It has widely been reported that the sperm count in men is reducing globally. For those wishing to conceive naturally, a low sperm count can be problematic.
However, recent research has shown that smoking cannabis can improve sperm health parameters. Other traditional methods to increase male fertility include reducing stress, leading a healthy lifestyle and diet, and maintaining optimum testicular temperature.
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What is Sperm Count?
Sperm count refers to the number or concentration of sperm in a specified amount of semen. The World Health Organization’s reference guidelines state a good sperm count is a figure of over 15 million sperm per one milliliter of semen.
Men with a count lower than this are referred to as having a low sperm count. For those wishing to conceive naturally, having a lower sperm count can be problematic.
However, such issues are quite common, affecting approximately a third of couples in the UK who face difficultly conceiving. There are several ways to help increase sperm count.
Can Smoking Cannabis Increase Sperm Count?
Recent research published in Human Reproduction found that men who smoked cannabis during their lives had higher sperm count compared to men that have never smoked the substance.
Researchers at Harvard University examined 1143 semen samples of over 600 men from couples registered at a range of fertility clinics between the years 2000 and 2017.
Each man was asked about their previous drug-taking habits, including the use of cannabis. Specifically, they answered whether they had smoked two or more joints in their lifetime and whether they currently smoke cannabis.
For those that had smoked cannabis at some point in their life, extra information was gathered. This included how many joints they smoked on average per week, the age they started smoking, whether they had ceased smoking cannabis and for how long, the total number of years they had been smoking, and the last time they smoked.
Analysis of the samples revealed that 12% of men who had never smoked cannabis had clinically low sperm counts, compared to 5% in men who had smoked the substance.
The authors suggested that the reason for this could be linked to the impact on marijuana on the endocannabinoid system in the body – some researchers propose that the system regulates the production of sperm.
However, similar research investigating the effects of marijuana on male fertility found that men who smoked cannabis over once per week had a higher concentration of serum testosterone and significantly lower sperm count. As a self-reported measure, the authors note that the participants may have under-reported their drug-taking habits.
Therefore, the data regarding the impact of cannabis on sperm quality in this particular study should be “interpreted with caution”.
Research has found that stress can have adverse effects on semen parameters, including sperm count. Pre-clinical animal studies have shown that, when exposed to acute stress, rats have increased cortisol levels resulting in apoptosis of testicular germ cells.
Human studies have also found similar effects. Research investigating the impact of psychological stress on male fertility found that men who were significantly more stressed had lower testosterone levels, sperm count and motility and more atypical morphology.
High levels of stress can also impair the libido of both partners, reducing the number of times the couple engages in sexual intercourse. Therefore, for those wishing to conceive naturally, reducing stress may have beneficial effects for both partners.
Lead a Healthy Lifestyle
Exercising to maintain a healthy weight is vital to ensure good quality sperm production. Being obese can harm several areas of male fertility.
Research has shown that as body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference increased, overall sperm count, sperm concentration, and ejaculate volume decreased. Therefore, to increase sperm count and quality, ensuring BMI stays under 25, in the healthy weight category, is recommended.
Adopting a Healthy Diet
Nutrition and diet have a vital role in determining semen quality. Research investigating the impact of following a balanced, healthy diet on semen parameters, found that those who adhered to a Mediterranean diet scored more favorably on the WHO reference values for sperm quality.
The Med diet has been credited for being rich in vitamins, fatty acids, antioxidants, and omega-3s while being low in trans-fatty and saturated fats which were negatively correlated to poor semen parameters. Therefore, adopting a Mediterranean diet may be beneficial for those wishing to increase their semen count.
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Maintaining Optimal Testicle Temperature
As testicles are placed outside of the body, they need to be kept at a cooler temperature compared to the rest of the body.
For optimum sperm production, the testicles should be approximately 34.5C, any hotter than this can lead to scrotal hyperthermia – a significant risk factor of poor male fertility.
To boost sperm, count and overall fertility, it is recommended that men refrain from remaining seated for significant periods to help maintain the testicle's core temperature. For those working in hot environments, having regular breaks outside, or in cooler environments is equally important to boost sperm production and count.
References and Further Reading
- Gundersen, T.D., Jørgensen, N., Andersson, A.M., Bang, A.K., Nordkap, L., Skakkebæk, N.E., Priskorn, L., Juul, A. and Jensen, T.K. (2015). Association between use of marijuana and male reproductive hormones and semen quality: a study among 1,215 healthy young men. American journal of epidemiology, 182(6), pp.473-481. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwv135
- Nassan, F.L., Arvizu, M., Mínguez-Alarcón, L., Williams, P.L., Attaman, J., Petrozza, J., Hauser, R., Chavarro, J. and EARTH Study Team Ford Jennifer B Keller Myra G. (2019). Marijuana smoking and markers of testicular function among men from a fertility centre. Human Reproduction, 34(4), pp.715-723. Doi: 10.1093/humrep/dez002
- Nielsen, J.E., Rolland, A.D., Rajpert-De Meyts, E., Janfelt, C., Jørgensen, A., Winge, S.B., Kristensen, D.M., Juul, A., Chalmel, F., Jégou, B. and Skakkebaek, N.E., 2019. Characterisation and localisation of the endocannabinoid system components in the adult human testis. Scientific reports, 9(1), pp.1-14. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-49177-y
- Sengupta, P., Borges Jr, E., Dutta, S. and Krajewska-Kulak, E., 2018. Decline in sperm count in European men during the past 50 years. Human & experimental toxicology, 37(3), pp.247-255. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0960327117703690
- NHS (2019). Low sperm count. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/low-sperm-count/
- Cooper, T.G., Noonan, E., Von Eckardstein, S., Auger, J., Baker, H.W., Behre, H.M., Haugen, T.B., Kruger, T., Wang, C., Mbizvo, M.T. and Vogelsong, K.M., 2010. World Health Organization reference values for human semen characteristics. Human reproduction update, 16(3), pp.231-245. Doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmp048
- Chen, Y., Wang, Q., Wang, F. F., Gao, H. B., & Zhang, P. (2012). Stress induces glucocorticoid-mediated apoptosis of rat Leydig cells in vivo. Stress, 15(1), 74-84. https://doi.org/10.3109/10253890.2011.585188
- NHS (2017). How can I improve my chances of becoming aa dad? https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/mens-health/how-can-i-improve-my-chances-of-becoming-a-dad/
- Bhongade, M. B., Prasad, S., Jiloha, R. C., Ray, P. C., Mohapatra, S., & Koner, B. C. (2015). Effect of psychological stress on fertility hormones and seminal quality in male partners of infertile couples. Andrologia, 47(3), 336-342. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/and.12268
- Karayiannis, D., Kontogianni, M. D., Mendorou, C., Douka, L., Mastrominas, M., & Yiannakouris, N. (2017). Association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and semen quality parameters in male partners of couples attempting fertility. Human reproduction, 32(1), 215-222. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dew288
- Eisenberg, M. L., Kim, S., Chen, Z., Sundaram, R., Schisterman, E. F., & Buck Louis, G. M. (2014). The relationship between male BMI and waist circumference on semen quality: data from the LIFE study. Human reproduction, 29(2), 193-200. Doi: 10.1093/humrep/det428