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What can affect sperm quality?

Good quality sperm is a requirement when you and your partner are trying to get pregnant, and it refers to both sperm count, motility and morphology (shape). ‘Good’ quality sperm will usually have a count of more than 15 million per millilitre (ml) and a normal form (NF) morphology percentage of between 4% and 14%. ‘Poor’ quality sperm, therefore, will have a count of less than 15 million per ml and a NF of less than 4%. 

But what can affect sperm quality?

Generally, the main factors that affect sperm quality include: 

  • Smoking tobacco or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Using certain drugs
  • Being overweight
  • Being severely depressed or stressed
  • Overheating of the testicles
  • Exposure to toxins, such as lead, cadmium (found in tobacco smoke) and air pollution
  • Infections, including STIs, urinary tract infections.

Below, we examine some of these things in more detail, and explain what you can do to improve the quality of your sperm when trying to conceive


Does stress affect sperm quality?


Stress affects our bodies in so many ways, but perhaps surprisingly it can increase the number of abnormal sperm and even reduce sperm count. Have a think about the aspects of your life that are stressful - it could be personal problems or work issues - and how you can potentially reduce this stress. 

While it’s easier said than done, try not to stress or get anxious about the conception process. 


Does diet affect sperm quality?


It’s not just obesity that can impact sperm quality - you can be an average weight but eat a terrible diet, and this will have an effect on your sperm, too. 

Fats and sugars should be avoided, because when eaten in excess, they can be toxic to sperm and may alter your sperm count, sperm motility and morphology. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan who replaces animal proteins with soy products, you may be consuming too much oestrogen, which can impact your sperm as well. 

Instead, try to eat plenty of good, nutritious foods that will have a positive effect on your body. Fruits and vegetables are particularly important, especially those that are high in antioxidants, such as blueberries, spinach, kale and strawberries. You may also wish to increase your consumption of nuts, seeds and wholegrains, such as brown bread and rice. Such foods could boost your sperm count.  


Does having a cold affect sperm quality?


Having the common cold generally won’t impact your sperm quality. The only instance where it might is if you have a fever and your body temperature increases. As previously discussed, increased temperatures can kill or damage some of your sperm. 

Does alcohol affect sperm quality?

Drinking alcohol while trying to conceive is okay in moderation. However, excessive alcohol consumption can affect sperm quality because it leads to reduced testosterone production. This in turn can have an impact on sperm production, causing it to decrease. 

It is up to you how much alcohol you decide to cut out. Drinking one beer or one glass of wine today likely won’t make a huge difference, but if you drink a lot more than this, then you should consider cutting down.


Do antibiotics affect sperm quality?


Antibiotics can affect the quality of your sperm, but only if you’re taking them for a prolonged period of time. They can reduce the number of sperm you produce and affect their motility too. You shouldn’t let this stop you from taking them, however, as it’s better to get rid of any infections in your body and ensure you’re fully healthy when trying to conceive. 


Do antidepressants affect sperm quality?


There is a limited amount of evidence around antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and their effect on sperm quality. Some studies have found that the vitality and mobility of sperm is impacted, which could mean it takes couples longer to conceive when taking antidepressants. 

We’d advise that you speak to your doctor if you take an SSRI and are trying to conceive. They will be able to give you more specific advice and recommendations. 


Can hot baths affect sperm quality?


When sperm is exposed to too much heat, it can begin to die. It is for this reason that the testes are located outside of a man’s body, keeping the sperm slightly cooler than the average body temperature of 37 degrees. 

This is why it’s advised that you avoid very hot baths when trying to conceive, instead opting for a warm bath that won’t impact your sperm. Hot tubs should be avoided too, as they can get as hot as 36 degrees. While this is still lower than your core temperature, it can cause your body temperature to increase should you stay in the water for a long time.

Other causes of heat can affect your sperm too, including very tight underwear and extended laptop use with the device directly on your lap instead of a desk. 

As you can see, there are quite a few things that can have an effect on the quality of your sperm. However, we wouldn’t recommend that you make a lot of big lifestyle changes all at once. Instead, try to make a couple of small, manageable changes, such as reducing your drinking and switching to brown bread from white. Don’t implement drastic changes, such as reducing your antidepressants dosage, without consulting your doctor first.