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What Kills Sperm? How Pollution, Age, Drugs Affect Fertility

Learn what kills sperm and how pollution, age, and drugs affect male fertility. Sperm health is affected by a man’s age, air pollution, cancer, and food, according to Donald P. Evenson, Ph.D., HCLD, of the American Fertility Association.

This information about male fertility could change how fast you get pregnant! And there’s good news: wine doesn’t kill sperm.

“Some alcohol is beneficial [for healthy sperm]” says Dr Evenson. “Especially dark red wines. So a glass a day may be positive. However, dark grape juice may be substituted.”

If you’re worried about your sperm, you might be interested in a Fertility Blend for Men.

And, read on for Dr Evenson’s tips on how not to kill a man’s sperm.

What Kills Sperm?

Men with a high level of sperm DNA fragmentation have a higher level of spontaneous miscarriages. Couples with repeated pregnancy losses have fathers with a four times higher level of sperm DNA fragmentation than sperm donors.

When a man has high sperm DNA fragmentation, the first response is to be examined by a urologist for the presence of a varicocele (this causes extra heat to the testis which isn’t good for sperm integrity). Next is diet, with a particular emphasis on antioxidants in food. A sperm health supplement such as FertilAid for Men that helps fight “oxidative stress” could be helpful way to stop the killing of sperm.

Air pollution could kill healthy sperm

Dr Evenson’s lab, the EPA and the Czech government studied a valley town that had a high level of industrial pollution– and also had a high number of miscarriages or no pregnancies. In an extensive study, sperm DNA fragmentation was the only factor that was correlated with the high and low levels of air pollution. To learn what foods don’t kill sperm – whether you live in a polluted area or not – read  5 Foods That Increase Sperm Count, Production, and Motility.

Some antidepressants kill sperm

An excellent example was in a study of 45 men, says Dr Evenson. For seven months one man had excellent sperm DNA integrity – and one month was very very poor. In the previous month, he had a back injury and had cortisone injection, which likely caused the poor DNA fragmentation.

Some supplements increase sperm count, quality, and motility

Supplementary products, in addition to healthy foods, include “cocktails” put together by physicians and patients. There are several commercial products that increase sperm health. Dr Evenson recommended Fertile One.

Studies have shown that older fathers take a longer time to achieve pregnancy than younger men. Recently, Dr Evenson found one of the molecular reasons for this. In a study of 100 men that were all healthy and similar backgrounds, they were divided into decades of age. Men in their 20s have about 5% of their sperm with fragmented DNA. Then going into the 30th year, sperm fragmentation increases and by the age of 50 the average level is 30% of sperm with fragmented DNA. Older men simply have decreased sperm count, quality, and production.

Sperm takes three months to mature

This is significant because this is the threshold that places a man into the category of a longer time to achieve a pregnancy, more miscarriages, or no pregnancy. Some older men have excellent DNA integrity, while younger men may have poor quality. However, at age 50 there is a 1/3 chance of infertility simply due to age factor and sperm DNA fragmentation. It takes three months from a testicular germ cell to mature into a functional sperm. The most important period is the last month which is likely the most senstive to insults like hot tubs, cortisone treatments and other medications.

For more tips on not killing sperm, read Tips for Overcoming Male Infertility Caused by Laptops.

Cancer affects sperm health

Even for cases like testicular cancer before any treatment, the sperm quality is affected and sperm DNA fragmentation is higher than normal. Even so, it is suggested to freeze aliquots of semen before treatment. Future medicine may be able to select out the good sperm from the poorer sperm. For more info, read Factors That Increase the Risk of Male Infertility.

If you’ve recently had a sperm test, you might find What Do My Sperm Test Results Mean? helpful.

And, feel free to comment about what kills sperm below…

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Source: American Fertility Association webinar, June 17, 2008.

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9 thoughts on “What Kills Sperm? How Pollution, Age, Drugs Affect Fertility”

  1. My husband has a genetic disorder that caused him not to be born with sperm. So nothing killed his sperm because he has none.

  2. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hello Elizabeth,

    Your doctor is the best person to give you medical advice like this. I’m sorry — I wish I could help — but I don’t know if vitamins will help with sperm count, quality, and production.

    To tell you the truth, I suspect a doctor couldn’t tell you for sure, either! A lot of getting pregnant is mysterious and unpredictable. If it was as easy as vitamins and supplements and lifestyle, there wouldn’t be so many of us couples coping with infertility. Our bodies are so different, so unpredictable.

    I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful! I encourage you to see a fertility doctor, or a naturopathic doctor who specializes in pregnancy.


  3. Hi there,
    My husband takes Paxil (10mg) for depression. We’ve read the study citing Paxil causing DNA fragmentation, but he has to be on Paxil.
    (He’s tried other meds and tapering off under doctor supervision but his depression returns. We have decided it is not safe for him to be off Paxil.)

    My questions are–

    1. Will lifestyle changes and vitamins help in this case of DNA fragmentation as well, since he is taking Paxil every day?

    2. If so, can you recommend any specific vitamin to increase even more? He takes a multi, l-carnitine, C, zinc, COQ10. (He used to take E but he heard it may be toxic if taken in excess??) I’ve read about taking milk thistle to help the body increase it’s level of glutothione… might this supplement help?

    Thank you.

  4. Kristen Burris, L.Ac., M.S.T.O.M.

    There are many exceptional options to naturally (not artificially) increase sperm count, quality and motility. My husband and I both have had considerable success treating male infertility including: poor sperm count, quality and motility. Many of our patients are considered “infertile” by their reproductive endocrinologist when they first see us. After 3-6 months of treatment their counts, quality and motility are all in the fertile range. Herbal medicine treats male infertility by treating the general health of the man with anti-aging components and adaptogenic effects. The herbs also have the ability to regulate the endocrine system, balance hormone production and treats reproductive disorders safely.

    Acupuncture has been proven time and time again to improve sperm in infertile men. Here is one study published in the prestigious medical journal Fertility and Sterility:
    A study published in July 2005 issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility found that acupuncture improved sperm quality in infertile men’s semen.

    In the study, 28 men received acupuncture in addition to traditional infertility treatments, while another 12 men received only the traditional treatments. All of the men were diagnosed with unexplained infertility.

    Acupuncture was associated with fewer structural defects in the sperm of men who received it, although it had no effect on sperm immaturity or premature death.

    Previous studies have shown a link between acupuncture and improved sperm production and motility.

    To find an acupuncturist near you go to Acufinder on the web. Go to our website for a good comparison of what an expert in this field looks like.

    Here are some things you can do to improve ejaculate volume, viscosity, appearance, pH balance, sperm count, motility and morphology:

    Herbal and Vitamin phone consult with Anthony A. Burris, L.Ac., M.S.T.O.M. Acupuncturist and Herbalist with an expertise in men’s health, fertility and sports injury. Herbal medicine is so effective in treating sperm quality, quantity and motility than an infertile man can become fertile. Expect a minimum of 3 months to improve sperm and re-analyze sperm after 6 months of herbal medicine treatment to ensure proper herbal prescription is working effectively.

    Eliminate alcohol as it decreases one’s ability to produce testosterone.

    Eliminate smoking, recreational drugs (including marijuana), and stress.

    Eliminate ejaculation other than fertile times having intercourse every other day for one week during fertile signs and ovulation.

    Avoid vigorous exercise, saunas, hot tub, hot baths, tight underwear and bicycle riding all of which lead to increased temperature in the testicles and potentially reduce sperm count.

    Take 40-80 mg of Zinc (never do more than 100 mg daily) in the form of supplements and food. An excellent source of Zinc can be purchased on our website. It’s called Zinc A.G. take two daily for improved immunity and prostate function.

    Vitamin E take 200-400 iu daily helping to balance hormone production. Wellness Essentials for Men has 50 iu and it’s easy to supplement in your diet by eating: almonds, cold pressed vegetable oils, dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, eggs, brown rice, kelp, milk, oatmeal, wheat, wheat germ, sweet potatoes and flax seeds.

    Foods to eat to increase virility and sperm quality and production: scallions, lamb, shrimp, black beans, kidney beans, yams, clams and oysters.

    Avoid the herbs: Echinacea, ginkgo biloba and St.John’s Wort

    Avoid drugs (with a doctor’s supervision): Zantac (Ranitidine) and Tagamet (Cimetidine)

    There are many natural options for improving quality, quantity and motility of sperm. These procedures are very effective, safe and non-invasive. The best side-effects from the treatment are often improved sleep, higher sex-drive, greater virility, lower stress and less depression.

    Written by: Kristen N. Burris, L.Ac., M.S.T.O.M., Dip. Ac., an Acupuncturist and Herbalist who practices with her husband treating women and men for infertility. Both experts are available for phone consults for those who don’t live in Eagle, Idaho.

  5. Many people are confused about how low carb diets work. It doesn’t make sense to them that you can eat more fat and protein than is traditionally called for and still lose weight.

  6. An article in Fertility and Sterility Vol. 89, No. 2, February 2008 evaluated the impact of several vaginal lubricants on sperm. All the lubricants (except Pre-Seed) had a significant negative impact on sperm motility.

  7. The question is a little confusing because is it in regards to the actual size if each sperm or the size of the semen specimen.

    In terms of size of each sperm, normal sperm has a very uniform size. If the sperm is outside of this norm, either too small or too big, these are abnormal sperm, and yes, in this case fertility will be affected.

    If sperm amount is the question, there is a minimum amount of sperm per ml that is required for natural fertilization. In general, for natural intercourse cycles, a minimum of 20 million sperm/ml is required. For IUI (intrauterine insemination), a minimum of 10 million sperm/ml is required. For IVF, you only need as many sperm as you have eggs (1-30).

    Edward J. Ramirez, M.D., FACOG
    Executive Medical Director
    The Fertility and Gynecology Center
    Monterey Bay IVF Program