According to the largest study to date analyzing semen quality, a man’s sperm count is a marker of his general health. The study of 5,177 male partners of infertile couples evaluated semen quality and reproductive function and found a direct correlation between low sperm count and diabetes, heart disease, and stroke risk in these men.
Low sperm count is associated with metabolic symptoms leading to diabetes, heart disease, and strokes
Specifically, researchers observed that men with low sperm counts (less than 39 million per ejaculate) are 20 percent more likely than men with normal sperm counts to have greater body fat — larger waistlines and higher body mass indices (BMI) — higher blood pressure, higher “bad” LDL cholesterol, and lower “good” HDL cholesterol. The men with lower sperm counts showed more signs of metabolic syndrome – this cluster of symptoms that puts these men at risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Men with low sperm counts also showed signs of insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes. Finally, men with low sperm counts are 12 times more at risk for hypogonadism or low testosterone levels, which is linked to osteoporosis or low bone mass, among other symptoms.
“Our study clearly shows that low sperm count by itself is associated with metabolic alterations, cardiovascular risk and low bone mass,” says the study’s lead investigator and associate professor of endocrinology of Italy’s University of Brescia, Alberto Ferlin, M.D., Ph.D. “Infertile men are likely to have important co-existing health problems or risk factors that can impair quality of life and shorten their lives.”
Mitochondrial health is key to fertility
In his Bulletproof Radio podcast interview with Dr. Walter Crinnion, a naturopathic doctor who specializes in environmental toxins, Dave points out that fertility is a basic sign of how resilient your body is. “If you’re at the age when you should be fertile and you’re not, something is really wrong, and you’re probably not going to live as long as you should,” he says. It all comes down to the mitochondrial strength of your semen. Mitochondria are the battery packs of your cells that power all biochemical functions. “If your swimmers aren’t swimming, the odds are that your heart isn’t pumping the way it could be. Your brain isn’t thinking the way it could be, and it all comes down to these little mitochondria,” Dave explains. If they aren’t vibrant and healthy, chances are their distress will show up in other parts of your body – your heart and brain – as well.
So how do you fix damaged mitochondria? According to Dr. Crinnion, the first step is to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins, like mold, pollution, pesticides, and chemicals found in processed foods, plastics, and personal care products. “Over 80% of the toxicants rolling around in our bloodstream are non-persistent. If you stop having them come in your nose or in your mouth or on your skin, they’re not going to get there. Give them two weeks, three weeks, you don’t have anymore.” Listen to the podcast for more mitochondria hacks that will help your chances of fertility and keep you healthy overall.
Eat meat and high-quality fats to increase sperm count
Fortunately, there are many practical steps you can take to boost your sperm count. A four-year study found that a meat-based diet is beneficial for male fertility. Specifically, the study found that vegetarians and vegans had an average of 51 million sperm per milliliter, compared to 70 million sperm per milliliter amongst the meat-eaters studied. That amounts to nearly 30 percent fewer sperm in those who don’t consume meat.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or carnivore, what’s most important is that you’re getting enough good fat. Good fat is essential to your body making testosterone — read here to learn how your body makes testosterone from cholesterol. Good fat sources are low-mercury fatty fish, grass-fed butter, and meat. Even ice cream made this way is a good-fat, vegetarian-friendly option.
Supplement with maca to improve sperm motility
Maca is a root that grows in the Andes Mountains. One study found that both 1.5g and 3g daily doses of maca increased sperm count and sperm motility – that is to say, sperms’ ability to move freely through a woman’s reproductive system.
Aim for gelatinized (cooked) maca, as raw maca contains anti-nutrients and extra starches. Also, some maca gets moldy, which can affect cognition. If you feel like you lose mental clarity after taking it, try switching brands. Our recommended brand is Gaia MacaBoost (It’s paired with ginger and cacao, which makes it taste far less pungent than pure maca powder.)
Dose: 3-5 grams (1-2 tablespoons)
How to take: With a fat source (maca is fat-soluble)