Did you know that 35 to 50 percent of infertility cases involve male factor (issues with sperm)? One of the possible challenges is how well sperm moves, A.K.A. its motility. This is key to make sure the sperm can make its way to the egg for fertilization. Fortunately, there are ways to increase sperm motility and up your odds of conception.
What is the role of sperm in fertility?
Sperm are produced in the testes and take about three months to develop, mature, and become ready to launch. Mature sperm cells, called spermatozoa, are made of three parts: a head, which is covered by a cap and contains the sperm’s DNA; the body, which contains the mitochondria (the energy-producers for the sperm); and a tail, which allows the sperm to swim.
Once they’ve entered the vaginal tract, sperm cells swim around in semen fluid and cervical mucus, travelling up through the cervix into the uterus to the fallopian tubes where they will wait for an egg. They then have to be strong enough to penetrate the egg and they need to donate high-quality and intact DNA to merge with the egg’s DNA. When all these steps are successful, and the sperm is able to activate the egg, the egg is said to be fertilized and the embryo will start to develop.
What is sperm motility?
The swimming ability of sperm is called sperm motility—and it all comes down to that tail. A sperm’s tail is made of protein fibers that contract in wave-like motions, allowing the sperm cell to glide through semen and cervical mucus at a rate of about three millimetres per minute. But not all sperm can swim well or fast (this is called low sperm motility), which can make it harder for the sperm to make that journey to the egg.
What causes low sperm motility?
Ideal sperm motility requires plenty of essential nutrients during sperm development, in addition to protection from damage from oxidative stress, the result of free radicals that cause damage to cell membranes, to the energy-producing mitochondria inside of cells, and DNA. Oxidative stress is one of the leading causes of low sperm motility, but it’s not the only one. Testicular damage, cannabis use, smoking, increased age, scrotal overheating and exposure to toxins like BPA can all play a role..
Are there any signs of low sperm motility?
There are no obvious signs to look out for, so your best bet is testing when it comes to understanding your own sperm motility. In addition to measuring the proportion of sperm that swim well (motility), a semen analysis can also indicate the concentration of live sperm and the proportion that have formed properly. The latter, also referred to as sperm morphology, makes sure that the sperm head, body and tail are the right size and shape, and that there are the right amount of them per sperm. These types of defects would not only prevent proper swimming ability, but could also mean that there are other abnormalities and damage occurring, which decreases the chance of a successful pregnancy.
Testing for sperm quantity and quality can be done with your doctor, or you can get a jumpstart from home with our At-Home Sperm Test. Our non-invasive test can flag low motile sperm concentration so that, if needed, you can get help sooner and save time in your fertility journey. The test also provides a score that puts your result in the context of other people with sperm who have had children. Plus, you get a recorded video of your sample that can be shared with your doctor or kept completely private inside the app.
What helps improve sperm motility?
The three months that it takes sperm to develop and mature is prime time for making dietary and lifestyle changes to make those swimmers strong and protect them from damage. Studies show that combining antioxidants tend to yield better results in sperm quality than choosing just one, so it’s also a great idea to take a prenatal specifically designed for sperm health.
- L-Carnitine: An amino acid derivative that has been used to enhance endurance, improve post-exercise recovery, and is involved in sperm maturation. As an antioxidant L-Carnitine helps preserve and improve sperm motility and viability.
- CoQ10: An important antioxidant that also increases energy production within sperm cells. Taking 200 to 400 mg of CoQ10 daily has been shown to improve sperm count, motility, morphology, and antioxidant activity.
- NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine): A major antioxidant and protector of sperm DNA and the energy-producing mitochondria in the sperm cell. It can improve semen viscosity, sperm count, motility, morphology and can reduce DNA fragmentation.
- Vitamin E (also called alpha-tocopherol): An important antioxidant vitamin found in nuts and seeds that’s directly associated with sperm motility. In those with poor sperm quality, supplementing with Vitamin E has been shown to improve sperm concentration and motility. One study found that men who supplemented with 300 mg daily had increased sperm motility by 20 to 28 percent. Of those who were treated with Vitamin E, 21 percent got a positive pregnancy in their partner, whereas no pregnancies occurred in those who were given a placebo.
- Zinc: An essential mineral in testicular and sperm health. Having low zinc levels has been associated with issues in tail structure and other physical abnormalities. When men with poor sperm motility were given a high-dose zinc supplement, it led to lower oxidative stress levels, better sperm membrane integrity, more intact sperm DNA, and the amount of motile sperm doubled after three months of treatment.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant fatty acids found in foods like salmon and Omega-3 fortified eggs. Omega-3s are found in high concentrations in the testes and sperm cells and are critical for fertilization. Having low DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid, is a major factor in poor sperm quality. Supplementing with EPA and DHA has been shown to improve sperm count, motility and morphology.
You can find all of these nutrients—in forms your body can easily absorb—and more in Bird&Be’s The Powers for Males. Other lifestyle changes can help get sperm in tip-top shape:
- Eat antioxidant-rich foods to help prevent free-radical levels from getting out of control and to protect sperm cells from oxidative stress.
- Developing sperm can be damaged from overheating, which can happen even with prolonged sitting and driving, so keep cool by getting up and taking walk breaks regularly and avoiding tight underwear.
- If you work in a hot environment, consider daily testicular cooling by applying a cold gel back to the scrotum each day for an hour.
With sperm being the tiniest cells in the human body, they’re unfortunately vulnerable to damage—but the good news is that positive lifestyle changes can pay off with better sperm health in about three months’ time.