Factors That Affect Sperm Count

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Sperm count: How much is considered normal?

Sperm is the male reproductive cell.  Sperm count, also referred to as sperm concentration, measures the concentration of sperm in the semen.  According to WHO (2010), 15 million sperms in a milliliter of semen is considered as normal.  Older definitions put the figure at 20 million sperms per milliliter of semen.  The average sperm count in the western world is around 60 million per milliliter.  Cause of concern is that the sperm count has been decreasing at the rate of 1-2% every year, as observed over the last decade.  

Factors that affect sperm count

There are many factors that affect sperm count.  Here is a brief discription of each of them:

  • Side effects of certain medicines:  Many medicines have a negative effect on sperm count.  Some of them are Methotrexate, Sulfasalazine, Gentamicin and Ketoconazole.  

  • Emotional stress:  Studies indicate that emotional stress interferes with the hormone GnRH resulting in lowering of sperm count.

  • Physical stress: Physical stress can temporarily cause low sperm count.

  • Substance abuse:  Use of cocaine or heavy marijuana is found to reduce sperm count.  

  • Cigarette smoking:  Research has proved that sperm count is lesser in smokers by 13% to 17% than in non smokers.  It is also observed that sperm count improves after the person gives up smoking.  A very good reason to give up that useless habit!.  

  • Excessive consumption of alcohol:  Tests have proved that excessive consumption of alcohol results in decrease in sperm count.

  • Malnutrition:  Insufficient consumption of vitamin C, zinc, folate and selenium may result in lower sperm count.

  • Radiation treatment:  Cells that produce sperm are very sensitive to radiation.  These cells take up to two years to resume normal sperm production.  In some cases, these cells may be permanently damaged losing their capacity to produce sperms.

  • Excessive heat within the testes:  This can adversely affect production of sperms.  That is the reason why it is better to avoid regular use of hot tubs, whirlpools and saunas.  It is also better to avoid wearing tight underwear.  

  • Obesity:  Some studies have linked obesity to lower sperm count.

  • Varicocele:  Varicocele is an abnormal enlargement of the veins in the scrotum.  Some experts are of the opinion that varicocele may damage the testicle resulting in decrease in sperm production.  

  • Autoimmune disorder:  This is a disease in which the body attacks its own cells (including sperms) due to hyper active immune system.  Men exposed to pesticide Chlorpyrifos (Dursban) were found to be affected by this disease.

  • Testosterone deficiency:  Testosterone is a male hormone produced by the testes.  Research results have indicated that testosterone deficiency can cause decrease in sperm count.

  • Hormonal abnormalities:  Decrease in pituitary hormones affects the ability of the testes to produce sperms.

  • Cycling:  Cycling is found to have an adverse affect on sperm count.  

  • Exposure to certain pesticides:  Exposure to common pesticide chlordane is found to decrease sperm count.

  • Exposure to heavy metals:  Continuous exposure to metals like lead, arsenic and cadmium may affect sperm production resulting in lower sperm count.

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