Meet the Expert: Dr. Darren Bryk, AKA the sperm whisperer, is an andrology/male infertility fellow at the University of Virginia. He medically reviewed each post in our three-part "It Starts With the Sperm" mini-series.
Part three-part in the mini series, “It Starts With The Sperm,” is all about the moment of conception—egg-sperm fusion, i.e. fertilization. So much leads up to this point, and so much important work is still to come. In news that will surprise absolutely no one, it’s the healthiest, strongest sperm that makes it to the finish line. Any issues relating to sperm count, shape or movement can make fertilization a challenge, if not outright impossible. That’s why ensuring sperm as a whole get top marks across all health parameters is so important. Let’s break it down.
Understanding Potential Fertilization Issues
Fertilization is a complicated and critical part of a successful pregnancy. If just one thing goes sideways, a pregnancy will not occur. On the men’s side, healthy sperm is important. In the journey to fusion, sperm have to navigate three treacherous paths:
- First, they must be capable of propelling themselves through the vaginal and cervical environment. They’re coated in a gel formed by semen that is designed to protect them from what is generally a pretty inhospitable place. The coated sperm with the most motility travel into the uterus and upward into the fallopian tubes.
- Sperm that survive the first leg of the journey and successfully reach the egg then face a second challenge. They have to break through a tough outer membrane known as the zona pellucida which protects the egg like a shell. In order to break through, sperm require key enzymes that allow them to both penetrate and fertilize the egg.
- Once sperm has successfully made it into the egg, the zona pellucida fulfills its second job and becomes impermeable to penetration by other sperm.
There are endless obstacles and hurdles along the way, and for a pregnancy to occur, there must be enough healthy sperm to make it through. More healthy sperm means better odds, and part of that has to do with the fact that the egg is pretty picky!
A fascinating study (1) published in 2020 confirms that mate choice continues well after getting busy, and it essentially boils down to rewarding the most compatible choice. That begins with the arduous and downright treacherous journey from the cervix to the fallopian tube in search of the egg. It’s estimated that of the hundreds of millions (2) of sperm that begin this trek, only 250 will make it to the homestretch. Of these final contenders, just 10% are likely capable of fertilization. From this group, the egg sends chemical signals to the most appealing sperm, which encourages them to swim harder, faster and more directly—and the best sperm wins.
But to be successful, the best sperm not only needs functional motility, appropriate morphology, and healthy DNA, it also requires the right enzymes for proper egg fusion. Roughly 1 man in 5 has infertility issues related to a hormone imbalance that means sperm is lacking in one health parameter or another.
Measuring Sperm Health
Clearly, an army of healthy sperm is the ideal scenario. And you can’t talk about healthy sperm without talking about the vital role key nutrients play (3) during their maturation process. Just like women, men’s bodies need specific vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support and drive their reproductive process. And by that, we’re talking about healthy sperm development. It’s measured in a few ways:
- Sperm count. This describes the number or concentration of sperm cells in a given amount of semen. Normal semen contains greater than 15 million sperm per milliliter. A low sperm count is less than 15 million sperm per milliliter, though a low sperm count can be adequate for pregnancy if the sperm are healthy. Low sperm count can be the result of medical problems, age, and environmental factors, but lifestyle plays a role too.
- Sperm motility: Motility is measured as the percentage of moving sperm cells in a sample of semen. Healthy sperm motility is defined as sperm with forward progressions of at least 25 micrometers per second. There are different kinds of sperm motility issues, including slow or sluggish progressive motility, non-progressive motility (defined as anything less than 5 micrometers per second), and no mobility. Further, a total motile sperm count greater than 20 million is considered normal. Having a total motile sperm count less than 20 million indicates a lower likelihood of being able to achieve a pregnancy.
- Sperm morphology: Healthy, well-formed sperm have egg-shaped heads and long tails. Sperm use these tails to move to the egg. Well-shaped sperm are important to help achieve a pregnancy.
Looking for specific steps you can take to boost male fertility and support healthy sperm? Check out our 11 tips for nourishing and promoting healthy sperm right this way.
The Bottom Line
The goal, obviously, is sperm that nails all three parameters. And the right nutrients can help. Research has found that micronutrient intake affects male reproductive health, and prioritizing vitamins D, C, E, and CoQ10 can have a huge impact on sperm health. Of course, that’s exactly why we included them, along with other evidence-based ingredients, in Beli Vitality for Men. Our formula optimizes the nutrients that have shown to support and nourish sperm in each stage of growth. After all, it all starts with the sperm—and the best sperm starts with the right nutrition.
Check out the other articles in our mini-series “It Starts With the Sperm” mini-series: Protecting Sperm DNA! and
Fitzpatrick, J. et al. (2020). Chemicals signals from eggs facilitate cryptic female choice in humans. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2020.0805
Alberts, B. et al. (2002). Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26843/
Cetin, I. et al. (2010). Role of micronutrients in the periconceptional period. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19567449/