Back when we were in high school if you asked how many sperm it took to get pregnant, the resounding answer was "ONE! It only takes one." And while yes, generally only one lucky sperm fertilizes the egg to make a baby, that sperm is quite literally 1 in 100 million.
When trying to conceive, the vaginal defense systems in place to keep everything healthy and infection free are all pointed at anything trying to get through the door - including sperm!From formation to fertilization, the sperm cell is in constant danger, so they need to hit the front lines by the millions to have even the smallest chance of conception.
Sperm Count & Pregnancy
It is hard to say exactly how many sperm you need to get pregnant, but here are a few rules of thumb.
More is better: Obviously right? Well, to whittle that down - a man's sperm count can be considered "Normal" if he has at least 15 million (M) sperm per milliliter (mL) of semen. However, studies have shown that to optimize the possibility of conception, sperm count should really be higher than 55M / mL!
Quality can make up for quantity: However, if a gentleman's count is on the lower end, he can make up for that with quality. Men who produce healthier sperm don't need as many to conceive. Healthy sperm are defined as those that have good motility (movement) and morphology (size and shape).
How low can you go? As sperm count goes down, chances of conceiving also go down. When sperm count dips below 10 M / mL, chances of conceiving naturally get pretty low, even when motility and morphology are within the normal range.
Suspecting that you have a low sperm count, a condition called oligospermia (ol-ih-go-SPUR-me-uh),can leave you feeling emotionally defeated. But that's when you need to buck up and put on your game face. Because sperm count can fluctuate quite a bit, it is important to measure sperm count more than once to really understand your baseline fertility. I encourage you to take the average of two tests that are done about a month apart. This will help establish a baseline so you understand what your average sperm count really is.
Low Sperm Count Causes & First Steps
If you find that your count is low, then it's time to evaluate what might be the cause and what can be done immediately to begin to rectify the situation. Many men with low sperm count fail to consider how their overall health and lifestyle choices can impact their ability to have a child.
Here are some behaviors you can identify easily and change now:
Heat: Did you know that high temperatures can reduce sperm count? Anything from sitting with a computer on your lap or taking a shower that's too hot can increase the temperate in the scrotum which in turn can damage sperm quality and reduce sperm production. Did I mention tight briefs? Maybe consider switching to boxers; briefs can cause the area to heat up as well.
Mobile Phones: The whole radiation story you hear about here and there may actually be true. A recent study coming out of the Carmel Medical Center in Israel, found that of men who carried their phone within 50cm of their groin – 47% of them had an abnormal sperm concentration. Of men who carried their phone more than 50cm away from their groin, just 11% had abnormal concentration. Enough of a concern I would think to move that cell phone out of the pants pocket!
Lack of sex: Did you know that abstaining from sex can actually decrease the sperm count? Not only that, it can actually cause the sperm to change its shape and become stale. And as a bonus, a healthy sex life can help to alleviate stress!
Alcohol & Smoking: Alcohol is one of the most common causes of infertility in men. Drinking alcohol decreases the testosterone levels which in turn reduces the sperm count. And alcohol's commonly found cohort, Mr. Tobacco, can actually cause impotence - not only reducing sperm count, but making a man infertile!There is no one set reason for a man to have a lowered sperm count.
The sperm count may be low because his genital area was exposed to heat, or he smokes or has excessive alcohol intake or maybe he's just over-worked, tired and out-of-shape.
Yes, sometimes it can be something else entirely, but more often than not, making easy life-style changes can get you back in the baby-making game and set up for a win!
What is the most common cause of male infertility?
The most common cause of male infertility is failure to produce enough sperm. 50 years ago the average sperm count was 113 million per ml and today it is about 70 million; the average sperm count is declining at an alarming rate and scientists are not sure what the exact cause is.
Scientists have identified that low sperm count can be caused by any number of other health issues and/or medical treatments. Today I'm going to take you through some of these.
Medical causesVaricocele: A varicocele (VAR-ih-koe-seel) is a swelling of the veins that drain the testicle. It's the most common reversible cause of male infertility with approximately 3 million cases seen per year. A varicocele may develop from a poorly functioning valve in the vein or possibly from compression of a vein from a nearby structure. Often, men experience no systems.
Infection: Some infections can interfere with sperm production / health and even block the passage of sperm. These include inflammation of the epididymis or testicles and some sexually transmitted infections.
Ejaculation problems: There are various health conditions that can cause abnormal ejaculation, including diabetes, spinal injuries, and surgeries of the general area (bladder, prostate or urethra). There is also a condition, called Retrograde ejaculation that occurs when semen enters the bladder during orgasm instead of emerging out of the tip of the penis. To make matters worse, some medications used to treat health problems may also contribute to the problem - such as blood pressure medications known as alpha blockers.
Hormone imbalances: The testicles, hypothalamus and pituitary all produce hormones that are required to create sperm. Deviations in these hormones, as well as from other systems such as the thyroid and adrenal gland, can hinder sperm production.
- Overheating the testicles: As we discussed, increasing the temperature of the scrotum is to be avoided. Sitting for long periods, wearing tight clothing or working with a computer on your lap can inhibit sperm production. Also frequent use of saunas or hot tubs could temporarily decrease sperm count as well.
- Chemicals & Heavy Metals: You name a chemical and it's probably on the list. But let's suffice it to say that extended exposure to herbicides, pesticides, mercury, boron, benzene, painting materials, lead and other heavy metals can cause infertility. Changing your cleaning chemicals and personal care products is a great way to ease the toxic burden on your body. Check out your products on the skindeep database here!
Health, lifestyle and other causesWeight : It's no fun being over-weight. In more ways than one, right? Being obese can directly impact sperm by causing hormone changes that lessen fertility.
Alcohol use. Drinking alcohol can lower testosterone levels and cause decreased sperm production.
Drug use. Anabolic steroids can cause the testicles to shrink and sperm production to decrease. Use of cocaine or marijuana can also reduce the number and quality of sperm as well
Tobacco smoking. Men who smoke often have a lower sperm count than those who don't smoke.
Emotional stress. Severe or prolonged emotional stress, including stress about fertility, can interfere with the hormones needed to produce sperm. Learn more about stress here and how diet, lifestyle and supplement recommendations can help!
So now with all of this information in your arsenal, you are probably wondering the likelihood of some of the above issues.
So let's go through what the numbers say: statistically about 30 percent of male infertility cases are thought to be caused by varicoceles; up to 20 percent are caused by infections, primarily sexually transmitted diseases (STDS) like chlamydia, herpes, syphilis and gonorrhea; about 7 percent are due to blockages in the reproductive organs; 5-7 percent are caused by genetic disorders and 2-5 percent are caused by a hormone imbalance.
Now if you've done your math - you'll see that we only accounted for about 70% of cases - that's because in the remaining 30 percent of cases the cause is never determined.
If you and your partner have been unable to conceive a child after a year of regular, unprotected intercourse it's time to go see a doctor and get things checked out.
Generally, for a male, your doctor will recommend a semen analysis.This test will not only help a doctor determine if a man is infertile, but it will also help establish if sperm dysfunction or low sperm count is the reason behind infertility.
How is Sperm Health Determined?
Determining a person's sperm health is a multifaceted process; there are a number of measurements that are considered in the analysis of semen.
First, your doctor will look at the concentration (also called density) -- how many sperm there are per cc or milliliter of semen (the fluid). Additionally, it is important to know how many cc of semen are present. So a count of 40 million sperm per cc with only 1cc of fluid may not be as good as a count with 18 million and 4cc. Generally doctor's like to see more than 20 million sperm per cc and 2-5cc of semen.
Another measurement to consider is what percentage of the sperm is moving forward progressively - referred to as sperm motility; 50 percent motility is considered normal. An automated system analyzes the sperm for movement and rates them on a scale of 0 to 4.A score of 0 means the sperm are not moving, and a score of 3 or 4 represents good movement.
The next factor is sperm morphology - what percentage of sperm appear to have normal shape and size.A normal result is that more than 50 percent of sperm are normally shaped. A laboratory may identify abnormalities in the sperm's head, midsection, or tail. It's also possible the sperm could be immature and therefore not able to effectively fertilize an egg.
A person's pH level is also checked.pH should be between 7.2 and 7.8 to achieve a normal result. A pH level higher than 8.0 could indicate the donor has an infection. A result less than 7.0 could indicate the specimen is contaminated or that the man's ejaculatory ducts are blocked.
Semen Liquefaction is also a monitored. It should take 15 to 30 minutes before semen liquefies. While semen is initially thick, its ability to liquefy, or turn to a watery consistency, helps sperm to move. If semen does not liquefy in 15 to 30 minutes, fertility could be affected.
Lastly the overall appearance of the semen will be noted. The appearance should be whitish to gray and opalescent. Semen that has a red-brown tint could indicate the presence of blood while a yellow tint could indicate jaundice or be a medication side effect.
When you doctor assesses the fertilizing potential of a given specimen, he or she will consider all these factors in the big picture. So it's possible that a lowered sperm count may be compensated for by better motility or possibly an increase in volume, etc.What If My Results Come Back Abnormal?
Treatment options for men with low sperm count vary depending on the cause of the condition, but traditional medicine will generally treat the condition either with prescription pharmaceuticals or surgically.
However, there is another option. There are many, many , many (did I say MANY?) natural treatments available that have been proven to help this condition. Below are just a few examples:
- Panax ginseng has been found to increase sperm count, motility and morphology.
- Pine bark extract studies have shown this herb to be a promising alternative to treat patients with mild infertility.
- Mucuna pruriens seeds studies have treatment resulted in greater sperm counts and motility among those with low sperm counts.
- Astaxanthin has been found to significantly increase sperm motility and speed "linear velocity".
- Fo-ti, also known as Ho Shou Wu or He Shou Wu, root has been traditionally used for men who have low libido, low sperm count, erectile dysfunction and poor sperm motility. This root supports fertility longevity.
Plus my best recommendation is to switch to the fertility diet! You can sign up for the Free 3-Day Fertility Diet Challenge here!
Seriously, this list could go on and on. Once you know what you are dealing with, there is likely a natural remedy available to correct the problem. For couples, struggles with infertility can be agonizing - but it doesn't have to be never-ending. I'm here to help!
Sarah Clark empowers couples to discover how lifestyle and diet can dramatically impact their chances of conceiving. She was diagnosed with premature ovarian failure at 28 and had both her kids with donor eggs. Not until years later did she discover that the root cause of her infertility was a food intolerance. Join the Free Fab Fertile Support Group on Facebook for mini-challenges, motivation and inspiration!