Unless you’re trying to make a baby, sperm count isn’t exactly something that comes up in everyday conversation. Unlike other areas of our health, we don’t give much thought to count, quality and shape of sperm until we know there could be a potential problem. Until recently, even talking about sperm health and fertility wasn’t something that people did very openly either. So how is a dude supposed to know when he’s doing something that is inadvertently damaging his swimmers?
Organic advocates chalked up another win recently when a study from Harvard suggested that eating fruits and veggies with higher levels of pesticides could be linked to a lower sperm count. So there’s that. Apparently it’s better for sperm counts — and shape — to eat chemical free wherever possible. At least when it comes to your fresh produce.
That got us wondering what other kinds of things men might be doing that are putting their health at risk. According to Dr. Armand Zini, a urologist and Chair of the Andrology Special Interest Group for the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, there could be plenty. And as someone who has been specializing in the study of male fertility for roughly 20 years, he should know.
“Fertility, especially male fertility, is not one of those things that is studied extensively like heart disease or liver disease or kidney disease,” he tells us. “A lot of the medication we give has never really been tested for its affect on fertility. And with many of the things we eat or drink, most of the tests that are done are for liver or kidney or heart function.”
With so many questions about what we don’t know, what do we know?
DIPS IN THE HOT TUBS
According to Dr. Zini, monitoring and avoiding heat exposure is usually the No. 1 thing doctors recommend to patients who are looking to improve their sperm health. That includes staying away from hot showers and hot tubs or saunas.
DANCING IN THE TIGHTY WHITIES
In that same vein, tight and constricting underwear can also overheat that area. “Heat is always one of those things we know affect testicular function or sperm function,” Zini adds. So best to avoid those boxer briefs and opt for regular boxers instead.
SMOKING — ANYTHING
We all know that smoking is bad for you, but it’s especially bad for fertility. Same goes for recreational drugs like marijuana. Dr. Zini explains that avoiding exposure to toxins in general is a good idea, and that if you do need an indulgence, the occasional drink should be fine. Just don’t binge!
TEMPTED BY TESTOSTERONE
One would think that a testosterone supplement could improve male fertility, but it’s actually the complete opposite. “Testosterone is not good for sperm health,” Zini says. “That’s something a lot of men don’t realize; it’s harmful.”
EATING ALL THE JUNK
We all eat our feelings once in a while, but when it comes to fertility, a balanced diet is key. Opt for nuts and leafy greens, or other foods rich in sperm-boosting vitamins C and E, as well as minerals like selenium and folate. And if you’ve been cutting back on meat, you might want to make sure you speak to a nutritionist about the proper supplements. “We don’t want strict vegetarian diets because there may be some deficiencies in doing that,” Zini adds. “It should be a balanced diet.”
GO TO BED
It’s just as important to be kind to your body and give it seven to nine hours of shuteye a night as any of these other recommendations. “We don’t want guys to be sleeping two to four hours a night and being tired chronically,” Zini explains.
Going back to the problem of heat, sitting around for too long only exasperates it — even if it is a more subtle way than hot tubs or scalding showers. “Some work habits, like prolonged seating, is not good,” the doctor reveals. “Jobs like taxi drivers, bus drivers. Men that sit all day without getting up.” If your job does require you to sit at a desk or in a seat all day, try to take mini breaks every half an hour or so. Your back and neck will thank you too.
There is evidence that exposure to cell phone waves could have an impact on sperm health. And with many men keeping their phones in their pockets, more studies are definitely needed in order to tell the long-lasting effects. Since almost everyone carries a phone nowadays, men should look for other spots to store it just to be safe. Like in a shoulder bag or in the breast pocket of their shirt instead.
Zini recommends working out at least three times a week in order to stay healthy, and to avoid the extreme yo-yo dieting/workout craze that society can be so fond of. But rather than work on achieving magnificent muscle mass, he recommends opting for cardio and aerobic activities that put less of an emphasis on the size of your muscles, if only to avoid that whole steroid culture. That’s because, as research as long indicated, steroids and other such supplements are definitely bad for sperm health.
BONUS TIP: ASK YOUR DOCTOR
For most couples, it can take up to a year to conceive. If you and your partner have been trying unsuccessfully for a year or longer, it’s probably time to seek professional help. A simple sperm test can be done quickly, is cost effective and is usually the first step in investigating infertility.