Women often pay extra attention to their health before trying to get pregnant (visiting a doctor, starting prenatal vitamins), but there’s a lot that men can do to increase sperm count to get ready for baby-making, too. Considering that, among one in six couples who struggle to get pregnant, the male partner contributes to the problem half the time, it’s just as important for men to be in optimal health for the sake of their sperm. The good news for guys is that, while women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have, men make new sperm every two or three months. That means that any healthy changes they make can have an impact on their fertility in just a few months. Here's how to increase sperm count seven ways.
Testicles hang outside the body for a reason: They need to be cooler than body temperature to produce sperm. That means spending time in hot tubs, standing at a hot grill or even sitting on testicles for long periods of time (like a long-distance cyclist or a truck driver would) can lower a man’s sperm count. Taking the occasional dip in a hot tub is OK, but “when we see a man who has abnormal sperm or is having difficulty conceiving and we discover that he is taking hot baths or using hot tubs frequently, we tell him to stop,” says Sonya Kashyap, medical director of Genesis Fertility Centre in Vancouver. This will help increase sperm count.
A high body mass index is linked to a low sperm count, says Keith Jarvi, head of urology at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. The connection is twofold: For one, being overweight could mean that you’re not eating well or exercising, which can affect fertility. “All the things that keep your heart healthy keep your sperm healthy,” explains Jarvi. And second, the excess weight “squashing” the testicles can also overheat them.
Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and using cannabis and other recreational drugs are linked to low sperm counts. The good news is, the effects aren’t permanent because of the wonders of sperm production. “It may take more than three months, but your sperm should recover,” says Kashyap. This is an easy way to increase sperm count.
Putting a laptop on your lap and having a phone in your pocket could lower your sperm count because of—you guessed it—the heat they produce. There’s also some evidence that radiation from your phone might affect sperm quality. “We don’t know for sure if it makes a difference, but I recommend that guys move their laptops or put their phones somewhere else,” says Jarvi. “It costs nothing, and there’s no downside.”
While the scientific evidence isn’t solid, both Jarvi and Kashyap say there’s reason to believe that antioxidants like vitamins C and E and selenium, as well as amino acids like L-carnitine, may be beneficial. Jarvi suggests that it’s easy enough to go to the pharmacy and pick up these supplements (you can even find them all in one pill) and give them a try to increase sperm count.
The relationship between stress and fertility is a muddy one. It’s not entirely clear if stress itself can affect the quality or number of sperm, but stress can influence lifestyle choices, such as diet, alcohol consumption and drug use, which definitely affect sperm. For men, stress can also have an impact on libido. “Women can be completely turned off and still have sex and get pregnant,” says Alice Domar, a psychologist who runs the Mind/Body Program for Fertility at Boston IVF. “A man who is turned off can’t.”
Some men take testosterone to help them bulk up, but it’s not good for sperm production. “Testosterone is like a birth control pill for men,” says Kashyap. “Testosterone is a by-product of sperm production. When you take it exogenously, you’re telling your body that you don’t need to make testosterone, so you don’t need to make sperm.” Whatever you do, don’t go on testosterone thinking that it will help. “Some men will take testosterone for libido issues or because they think it will help their sperm production without realizing that it will turn it off,” explains Kashyap. “It can take anywhere from six months to two years for that sperm production to recover. In some men, if their exogenous testosterone exposure has been prolonged, they may never recover their sperm production.”
Jarvi says it’s never too soon for a man to pay attention to his own fertility. “Usually, if a couple has been trying for a few months and it hasn’t happened, women start buying ovulation kits and tracking signs of ovulation, and that’s when men should also be tested,” says Jarvi. Testing is simple: Your family doctor can order a lab test and then you do the deed and bring the sample to a lab. Jarvi says that many couples wait to be tested and then find out a year or more into the process that the problem is sperm count. He suggests testing sooner. “It’s time for guys to step up,” says Jarvi.