Improving Male Fertility
In up to one-third of cases, couples experience infertility due to male factors. While many conditions that cause infertility don’t have obvious symptoms, there are some steps that men can take to improve fertility proactively. Some of the most common reasons for male infertility include low sperm count, low sperm motility, and varicoceles.
1. Low sperm count
Also called oligospermia, low sperm count means that a man produces a lower-than-average number of sperm. There may be no signs or symptoms of having low sperm count. However, sometimes oligospermia or azoospermia, the absence of sperm, can be associated with low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, pain and swelling in the testicle area, or hormonal imbalances.
Anything less than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen is considered low. While low sperm count can lead to male factor infertility, many men with low sperm count do go on to father children.
What can you do for low sperm count?
There are some steps that men can take to increase sperm count. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and reducing stress have all been linked to higher sperm counts. In contrast, smoking has been consistently linked to lower sperm count. Some foods may even increase sperm, such as walnuts, bananas, citrus fruits, leafy greens, and dark chocolate, to name a few.
2. Sperm motility
Sperm motility refers to the ability of the sperm to move efficiently and fertilize an egg. Poor sperm motility can lead to difficulties getting pregnant. Also called asthenozoospermia, poor sperm movement is diagnosed when less than 32% of sperm moves efficiently.
How to increase sperm motility
Minimizing stress, exercising regularly, and practicing healthy habits are all linked to increased fertility. Some specific supplements may also help. In one study, infertile men who took 1,000 mg twice daily of vitamin C saw a 92% increase in sperm motility.
Varicocele is an enlargement of the veins in the scrotum, somewhat similar to a varicose vein. Though not all varicoceles affect fertility, the swelling is often associated with low sperm count or decreased sperm quality. In many cases, varicoceles cause no symptoms at all. In some cases, the condition may be associated with discomfort or pain that increases with physical activity and goes away with rest.
Varicoceles sometimes don’t require treatment. However, if the condition is causing pain or infertility, some men may opt for surgery to repair the varicocele. The surgery is often an outpatient procedure and patients typically experience minimal pain and recovery time.
What can you do for varicocele?
Varicoceles affect around 15% of men and are found in around 35-44% of infertile men. There are no known risk factors for varicoceles, but being overweight or leading an unhealthy lifestyle may increase risk. For the best chances of increasing fertility, men should focus on exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, getting adequate rest, and eating a well-balanced diet.
Infertility treatment options
In the presence of male factor infertility, couples still have options for getting pregnant. Many couples benefit from the use of assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Using donor sperm may also be a desirable option for some couples. Couples struggling with infertility can talk to a fertility specialist about the best treatment options.