In certain cultures, inability to have children is a major issue that can lead to the break up of a marriage. Oftentimes, as happens in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, the woman is blamed for delayed conception or inability to have children However, medical science has since revealed that men can equally be responsible for delayed conception, when they have low sperm count.

Sperm count or total sperm count refers to the average total number of sperm present in one sample of semen. Sperm count is one of the several qualities that are assessed during routine semen analysis and is considered an important factor for fertility.

Based on the most current World Health Organization guidelines, a healthy sperm count is 15 million per milliliter (ml) or at least 39 million per sample. A sperm count lower than 10 million per ml is considered abnormal and commonly associated with male infertility.

Anything that impacts the hormones that control the production of sperm or acts as an anti-oxidant may aid the healthy development of sperm and help improve sperm count. Overall, factors that influence testosterone levels are thought to have the most significant impact on sperm number and quality.

Fortunately, low sperm is now treatable. Interestingly, some natural foods and lifestyle modifications have been found to be helpful in boosting sperm count.

1. Exercise and sleep

Several studies have shown that weight loss and exercise in obese and overweight individuals can lead to improved or increased sperm count. However, the science linking a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) to a healthy sperm count is still weak. A 2017 study found that performing a 16-week aerobic exercise programme of at least 50 minutes of moderate exercise at 50 to 65 per cent peak heart rate three times weekly, increased sperm volume and concentration in 45 sedentary, obese men.

2. Reduce stress

A healthful diet and exercise may help to reduce stress. Any form of stress can cause the body to take defensive actions and conserve energy. In times of distress, it makes biological sense for the body to become less concerned with reproduction and more focused on surviving.

Reducing stress requires addressing the cause, though factors such as exercise and a healthful diet are thought to lessen the effects of stress.

For men who are experiencing severe stress, a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications.

3. Stop smoking

A 2016 study reviewing the results of over 20 different studies with nearly 6,000 participants found smoking consistently reduced sperm count.

4. Avoid excessive alcohol use and drugs

The number of studies exploring the link between sperm health and drugs is limited given ethical considerations. However, some researchers have linked the worldwide use of drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine to decreased sperm production.

5. Avoid several prescription medications

Some prescription medications can potentially decrease the healthy production of sperm. Once a person stops taking the drug, his sperm count should return to normal or increase. Medications that temporarily reduce the production and development of sperm include: some antibiotics, anti-androgens, anti-inflammatories, antipsychotics, corticosteroids, anabolic steroids (which up to one year recovery time), exogenous (outside) testosterone and methadone

6. Get enough vitamin D and calcium

Researchers are not entirely sure why, but vitamin D and calcium serum appear to impact sperm health. Some studies have shown that low dietary vitamin D intake seems to correspond with lowered sperm count.

Vitamin D and calcium supplements are available to purchase in health food stores and online.


Ashwagandha, also known as Indian ginseng, has long been used in traditional medicines as a remedy for several forms of sexual dysfunction. A 2016 study found that 46 men with low sperm counts who took 675 milligrams (mg) of ashwagandha daily for 90 days saw a 167 percent increase in sperm count.

Ashwagandha is available to purchase online or in health food stores.

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8. Increase intake of antioxidant-rich foods

Antioxidants are molecules that help remove and deactivate free radicals and other compounds that damage cells. Several vitamins and minerals have shown to act as antioxidants, and several studies have linked antioxidant consumption with increased sperm count.

Antioxidants that may contribute to a healthy sperm count include: selenium, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin E, glutathione, coenzyme Q10 and I-carnitine.

9. Increase healthy fat intake

Polyunsaturated fats or so-called healthy fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6, are crucial to the healthy development of the sperm membrane. Some studies have shown that individuals should consume these two essential omega compounds in equal quantities for ideal sperm development and antioxidant benefits.

Omega-3 supplements are available to purchase online from various brands.

10. Reduce unhealthy fat intake

A 2014 study that surveyed 209 healthy Spanish men between the ages of 18 to 23 years of age found that as they increased their consumption of trans fatty acids, their sperm count decreased proportionately.

Several studies have also shown that trans fatty acids may impair the ability of long-chain polyunsaturated fats to incorporate into sperm membranes, a critical step in sperm development.

11. Avoid exposure to environmental or occupational toxins and contaminants.

As the environment and atmosphere become increasingly polluted and congested, environmental factors such as air quality and toxic chemical exposure, have frequently been linked to reduced sperm health and total count. Avoiding environmental toxins wherever possible also contributes to overall health.

It is important to point out that while some studies have shown a link between low sperm count and environmental contaminants, most of them do not support it.

12. Avoid too much soy or foods with non-human estrogen

Some foods, especially soy products, contain phytoestrogens (plant estrogen), compounds shown to reduce testosterone bonding and sperm production. Many canned and plastic products are also high in synthetic forms of estrogen.

13. Get enough folate and zinc

Consuming folate and zinc in combination has been shown in limited studies to increase overall sperm health, including sperm concentration or total count.

Foods to improve sperm count

Though supplements are considered a safe way to get the recommended daily intake of most vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, the body does not always easily absorb them.

Most studies suggest that eating foods rich in specific compounds and chemicals allows the body to use them more efficiently. So the best way to increase sperm count naturally may be to increase the consumption of foods high in sperm-friendly nutrients.

Foods high in sperm count-boosting nutrients include bananas, dark chocolate, ginseng, and walnuts, citrus fruits, whole wheat and grains, most fish, especially wild salmon, cod, and haddock, most shellfish, especially oysters, vitamin D enhanced milk and milk products, garlic, broccoli, turmeric, asparagus, most leafy greens, especially spinach and fermented nuts and seeds.

Medications to increase sperm count

A doctor may prescribe medication for men with very low sperm counts or who have additional health factors or considerations.

• Culled from