Unless you’re trying to start a family or avoid pregnancy, you’re probably not thinking too much about sperm — but there’s actually a lot to consider when it comes to these tailed reproductive cells. For starters, men make billions of them. In fact, Live Science states that a healthy adult male can release between 40 million and 1.2 billion sperm cells in a single ejaculation — which is about the volume of half a teaspoon. (This size varies from man to man.) That’s a lot of little swimmers!
The issue? Not all men are producing a healthy amount of sperm, and many might not be asking questions about their sperm health. What really affects your sperm count, and what actually happens if it is lower than normal? Read on to discover 10 scary things about sperm count that you might not have known.
1. You Need Millions of Them
According to Dr. Craig Niederberger of the University of Illinois, 90 percent of sperm are deformed (for example, they might have two heads, two tails, etc.), and only about half of your swimmers can move in a straight line. (The others swim in circles or just bob along aimlessly.) All this is to say that very few are equipped for the lengthy trek to the egg and fertilization. That’s why you need so dang many of them.
According to the director of male reproductive and sexual medicine at Columbia University Medical Center Dr. Peter Stahl, “Sperm count refers to the total number of sperm in one ejaculation, which is determined by multiplying the sperm concentration (millions of sperm per milliliter) by the semen volume (milliliters of semen ejaculated). Men should have at least 40 million total sperm in each ejaculation.” No pressure.
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2. Worldwide Sperm Count Has Dropped
According to a recent study, sperm counts in men in America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have dropped by more than 50 percent in the past 40 years. Researchers also said the rate of decline is not slowing. According to Scientific American, both of these findings, which are comprised of various studies — suggest a potential overall decline in male health and fertility. The analysis didn’t probe reasons for the decline, but Hagai Levine, who helped lead the research at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community, warned, “This study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp ongoing drop in sperm count.”
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3. Heat Is Harmful
The guys on “Hot Tub Time Machine” probably weren’t pondering the fate of their sperm production when they boozed it up in a ski-resort hot tub. But, basically, heat is a bad idea for a hearty sperm count. According to prostate.net, testicles need to be about seven degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the rest of the body for sperm to stay healthy. Board-certified urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt elaborates, “Your testicles like to stay cooler than the rest of your body. Soaking in hot tubs or putting high heat on them, like placing a laptop on your lap for a long period of time, can affect the temperature, which can affect its production of sperm.”
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4. Your Heart Health Affects Your Count
According to a large study presented at ENDO 2018: The Endocrine Society Annual Meeting, low sperm count is a marker of poor general health — including poor cardiovascular health. The study also found that men with low sperm count had a higher systolic pressure (the top blood pressure number that measures the pressure in your arteries during the contraction of your heart muscle), higher “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol. Urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt says, “We know, as a whole, our population is getting more overweight and has higher blood pressure. The new American Heart Association guidelines support this. This is causing an increase in complications like heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, etc. We need to improve our lifestyle habits today for the benefit of our future generations.”
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5. Metabolic Issues Mean Less Sperm
Obesity can do a number on your sperm count. The ENDO 2018 study also found that men who had low sperm counts were 1.2 times more likely than those with normal sperm counts to have greater body fat (i.e., a bigger waistline and higher body mass index). Urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt elaborates, “Thirty-three percent of obese men have low sperm count, and 7 percent had no sperm counts. As you lose weight, your counts will naturally improve.” Urologist Dr. Arash Akhavein of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles adds, “A lower sperm count has been shown to be associated with (and not the cause of) increased body fat, elevated ‘bad’ cholesterol, diabetes, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease risk.”
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6. Low Bone Mass Reduces Your Count
According to Science Daily, a study done by the Endocrine Society linked low sperm count to low bone mass. Specifically, the study found a twelvefold increased risk for hypogonadism (low testosterone levels). Half of the men with low testosterone levels also had either osteoporosis or low bone mass on a bone-density scan. So, paying attention to your swimmers' health (or lack thereof) can point to larger health issues.
“Sperm production wants to run hard and fast. So if it’s low, then something’s preventing this from happening,” says board-certified urologist Dr. Paul Turek. “On the other hand, if a man’s sperm count is normal, then he’s doing something right. Basically, the sperm count is a ‘biomarker,’ or indicator of the health of its owner.” The best ways to boost bone density? Consuming calcium, eating foods rich in vitamins C, D and K, lifting weights and avoiding excess caffeine.
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7. Stress Is a Major Factor
When you’re stressed out, your sperm count suffers just as much as your mental health. According to a study lead by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, men who feel stressed are more likely to have lower concentrations of sperm in their ejaculate. Additionally, the sperm they do have are more prone to be deformed or have impaired motility (otherwise known as the ability to move around). Board-certified urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt explains, “Stress hinders your swimmers from doing their job. If you’re always stressed out, your body will focus on its vital organs, which can alter your hormones. Each testicle may be left to fend on its own while your body works hard to decrease the stress.”
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8. Lighting Up Lowers Your Fertility
We all know that smoking isn’t the best habit to have for promoting health. Besides damaging your lungs, putting stress on your heart and leading to various types of cancer, smoking can also negatively impact your fertility. According to board-certified urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, “Smokers, including excess marijuana smokers, produce 22 percent less sperm than nonsmokers. Their sperm are also slower and smaller.” He adds, “Some theorize smoking can decrease your prostate’s ability to produce secretions. Others believe it’s the potential nerve damage that affects ejaculate. Regardless of whether you have problems or not — stopping smoking is better for your health.”
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9. Bacon Is Bad News for Your Boys
As delicious as bacon is, those few strips you enjoy with your eggs, on your burger, wrapped around your ribeye and on top of your pizza are not the best idea if you’re hoping to boost your sperm count. In a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that eating processed meat — hamburgers, hot dogs, salami, bologna and bacon — was associated with lower sperm count. And according to the same researchers who conducted an additional study for Harvard, men who consume an excessive amount of processed meat had 23 percent lower sperm quality than guys who ate it in small quantities. According to board-certified urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, “Fast food and an overall poor diet is bad for your sperm count.” He suggests, “To improve your sperm count and quality, increase your greens, fruits and veggies.” Easier said than done.
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10. STIs Spell Trouble for Sperm
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), do more than keep your sex life out of commission while you get treated. They can also drastically lower your sperm count and diminish your chances of having kids. According to ColumbiaDoctors urologist Dr. Peter Stahl, “Gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause epididymitis — an inflammation of the coiled tube (epididymis) at the back of the testicle that stores and carries sperm — which can result in scarring and obstruction. In some cases, that can result in bilateral (i.e., affecting both sides) complete obstructions and zero sperm counts.” Board-certified urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt adds, “I’ve seen guys with urethral strictures (limitations) who make enough sperm, but it’s not all able to come out past the strictures in the urethra. And, yes, there is some research showing STIs can affect sperm production. It’s best to protect yourself against any STIs by wearing a condom. Safe sex is always better!”
What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever had your sperm count checked? Did any of these things ever affect it? Have you made any lifestyle changes to try to get it back up? Let us know in the comments below.