Wait, sperm count can change? Yes. Sperm count changes over the course of days, weeks, months and years in response to changes in your habits, health and even the weather. Most of the time, these changes are relatively small and do not impact a man’s ability to conceive. But they can. Small changes in how a man lives, for the better or for the worse can have a big impact on his health and his sperm count.
This article reviews some of the most common techniques and treatments used to increase sperm count, and how long it can take to see results.
Day-to-day sources of variation
The biggest day-to-day factor on sperm count is frequency of ejaculation. How long a man abstains from ejaculating can impact the results of a semen analysis. Frequent ejaculation (daily or more) tends to show lower semen volume, lower sperm counts and a higher percentage of immature sperm. Long periods of abstinence (7 days or more) will tend to yield higher semen volume, higher sperm count and lower motility. Other factors that can temporarily impact sperm count include getting sick, having a fever, partying too hard, pulling back to back all-nighters or having a very stressful week. Most doctors recommend abstaining 2-7 days before a semen analysis to get an accurate reading.
Interestingly, the weather has also shown to have an impact on sperm count. Several studies have shown that sperm counts tend to be higher in the winter and lower in the summer. The changing temperature is a leading explanation for why sperm counts vary seasonally – researchers have shown decreases in sperm count during warmer months in a group of men that test sperm count monthly. Besides the changing temperature, the variation in length of daylight and air quality are thought to also contribute to seasonal variation in sperm count.
Health factors that can impact sperm count over longer time periods
Sperm are also a relatively good reflection of your overall health. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that sperm count may help predict a man’s future health. Low sperm count has been tied to future risk for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other chronic health conditions. This is concerning because sperm counts have been dropping over the last several decades and raises the question if men today are at higher risk of developing serious health problems later in life.
While researchers believe that environmental toxins like bisphenol A (BPA) and pesticides are partially to blame for the drop in sperm count, many are concerned about the health habits of young men. Independent studies show that many of the bad habits that cause long term health problems like cardiovascular disease or type II diabetes also reduce sperm count. Some of the biggest offenders include:
- Being overweight
- Frequent drinking
- Marijuana use
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- Long periods of sitting
Improving these lifestyle habits often leads to improvement in semen quality, an increase in sperm count, higher testosterone levels and a reduction of risk in developing poor health as you age. Pretty big wins for both you and your balls.
How long does it take to see improvements in sperm?
It takes about 72 days for a sperm cell to be created, mature, and get ejaculated. So conventional wisdom states that it takes about 2-3 months to see improvements in sperm count. However, several studies show that it is possible to see changes sooner.
Sometimes drops in sperm count are caused by sperm dying before they finish development (called maturation arrest) rather than a lack of production (spermatogenesis). If you think of a testicle as a sperm factory,sometimes production drops due to lost or broken parts rather than slow production lines. Many interventions can help increase the number of cells produced and reduce the number that die during the process. Depending on what the issue is, it can be possible to see changes right away (as early as a couple of weeks). Other times it takes longer (6 months or longer) to see noticeable differences in sperm count.
Here are some techniques and treatments that have shown to be effective at increasing sperm count:
Nutritional supplements: Several studies have shown improvements with the use of nutritional supplements. Improvements were seen in as little as a month in some of the studies. Other treatment options (weight loss and varicocele repair) were also shown to be more effective when paired with nutritional supplements. For this reason, most urologists will recommend some sort of multivitamin as a part of a treatment plan for male infertility.
Testicular cooling: Testicular temperature has been shown in several studies to impact sperm count. Intentionally cooling the testicle has been explored as a treatment for low sperm count and many studies show it to be effective. An interesting study conducted in the 1960’s showed that cyclical heating and cooling of testicles showed dramatic increases in sperm count over the course of a few weeks.
Weight loss: There are many studies that correlate BMI and waist circumference with low sperm count. Unfortunately there are only a few studies that follow men who lose weight in order to increase sperm count. The few that do exist show promise. Men who lost weight increased sperm count within 6 months (study duration) and men who had higher starting BMIs benefited the most.
Exercise: A recent study assigned men to different forms of exercise and hound that light jogging several times a week improved many semen parameters include sperm count, motility and morphology but it took 24 weeks (about 6 months) to see changes.
Traditional Medicine: Several herbs used in Chinese or Ayurvedic Medicine as a treatment for male infertility increased sperm count after 2-3 months in placebo controlled double blind studies. Most studies have a limited number of patients so the results are far from conclusive but there is evidence that herbs used in traditional medicine may be beneficial for improving sperm count.
Varicocele repair: About 15% of men have a varicocele – an enlarged bundle of veins in the scrotum that has been tied to diminished sperm production and reduced fertility. Urologists often perform surgical varicocele repairs, which have been shown to improve semen quality 60-70% of the time. The timeframe for boosting sperm count is usually a little longer, with an average of 6 months until real improvements are seen.
Prescription medications: Many medications including Clomid, FSH, HcG and a host of others are often prescribed to improve semen quality by boosting hormones that are involved in sperm production. Most of the studies that look at the impact of these drugs on sperm count conducted semen analysis every 3 months to measure efficacy. Many patients saw improvements in the 3-6 month timeframe.
How often should I get a semen analysis?
Regular testing can provide feedback on how effective a treatment regime is at improving semen quality. In general, urologists recommend testing every 3 months or so. If you have easy access to semen analysis, you may consider testing monthly. Here are a few factors that may influence how often you should test:
Type of treatment you are using: Some men do not respond well to herbs, medications or certain supplements and can see negative impacts on semen quality and may want to test more frequently to make sure things are trending in the right direction.
The fertility of your partner: Having a baby is a team sport and the fertility of both partners matters when making decisions about next steps. If your partner has fertility concerns or is older, you may want to get more regular feedback to help you weight options if you are considering fertility treatments.
Cost and convenience of testing: In some places, semen analysis can be expensive and time consuming which can reduce how frequently you are able to test. If this is the case for you, talk to your doctor about options for measuring efficacy of your treatment plan.
Chances are good that just like your weight, muscles, and memory, you can take active steps to improve your sperm production and chances of conception. There’s a lot more research needed to fully evaluate the efficacy of these techniques, but most experts agree that improving your overall health is only going to lead to benefits for your reproductive health. Nothing’s immediate – so the earlier you can start the better your chances of success.
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This doesn't need to be a taboo subject left in a closet, nor do men need to go through this alone. Education and community are key elements to improving health. Don't cook your balls is a space for us to share science and experience advance the state of male reproductive health care.
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