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Cold Plunge for Improved Fertility?

A cold plunge, ice bath, cold water immersion – whatever you like to call it, the trend of getting chilly in the name of health and wellness has taken the world by storm over the last couple of years. But could this practice help support male fertility? Here we’re plunging into the world of cold watery therapy and exploring its impact on sperm health.

 

What is cold water therapy?

From Wim Hoff to Joe Wicks, some of the leading faces in men’s health have brought cold water therapy – or taking a cold plunge – to the mainstream over the last few years. But what does the practice actually involve?

Well, this is one of those cases when it does exactly what it says on the tin (or ice bath). Cold plunging involves submerging yourself in cold water. This can be done by jumping in an ice bath or plunge pool and submerging yourself up to the neck, or some people might decide to get the same health benefits by swimming in cold sea water or a swimming pool. When it comes to how cold the water needs to be, some studies suggest that you only really start to see the benefits when water is 11–15ºC (51–59ºF) and you soak for at least 11 minutes.

Whilst this practice has ancient origins (the Greeks used to love a bit of cryotherapy) it has become increasingly popular in modern times with athletes or men simply looking to optimise their health.

 

What are the benefits of cold plunging?

Ice bath evangelists like Wim Hoff make all sorts of claims about the power of a cold plunge, but some of the most solid benefits of the practice seem to be:

 

Can cold plunging help with male fertility issues?

With the long list of potential health benefits, it’s understandable that men may see cold plunging as something that could help their fertility, but is it worth adding the practice to your preconception plan?

Well, to talk about this, we first need a reminder of the impact of heat on sperm health.

Heat and sperm health

The importance of keeping testicles cool is well-documented in male fertility studies. Sperm production is temperature dependent with testicles working their best at a temperature of 2–4°C below the general body temperature – which is why your balls hang low outside of your body!

Numerous external factors – such as posture, clothing, lifestyle, fever and season of the year – can affect the temperature of the scrotum and may have an impact on sperm quality. Some research even indicates that sperm health is better in the Winter and Spring months when the temperatures are lower.
Some studies have indicated that heat damage can affect sperm health parameters including motility and count. In fact, each 1°C increase in testicular temperature leads to a 14% decrease in spermatogenesis (sperm production).
Men trying to conceive will often try many ways to keep their testicles cool and improve their sperm health – including wearing underwear with ice packs in them – so could cold water immersion offer another avenue for reducing heat damage?

 

Cold plunge and sperm health

Whilst logically, plunging your balls into cold water will definitely keep them cool, there is currently little evidence to prove that this is an effective practice for improving your sperm health. In fact, some studies indicate that cold water immersion could actually negatively impact another crucial aspect of male fertility – your testosterone levels. A 1991 study found that cold water therapy decreased testosterone by 10%. In more recent times, a 2007 study indicated that even brief exposure to cold can lower testosterone levels.

However, there is some research to indicate that reducing your exposure to hot water – in the shower or a hot tub – could help your swimmers out. In one study, researchers analysed guys who regularly took hot baths or used hot tubs to unwind for more than 30 minutes a week. During the study, they stopped exposing themselves to these hot water practices and saw a nearly 500% increase in their sperm count!

 

The best ways to support your sperm health

So cold plunges may not hold the key to unlocking optimum fertility, but if you are keen to protect your sperm from heat damage, there are a few things you can do.

  • Make sure to keep technology – like mobile phones and laptops – away from your crotch
  • Avoid saunas and hot tubs
  • Wear looser boxer shorts so your testicles aren’t as restricted
  • Try to avoid sitting down all day – if your job involves sitting at a desk or driving for long periods, try to get out for a walk a couple of times a day
  • Ejaculating regularly so that your swimmers aren’t hanging out in your testicles for too long

 

It’s also important to support your sperm health in other ways including:

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet full of whole foods and vegetables
  • Exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding toxins like cigarette smoke and harmful endocrine-disrupting chemicals
  • Taking supplements that have been specifically created to support male fertility – our ExSeed Multi and ExSeed Omega can help with that!

 

If you’re keen to understand your sperm health but aren’t ready for a trip to the fertility clinic, our completely at-home sperm test is a great place to start!

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Wearing tight pants and underwear

Studies show that men who wear looser underwear have higher sperm concentration and total sperm count compared to men who wear tighter underwear. So, lose the tight clothes and wear something loose to give your testicles some air.

CONCLUSION: learn more about how heat can affect sperm quality here.

Stress

Besides higher mortality rate and various diseases, stress is associated with low sperm quality. Stress is known to be associated with lower testosterone levels and oxidative stress with both playing an essential role in producing and maintaining healthy sperm cells.

CONCLUSION: If you feel stressed, we recommend you get some help so you can have a balanced mental health. For a stress management guide, download the ExSeed app for free and start your personalized action plan today.

Physical activity

Scientific studies show that men who are physically active have better semen parameters than men who are inactive. Fertility specialists also state that regular physical activity has beneficial impact on sperm fertility parameters and such a lifestyle can enhance the fertility status of men.

Prioritizing exercise can help improve your overall health and result in healthy, fast swimming sperm cells that have good chances of fertilizing an egg.

CONCLUSION: Try incorporating exercise in your weekly schedule to you ensure exercising at least twice weekly. We recommend a combination of cardio training and strength exercise. Read more about exercise and male fertility on our blog.

Nutrition

Fast Food
Processed foods damage the health of sperm-producing cells and cause oxidative stress, which lead to poorer sperm quality. Heavy consumption of junk food (every week) can increase the likelihood of infertility since men who consume vast amounts of unhealthy food are at risk of having poor sperm quality. Besides harming your fertility, junk food enlarges your waistline, harms your cardiovascular system, kidneys, and more.

Vegetables
Eating more fruit and vegetables can increase your sperm concentration and motility. It’s important that you consume a healthy diet filled with antioxidants and that you eat vegetables every day. Foods such as apricots and red bell peppers are high in vitamin A, which improves male fertility by nurturing healthier sperm. Men who are deficient in this vitamin tend to have slow and sluggish sperm.

Sugary snacks/beverages: several times a week Excessive consumption of high sugar items can lead to oxidative stress, which negatively impacts testosterone levels and sperm motility. Sugary snacks and beverages are also highly associated with obesity and low fertility.
CONCLUSION: To boost sperm quality, stay away from fast food, processed food, and sugary snacks or beverages. You need to implement a healthy prudent diet filled with necessary superfoods needed for good sperm production. Check out our guide to Male Fertility Superfoods. For personalized guidance and support on how you can start improving your sperm health, check out the Bootcamp.

Heat

Direct heat can inhibit optimal sperm production and cause Sperm DNA damage. Sperm cells like environments that are a couple of degrees lower than body temperature. Avoid overheating from warm blankets, seat warmers, heat from your laptop, hot showers, and saunas.

Cigarette smoking

The exposure to tobacco smoke has significant negative effects on semen quality. The damage of cigarettes and nicotine of course depends on how many cigarettes you smoke per day and for how long, but even low usage (up to 10 cigarettes / day) can inhibit healthy sperm production.  

CONCLUSION: Stay as far away from cigarette smoking as possible if you care about your general health and your fertility. Read more here.

Cell phone

When you have your cell phone in your front pocket, your testicles are exposed to electromagnetic radiation, which studies have shown to damage the sperm cells. Put your phone in the back pocket of your pants or in your jacket pocket.

BMI

There is a clear association between obesity and reduced sperm quality. At least part of the reason for this is that obese men may have abnormal reproductive hormonal profiles, which can impair sperm production and lead to infertility. 

A BMI higher than 30 can lead to several processes in the body (overheating, increase in oxidative stress in the testes, sperm DNA damage, erectile dysfunction) that can have a negative impact on male fertility. This can result in problems when trying to conceive.  

CONCLUSION: BMI is one of the risk factors that influence semen quality and, for example, sperm motility.  

Alcohol

A beer or glass of wine now and then do not really harm sperm quality. But excess alcohol drinking (more than 20 units per week) can reduce the production of normally formed sperm needed for a successful pregnancy.

CONCLUSION: If you want to stay safe, stay under 14 units of alcohol per week. For more information on how alcohol can affect male fertility, take a look at our blog: “Alcohol and Sperm Quality”.

Age

Studies show that women younger than 35 and men younger than 40 have a better chance of getting pregnant. Men can produce sperm cells almost through their entire life, but the sperm cell DNA is more fragile and prone to damage after the age of 40.

As men age, their testes tend to get smaller and softer resulting in a decline in sperm quality and production. These changes are partly because of an age-related decrease in testosterone level, which plays a very important role in sperm

production. Higher male age (>40 years) is not only associated with a decline in sperm production but also with increased sperm DNA fragmentation and worsened morphology (shape) and motility (movement). These negative effects make the sperm cells less qualified for egg fertilization.

CONCLUSION: with an age under 40, you shouldn’t have to worry much about age as a factor in itself. However, studies have shown a slow decline after the age of 30-35 years

and if you are above 40 years of age, your sperm quality can be affected due to increased sperm DNA damage resulting in a decrease of sperm motility and concentration. Remember that you cannot evaluate the quality of a sperm sample by just looking at it – this requires a sperm analysis.