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Conception Dec 3, 2019
7 Minutes

Boys: A surprising way to better sperm!?

We know that on average sperm is under fire these days. Not just for a few people, but for a lot of us. On average sperm counts are down 50% in only 40 years! Question is, what causes it? Most importantly, what can we do about it? After all, it very much takes two to tango. We take a look at one of the main culprits and one surprising (bonus!) way that you can give it a helping hand. 


So there are two old school misconceptions when it comes to difficulty with conception:

  • When it comes to fertility, only women are really hurt by ageing. 
  • If there is a problem it is most likely on the female side. 

Traditionally men have gotten off quite lightly when it comes to scrutiny around problems with conception. However, science is increasingly pointing to this being absolutely the wrong approach… 

What we know now is the following:

  • According to research from one of the leading IVF centres in the world male age does matter (3) 
  • As much as 50% of the reason for infertility is due to the male side (1,2)
  • Sperm counts on average are down 50% over 40 years. 
  • The male side can play a role in repeated miscarriage (1,4). Click here for more. 

As always, there is no point looking at the negatives! Instead we want to look at what the latest science suggests is behind this. Most importantly we want to look at the science backed positive things you can do about it. 

Here’s what you need to know about sperm protection!

A lot of the latest research, particularly around the impact of us all getting older before we have kids, relates to a specific ‘damage’ on sperm. Something known as DNA fragmentation. This is basically when the DNA within the sperm is damaged. 

What causes sperm DNA fragmentation?

For an in depth click here which will tell you all about Oxidative Stress, what it does and why it is a problem. As always however, there are usually many causes and they can often be in combination. 

We’ll take a look at some of the major culprits and most importantly what you can do:

So, one of the factors that plays a role is male aging. Research has shown that for each year increase in male age was a decline of 4.1% in the odds of a birth. (3). Now this is less than for women (decline of 9.6%) but it goes to show that age is a factor for male fertility. Despite some of the previous thinking that men are far less impacted. 

The main way that aging impacts is through DNA fragmentation. (3) 

What can you do to reduce sperm DNA fragmentation?!

As much as we’d all like a time machine, nothing you can do about aging (sigh) However, you can do something about some of the other factors that can exacerbate dna fragmentation:

As always, we want to focus on the positive things that you can do. The good news is that there are things that really can make a difference. In fact, one study suggested that:

‘Lifestyle modification is the most fundamental, important, simple and easy way to improve sperm quality.’ (1) 


So what can you do?

We are going to break them down:

How changing your lifestyle can positively impact your sperm:

Now these may seem like basic/obvious things (except the last one perhaps!) but making an effort with these factors can be a powerful way to reduce risk of damage: 

  • Avoid cigarette smoke/airborne pollutants/excessive drinking
  • Heat: too much working out in tight clothes (sperm storage is outside of the body for a reason!) 
  • Loose underwear
  • Exercise: not too much, not too little. Moderate as always is your friend! Click here for more
  • Weight management: high BMI is linked to damage 
  • High temperatures for long periods of time: saunas/hot tubs/hot baths etc
  • Radiation: avoid working with your laptop – on your lap (should be called something else!). Click here for more. 

Now the last one is a bit of a curve ball and may well be welcomed!

Research suggests that ejaculation every other day may actually be the best bet to reduce sperm dna fragmentation (2). Another reason why it’s best to have sex ideally every other day if you’re trying to conceive! 

Antioxidants for sperm?

We know that oxidative stress is bad for DNA fragmentation in sperm. We also know that antioxidants are a good way to tackle this. (1) 


As usual it’s never super simple as you don’t want too little or too much. Sigh. However, basic antioxidants like Vitamin C, CoQu10 or those like N Acetyl Cysteine that helps the body produce its own is one way to go. As always however, speak to your doctor first. 

What the science says:

One bit of analysis which pooled together over 30 studies over 13 years concluded that Vitamin E, C, Selenium, CoQu10 (click here for more), N Acetyl Cysteine (click here for more), Zinc and L-Carnitine were effective. 

Other physiological factors that contribute include having diabetes, STIs and Varicocele (enlarged veins typically within the scrotum). Obviously your doctor is first port of call here. 

Intermittent fasting for your sperm: really?!

Intermittent fasting is gaining science backing for a wide range of health benefits. As a reminder this is when (as the name suggests) you have a period of time of fasting. It can either be 5:2 which is five days of normal, two days of very low calorie. Or 16:8 which is eating during 8hrs and fasting for the remaining 16. Click here for more/how to. 

Why is this relevant to sperm DNA?

Intermittent fasting has shown some benefit against Oxidative Stress. Click here for more on how this has an impact.

Can Intermittent fasting really help reduce Oxidative Stress? Whilst we dont know too much at this stage about sperm specifically, Intermittent fasting has shown some benefit reducing Oxidative Stress overall. Interestingly showing a protective factor specifically for lipids – all important for sperm (5).

For much more on it click here. Perhaps not an essential, but worth considering nevertheless!

How do you know if your sperm is affected?

If you are struggling to conceive or have had miscarriage it is absolutely worth getting your sperm checked. However, it is worth being mindful of getting this done properly. DNA fragmentation is not usually considered when it comes to initial testing. The first port of call will be a traditional analysis looking at morphology (shape), count and motility (what direction/how they are moving). Speak to your doctor about this. However, one thing to know is that most tests will not include a DNA fragmentation test at the outset. 

Reasons to take a deeper dive:

However, if you are older and have suffered from more than one miscarriage (4) getting this tested is something to discuss with your doctor. Research has shown that as many as 15% of people who have shown ‘normal’ results using the traditional screen still still suffer with infertility. Testing DNA fragmentation testing measures the quality of sperm as a DNA package carrier (1). It may well give further clues to the picture. Your doctor will be looking for damage to be below 30%. Above that suggests it may be the cause of issues and will need to be addressed. 

There are a couple of ways that a doctor can take a look at your DNA fragmentation. Typically with a TUNEL test or SCD. Just something to bear in mind. Knowledge is power after all and no harm in having a discussion with your doctor who is first port of call for this.  

(1) Young Kim: What should be done or men with sperm DNA fragmentation? Clinical and Experimental Reproductive Medicine: 2018 Sept 45(3): 101-109   

(2) Pons I, Cercas R, Fernandez-Shaw S: One abstinence day decreases sperm DNA fragmentation in 90% of selected patients: Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics: 2013 Sep: 30(9) 1211-1218 

(3) Horta F, Vollenhoven B, Healey M, Busija L, Catt S: Male ageing is negatively associated with the chance of live birth in IVF cycles for idiopathic infertility: Human Reproduction. Sept 2019 

(4) Coughlan C, Clarke H, Pacey AA: Sperm DNA fragmentation, recurrent implantation failure and recurrent miscarriage: Asian Journal of Andrology: 2015: 17(4) 681-685 



This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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