoiding heat to the testes is just as important – opt for loose underwear and stay away from hot baths and saunas. Any changes you make now will have a huge impact on the health of your sperm, the quality of your DNA, and likelihood of conception in 2 – 3 months. 
The testes hold a huge concentration of zinc – almost as much as the kidneys and liver. Both sperm and testosterone production require huge amounts of this essential trace mineral. Low levels of zinc will zap your testosterone levels, increase sperm damage from oxidative stress, and can lead to hormonal imbalances .
As well as increasing the number of sperm produced, zinc also improves the quality of the cells – it is found in the mitochondria and the flagella (the funny tail-looking bit) . Too much may cause problems with “swimming” though, so stick to a moderate dose of 30mg per day during pre-conception.
There is some evidence that cadmium exposure (mostly from cigarette smoking) can become toxic in the testes when it interacts with zinc . Quit the cigarettes before taking supplements and speak to a nutritionist if you have any concerns.
In its form as retinol or retinoic acid, vitamin A acts as a regulator of sperm cell division and sperm count . Beta-carotene is a great source of pre-vitamin A and a potent antioxidant that can be found in brightly coloured red and orange vegetables and fruits. Astaxanthin is a highly active carotenoid with a high affinity for sperm health and protecting DNA  – it's found in certain algae.
Extensive studies have shown that adequate levels of vitamin B12 can boost sperm numbers and quality . Vitamin B12 is involved in the metabolism of almost all cells in the body and is required for DNA synthesis. Broken DNA leads to lower numbers of mature sperm, so get your B12 checked and take a supplement if needed.
Folate works alongside vitamin B12 in the methylation of DNA and supplementation has been shown to improve the quality and concentration of sperm . Both vitamin B12 and folate are found in good quality preconception care supplements.
Click Here For Article on Methylation
Tribulus is a tropical herb that is popular in bodybuilding and fitness circles for its androgen-enhancing actions. Extracts have been shown to boost sperm production by improving testosterone levels and, as a bonus, taking Tribulus may also increase your libido .
Korean red ginseng is used as a sexual tonic for men to supercharge libido, improve energy and stamina.
A recent study showed that supplementing with Korean ginseng extract resulted in higher sperm concentrations with better morphology – healthier sperm and more of them! 
Exercise can help to keep your BMI in the optimal fertility range, burn through stress hormones, keep your mood up, and enhance libido. Too much exertion can contribute to inflammation and oxidative stress, so keep it moderate and consistent. A word of warning – avoid exercise that may stress or impact your tests. We're looking at you, cyclists!
Remember: Any changes you make now will have a huge impact on the number, quality and health of your sperm in 2 – 3 months. Speak to a qualified nutritionist or naturopath for personalised advice.
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