When my wife Jess and I wanted to start planning a family, we knew deciding on the right sperm donor would be a painstaking process. We both cared very strongly about educating ourselves on the ethical questions surrounding donor-conceived people (DCP), and during our research process discovered how important it was to many DCP to have access to their genetic heritage.
Not all DCP felt the need to have access to their biological parent, but for those who did and weren’t able to have that accessible, it led to genealogical bewilderment– “a state of confusion and the undermining of one’s self concept due to lack of knowledge of at least one genetic parent.”
Jess and I concluded that our first preference by far would be to pull from our existing circle of friends or acquaintances–someone with whom we already had a trusted relationship. We ended up choosing a donor who was truly excited about both the opportunity to donate, and the opportunity to be involved in the children’s lives, in whatever capacity felt comfortable to my wife and me. He checked off our physical and mental health requirements, lived nearby (which would substantially reduce financial cost; traveling out of state for each fertility cycle would be an exponential increase in expense), and was someone we both respected and would be excited to be involved in our children’s lives.
So when we all went to get fertility testing and his test came back with the result, “potentially significantly decreased fertility,” we were all dismayed. Did this mean we had to start over again? We truly had our hearts set on this particular donor.
Our donor’s doctor advised that fertility results can easily fluctuate, and our donor was willing to implement lifestyle changes and see if his fertility could be improved. We decided to give it several months and do our own research as well as take his doctor’s advice to see if the fertility results could be improved, knowing that it takes weeks to months to see actual improvement once you’ve implemented a change in routine. The first three suggestions are the easy ones that most people know about; the later suggestions involve more careful research.
Keep in mind, we are not medical professionals, so check with your doctor before implementing any changes yourself.
- Don’t put hot things in your lap. Laptops give off heat and can raise testicular temperature, also known as scrotal hyperthermia, which is bad for quality semen production.
- Don’t take a hot bath or sit in a hot tub too long. Same idea behind the “hot things in lap. A hot bath or hot tub on occasion would likely be fine, but sitting in one too long would lead to the same rise in testicular temperature. One study showed reduced sperm concentration, motility, and decreased normal-shaped sperm. Another study showed that an increase in temperature led to a lower sperm count for weeks.
- Wear loose pants and underwear. The same concerns about temperature arose here, as well as concerns over testicular restriction.
- Cut back on the workout regime. It’s true when most people think of getting in shape in order to be at their most fertile to conceive, they think of losing weight, not gaining it. And it is true that exercise has been shown to increase sperm count. But too much exercise can lower testosterone by almost 30%, which negatively impacts semen quality. Exercise, in particular running, were very important to our donor, so he still continued to run, but he cut back.
- Gain weight for a healthy BMI. Similar to the reason above, if you are too slender, your body thinks it’s a time of scarcity rather than abundance, and having too little fat can affect your fertility. Our donor aimed to gain 10 lbs over the span of three months and increased the healthy foods in his diet–protein sources, dark leafy greens, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
- Consider FertilAid for Men. This was our donor’s doctor’s recommendation. It advertises itself as a, “popular male fertility supplement since 2003 to support healthy sperm count, motility and morphology,” and a “2-in-1 powerful male fertility pill PLUS male prenatal vitamin.”
- Vitamins, vitamins, vitamins! This was by far the most extensively researched part of our plan. Some of our readers may be familiar with several listed vitamins because they are often discussed in regard to female fertility, but many of them have positive impacts on male fertility as well. Our donor increased the healthy parts of his diet to maximize getting these vitamins from food, and also took supplements. Note: some of these vitamins are a part of mixed studies, where some studies show notable improvement and some other studies show minimal to no improvement. Our mindset became–if there’s evidence that it could help, and taking the supplement/ eating the brussels sprouts salad won’t hurt, then we’ll go for it!
- Folic acid. This is a B vitamin vital in supporting the creation and growth of new cells. Low rates of folic acid are associated with higher chromosomal abnormalities in sperm. For men who ate high levels of folic acid in their foods, their risk of sperm abnormalities dropped by 20%. Foods that have folic acid: fortified cereals and breads, beans, leafy green vegetables, peanuts, fresh fruits, chickpeas, fruits.
- Omega-3 fatty acids (aka fish oil). Omega-3 are healthy fats that support heart health, support the structure of your cell walls, and are essential for the maintenance of many parts of your body. Omega-3 usage seemed to improve semen quality in several studies; in another, it had a “statistically significant effect” on sperm morphology and motility. Omega-3s can be found in fish, seaweed, and algae. A plant-based version of omega-3, ALA, is found in berries, avocado, beans, nuts, seeds, spinach, broccoli and mangoes.
- CoQ10. Using antioxidants to treat male infertility has been shown in many studies to protect sperm from oxidative stress. A 2019 study showed that oxidative stress reduced sperm motility, increased chance of miscarriage or genetic disease, and increased sperm DNA damage. CoQ10 supplementation was shown to improve both the antioxidant status and semen parameters. Foods with CoQ10 include fatty fish like mackerel and tuna, organ meats, and whole grains.
- Ashwagandha. Ashwagandha is an herb, not a vitamin, and is renown for its effect on stress. Even without the data on oxidative stress, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to intuit that reducing stress levels could help when it comes to areas like fertility! One study showed that after 3 months, ashwagandha increased sperm motility by 57%, volume by 53%, testosterone by 17%, and sperm counts by 167%. Ashwagandha is most accessible as a tea or an herb.
- ViriliTea Male Fertility Tea. Speaking of teas, this was a fun bonus that our donor ran across–a way to increase the herbal intake while drinking an “invigorating, refreshing, and mildly sweet loose-leaf tea made from organic and wildcrafted herbs”. It included Ashwagandha, Siberian Ginseng, Muira Puama, Tribulus terrestris, Fo-Ti Root, Epimedium (Horny Goat Weed), and Saw Palmetto.
When it came time for round two of fertility testing, we were blown away by the notable improvements. The previous semen analysis had shown our donor’s progressive motility at 30%; after implementing these lifestyle changes, it was at 51%. Before, total motility was 42%; after, it was at 61%. Before, sperm concentration was 36 M/ml; after, it was 41.
And the best indicator that it worked? My wife and I both conceived on our first cycles–approximately a 9% likelihood!
We (and all our medical professionals) were floored. We’re so happy that our donor was willing to implement lifestyle changes and that all his hard work paid off so wildly successfully.