Semen Quality : What Is Measured And What Can Be Done To Improve It?

By BSc, MSc (embryologist), PhD (embryologist), BSc, MSc (embryologist), BSc, MSc (gynecologist) and BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 02/19/2019

In order to measure sperm quality in a man's ejaculate, he goes through a seminogram. It is an analytical test in which medical staff study various parameters of the spermatozoa, such as their mobility, morphology or concentration.

A semen sample is considered to be of low or poor quality when it does not reach the minimum reference values established by the WHO according to the parameters analysed in the semen analysis. It can have an impact when trying to get pregnant. It can have an impact when trying to become pregnant. Therefore, it is necessary that the sperm have a certain quality in order to fertilize the egg and allow gestation.

The main spermatic aspects analyzed in the seminogram to define the semen quality are the following:

  • Motility, morphology, vitality and concentration of the spermatozoa
  • Volume and pH of the ejaculate
  • Presence of leukocytes and other cell types
  • Agglutination and/or aggregation of spermatozoa

According to the results of semen analysis, we can define whether or not there are male fertility problems related to sperm quality.

Normal reference ranges for semen quality

As we have mentioned, the WHO sets values for establishing normozoospermia or normal semen quality. If one or more parameters show a value below the reference value, the sample will be classified as:

Sometimes there are alterations in more than one parameter such as cases of oligoastenatozoospermia. These samples with combination of sperm alterations indicate a worse quality of sperm, which will lead to greater difficulty in achieving pregnancy and therefore greater need to resort to assisted reproduction techniques.

Semen quality & Age

It is common to hear about women's biological clock and menopause but we don't have as much information about the effect of age on men and their fertility.

Numerous studies indicate that the quality of sperm decreases with age. However, the decline is much less drastic than in the case of eggs and therefore a male can have children in advanced ages.

It does not mean that men do not have a biological clock. However, it may not stop as it does for women, although it will slow down.

In addition to age, there are other factors that can negatively affect sperm quality. A few examples are:

  • Fever
  • Environmental factors such as exposure to chemicals or radiation
  • Toxic habits such as tobacco, alcohol, or drugs
  • Prolonged sexual abstinence
  • Taking specific medications and antibiotics
  • Stress
  • Food

How to improve sperm quality?

As we have seen, the semen quality may vary from one seminogram to another due to the influence of numerous factors.

As a result, in many occasions, after obtaining a bad result from the seminogram, it is recommended to repeat the semen study after 3 to 6 months. During this time, indications will be given to the patient about healthy habits and general recommendations related to aspects that may be related to sperm.

Drug treatments are also available to improve sperm production and thus increase sperm quality. These are generally vitamins and antioxidants.

Finally, one should remember that spermatogenesis takes place in the testicle about 2 degrees below the temperature of the rest of the body. Therefore, any exposure to heat can be counterproductive. It is advisable not to carry the mobile near the testicle, not to support the laptop in the genital area or to avoid tight trousers.

Interview with Doctors Laura Sarabria and Víctor Villalobos

Dr. Laura Sarabria, an embryologist, explains that sperm quality is defined according to four parameters:

  • Volume
  • Concentration
  • Motility
  • Morphology

Our recommendation, for all men who wish to improve their sperm quality, is to lead a healthy life and follow a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Víctor Villalobos, a gynaecologist, explains that he is used to work with patients who have poor sperm quality. However, this does not mean that they are not getting pregnant. Indeed, 40% to 45% of patients with poor sperm quality obtain it.

Depending on the semen quality, we will use different techniques. If the quality is not too bad, artificial insemination will be carried out. Otherwise, in the most severe cases, we will opt for an IVF or ICSI IVF to select the best quality sperm to fertilize the egg.

FAQs from users

Can cellphones affect sperm quality?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Yes, electromagnetic radiation of cellphones can in fact affect several parts of the body, including the testes. In this case, the effects are more noticeable amongst males who are used to put their phone in their pocket.

Other factors to keep in mind are:

  • Model or type of device
  • Usage of Internet, if any
  • Internet connection speed (3G or 4G)
  • For how long the phone is kept in the pocket of the trousers
  • Other places where the phone is kept

According to various studies, radiation of mobile phones affects the viability and motility of sperm. Sperm concentration is affected as well, though to a lesser extent.

I have heard Scottish kilts improve male fertility, is it true?

By Laura Garrido BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Yes, recent studies have shown that the use of the kilt, the traditional tartan-patterned Scottish dress that boys and men from this land wear with proud, seems to improve the quality of their semen.

The traditional, healthier and even manlier way of wearing this dress is without underpants, and it is that very looseness what increases sperm production, leading to a subsequent increase un sperm concentration.

The scrotum, being some degrees below the temperature of the rest of the body, optimizes spermatogenesis, that is why Scottish men that choose that attire see their semen quality improved.

This study was carried out by a group of Scottish researchers and their results were published in the Scottish Medical Journal. According the their research, men who has been using the kilt for years have better sperm concentration levels. Moreover, a boost in the fertility of these men was confirmed.

Can the use of a laptop cause male infertility?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

The use of the laptop on the male's legs can affect the formation of sperm due to the heat produced by the computer's battery, which increases the temperature of the testicles.

An increase in scrotal temperature of more than 1ºC from the initial value may inhibit spermatogenesis. This happens when the laptop is used for long periods of time and very often. It is therefore best to use a table or other support for the laptop and not to place it directly on the body.

Can eating habits affect a man's sperm count?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Absolutely yes. Diet and eating habits are key factors when it comes to determining sperm quality in males.

A number of studies have demonstrated that what you eat on a daily basis, especially if it contains high amounts of carbohydrates and saturated fats, can diminish the sperm count, causing oligozoospermia.

Can caffeine cause oligozoospermia?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Some scientific studies have associated high amounts of caffeine intake, such as coffee or coke, can lower the sperm count by 30%.

It is not that caffeine causes oligozoospermia directly, but better that is aggravates the problem especially in males with bad eating habits who drink alcohol, smoke, or take other kinds of drugs.

Does bike riding lead to low sperm count?

By Zaira Salvador BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Some studies affirm that men who spend a lot of time on the bicycle may see their semen quality affected due both to tight clothing that increases the temperature of the testicles, and to the knocking of the genitals with the saddle.

The great effort that occurs in this type of endurance sports also contributes to the formation of reactive oxygen substances that affect male fertility.

Finally, high pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the scrotal area can also contribute to impotence and erectile dysfunction in cyclists, so it is recommended to use alternative saddles that exercise less pressure on the groin and increase blood flow to the penis.

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Authors and contributors

 Cristina Mestre Ferrer
Cristina Mestre Ferrer
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biological Sciences, Genetics & Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV). Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the UV and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Embryologist at IVI Barcelona. More information about Cristina Mestre Ferrer
Dra. Laura Sarabria Cos
Dra. Laura Sarabria Cos
Bachelor's Degree in Biology and PhD from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Murcia. Specialist at Assisted Reproduction and Embryology Unit. IVF Laboratory Supervisor at Instituto de Reproducción Asistida Quirónsalud Dexeus Murcia. More information about Dra. Laura Sarabria Cos
 Laura Garrido
Laura Garrido
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Pablo de Olavide University (UPO) of Seville, Spain. Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV) and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Experience at IVF, andrology, and general analysis laboratories. Embryologist specialized in Assisted Reproduction. More information about Laura Garrido
 Víctor Villalobos Paz
Víctor Villalobos Paz
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Medicine from the Zulia University of Venezuela, with specialty in Obstetrics & Gynecology. Master's Degree in Human Reproduction from the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI) and the King Juan Carlos University of Madrid. Head of Obstetrics & Gynecology Service at Hospital Quirónsalud of Murcia. Coordinator o Human Assisted Reproduction Service at clinic Dexeus Murcia-Torrevieja. More information about Víctor Villalobos Paz
License: 303007323
 Zaira Salvador
Zaira Salvador
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Technical University of Valencia (UPV). Biotechnology Degree from the National University of Ireland en Galway (NUIG) and embryologist specializing in Assisted Reproduction, with a Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV) and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI) More information about Zaira Salvador
License: 3185-CV

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