Diet and Sperm

December 3rd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Many men ask me about diet and sperm, and I’ve written about it previously in this blog. The same scientists that suggested then that lower intake of carbohydrates, fiber, folate, vitamin C and lycopene and a higher intake of protein and total fat had worse sperm than men with the opposite diet recently studied the semen analyses of men on two different diets, a Western one with lots of red and processed meat, refined grains, pizza, snacks, high-energy drinks and sweets, and a Prudent one with enriched in fish, chicken, fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Men with the Prudent diet had better swimming sperm.

So, if you’re looking for a “sperm friendly” diet, eat more fish, chicken, fruit, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, and less red and processed meat, refined grains, pizza, snacks, high-energy drinks and sweets, But don’t drive yourself crazy. A pizza or burger now and then keeps you sane.

Needles and Sperm

July 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Acupuncture chart 300px

A reader recently asked whether acupuncture helps sperm.

I have to admit I’m a Western thinker, but that doesn’t mean that I automatically dismiss anything Eastern. It does mean that, as is true of any treatment, I will want to see evidence of effectiveness before I believe that it works. The most compelling proof will include:

  • A comparison of those patients who are treated and those who are not,
  • Patients (and preferably doctors) who don’t know which patients are being treated and which are not,
  • Statistics that demonstrate the chances that the conclusion is wrong,
  • More than one study that says it is right.

A number of published studies report how sperm fares with acupuncture.  One, published in Fertility and Sterility in 2009, described the use of a special device that either performed acupuncture or just looked like it did, so that patients did not know whether or not they were being treated. Comparing men who were actually treated to those who weren’t, the authors could say with around 95% confidence that motility after acupuncture increased about 10%. The authors didn’t observe an increase in sperm count, and semen volume decreased a little.

If effective, acupuncture would be a great treatment for men who need to improve motility. But first,  I’d like to see a study similar to the one done in 2009, but from different investigators and showing similar results. Until then,  I’d say acupuncture looks promising but needs a bit more study.

The New WHO

June 9th, 2010 § 12 comments § permalink

A first test of male fertility is the semen analysis.  You do your thing, and a technician counts the sperm, sees how they’re moving, what they look like and whether they’re alive.  For decades, the World Health Organization has published criteria for these numbers to alert a man that he might have a problem when it comes to impregnating a woman.  Until recently, the numbers were a consensus of expert opinion, but in the latest edition, the WHO criteria changed substantially.

What the WHO is currently doing is to dispense with expert opinion, and just lay the numbers out for all to see.  Table II from the paper shows the numbers for men from couples who conceived within a year.  Take sperm concentration, for example.  For centile 5, the sperm concentration is 15 million per ml.  That means that only 5% of couples where the man had 15 million/ml sperm or less conceived within a year.  For centile 50, the concentration was 73 million/ml, meaning that 50% of couples conceived within a year when the sperm concentration was up to that number.  You get the idea.

The problem is that people like cutoffs, and in the latest edition, the WHO chose centile 5 as the line in the sand.  It’s a good number for thinking that below it, couple infertility likely involves the male.  But keep in mind that at centile 10, only 10% of couples conceived within a year.  In other words, having sperm numbers above the centile 5 cutoff doesn’t guarantee that the sperm are trouble free.

Frankly, I think the WHO numbers are most useful to get a ballpark idea of how fertility may be related to what’s inside the semen.  I prefer the approach David Guzick and colleagues took, where they applied a statistical method called Classification and Regression Tree (CART) analysis to sperm, which gives two cutoffs in a “green light, yellow light, red light” fashion.  For example, CART analysis came up with 13.5 million/ml and 48 million/ml for sperm concentration.  At 13.5 million/ml sperm or less, the “red light,” couple infertility likely involves the male.  At 48 million/ml or more, your sperm probably are “green light” good to go.  Between 13.5 million/ml and 48 million/ml, the “yellow light,” sperm may or may not be the problem.  You can find the Guzick CART cutoffs here.

A lot of people, including doctors and fertility specialists, are confused about the new WHO cutoffs.  Expect a little consternation about them for a bit.

WHO Table II Distribution of values, lower reference limits and their 95% CI for semen parameters from fertile men whose partners had a time-to-pregnancy of 12 months or less

N Centiles


2.5 (95% CI) 5 (95% CI) 10 25 50 75 90 95 97.5

Semen volume (ml) 1941 1.2 (1.0–1.3) 1.5 (1.4–1.7) 2 2.7 3.7 4.8 6 6.8 7.6
Sperm concentration (106/ml) 1859 9 (8–11) 15 (12–16) 22 41 73 116 169 213 259
Total number (106/Ejaculate) 1859 23 (18–29) 39 (33–46) 69 142 255 422 647 802 928
Total motility (PR + NP, %)* 1781 34 (33–37) 40 (38–42) 45 53 61 69 75 78 81
Progressive motility (PR, %)* 1780 28 (25–29) 32 (31–34) 39 47 55 62 69 72 75
Normal forms (%) 1851 3 (2.0–3.0) 4 (3.0–4.0) 5.5 9 15 24.5 36 44 48
Vitality (%) 428 53 (48–56) 58 (55–63) 64 72 79 84 88 91 92

*PR, progressive motility (WHO, 1999 grades a + b); NP, non-progressive motility (WHO, 1999 grade c).