Sperm count is a huge factor in male fertility – and we’ve lost count of the number of questions we get about it from our community! We’ve wrapped up everything we know about sperm count in this blog, so if you’re struggling with a low count you can understand the facts and your options.
What is a normal sperm count?
When we talk about sperm count we are talking about the number of sperm cells in your semen. Depending on how you are measuring it, you might talk about sperm count per millimetre or ejaculate. Technically speaking ‘sperm concentration’ refers to the number of sperm per unit volume (millilitre) of semen. The total sperm count is the total number of sperm in the entire ejaculate.
The range of what is ‘normal’ regarding count is pretty huge. Normal sperm densities can range from 15 million to over 200 million sperm cells per millilitre of semen!
Generally, the lower your count, the lower your chances of conceiving. But there are lots of other factors at play including sperm motility and DNA Fragmentation. Count alone doesn’t really tell the whole story.
However, if you have fewer than 15 million sperm per millilitre or less than 39 million sperm per ejaculate, this is classed as a ‘low sperm count’. If you have no sperm cells at all, this is known as Azoospermia.
What causes a low sperm count?
Many factors can lead to a low count – but the good news is that many of them are reversible!
Certain foods are the enemy of sperm health – and could be one of the causes of low sperm count. If your diet contains lots of foods that are processed, high in sugar or trans fats, try to cut them down. Focusing on eating a Mediterranean Diet is a great place to start when supporting your sperm.
Research shows that overweight men are 11% more likely to have a low sperm count compared to men with a healthy BMI. Likewise, obese men were 42% more likely to have a low sperm count than their normal-weight peers and 81% more likely to produce no sperm – so keeping your weight in an optimal range is important if you are hoping to start a family.
We know that smoking, taking drugs and drinking alcohol excessively are not good for our overall well-being – and these things could also have an impact on your sperm health.
Research has indicated that poor sleep quality can play a role in reduced sperm count. Now, before you get excited thinking that lie-ins equal a improved sperm , the study seemed to show that men who slept too little or too much were both affected.
Sperm cells tend to die when they are exposed to too much heat – which can obviously play a part in lowering your count. If you’ve been hitting the saunas and hot tubs, wearing tight underwear or doing lots of sport that crushes your balls for extended periods of time (aka cycling) this could be part of the reason your sperm count is low.
Certain medical conditions can result in low sperm count – and these are sometimes harder to resolve than lifestyle factors. These include varicoceles (which can sometimes be dealt with through a simple operation) and genetic disorders including Klinefelter Syndrome.
If you are struggling with low sperm count, you are not alone – this is a global problem! In 1992 the British Medical Journal published a Danish study into the decline of sperm quality between 1940 and 1990. They reported a 50% decrease in average sperm counts.
A more recent large meta-study reviewing data from research all over the world also found that sperm count is definitely dropping. Between 1973 and 2011, sperm counts have decreased 50-60%. That’s around a 1% decrease per year.
This general decline in sperm health is thought to be down to the changes in our modern society. There is more pollution in the air, we are leading more sedentary lives and there are fewer nutrients in the foods that we eat.
How can I improve my sperm count?
If you suspect that your poor sperm health is down to lifestyle factors, there are many things you can do to improve it, including:
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing your alcohol intake
- Reducing the amount of processed or sugary foods you are eating
- Eating more sperm superfoods like oily fish, grains, berries and dark leafy greens – and generally more whole foods
- Reaching a healthy weight if your BMI is high
- Take supplements that include nutrients like zinc, and selenium, (our ExSeed Multi fertility supplement can help with that)
- Ensuring you’re getting enough Omega-3 in your diet (oily fish is great for that!) and top up your levels with a good Omega-3 supplement if needed
- Wear looser boxer shorts to keep your testicles cooler
- Make sure your phone and laptop are kept away from your testicles to reduce heat exposure
- Make sure you’re getting 8 hours of sleep a night
- Reducing your exposure to toxins and plastics
Can I get pregnant with a low sperm count?
Even if you are unable to improve your sperm count through lifestyle changes, it is possible to conceive with a low count – it might just be a little harder.
It’s always worth continuing to try to conceive naturally – it only takes one good swimmer after all! But it might be advised to consider fertility treatments – especially if you have been trying for a while or you are concerned about time-sensitive factors like age.
Men with few sperm can benefit from assisted fertility treatments such as ICSI, where embryologists can find and select a strong sperm cell and insert it directly into the egg.
If your sperm count is extremely low or non-existent, it might be worth considering using a sperm donor. This might be a difficult concept to get your head around at first, but donor sperm has helped many men become fathers and couples become families, so it is definitely worth looking into and checking out the Knackered Knackers community run by our mate and donor dad Shaun!
Proactive Sperm Testing
It’s so important to test proactively to understand whether your count is impacting your fertility journey. Our at-home sperm test makes it easier than ever to get to know your swimmers and tests three key factors – count, motility and volume – to give you a Total Motile Sperm Count score. Based on your results our app will then advise you on the next steps, be that improving your lifestyle or seeking emotional advice.
You can learn more about the ExSeed completely at-home sperm test here!