Most of us picture a teeny tiny version of a tadpole when we bother thinking about sperm at all. But for couples hoping to conceive, these little swimmers are definitely on the radar–and they should be. Knowing all the facts about sperm doesn’t just make you positively lethal on trivia night, it actually puts you in prime position to optimize your chances of a healthy conception, pregnancy and baby. So let’s get to it, with these 10 facts about sperm that will (probably) blow your mind.
- The sperm factory never, ever closes
- Tick tock goes the (male) biological clock
- Sperm cells are teeny tiny–and they move in packs
- Just 3-5% of semen is made up of sperm cells
- Not all of those little swimmers actually swim
- Abnormal sperm can get pretty funky (we’re talking two heads)
- A man’s health & lifestyle direct affects his sperm quality
- Just one man in four has optimal sperm quality
- Sperm counts are declining worldwide
- Poor sperm quality means the risk of birth defects and miscarriage go up
1. The Sperm Factory Never, Ever Closes
Roughly 1,500 new sperm cells are “born” every single second, which adds up to a lot of sperm. But before those sperm cells are ready for their epic journey, they go through a critical maturation process that takes roughly 72 days. During that time, a man’s health has a direct impact on the quality of those growing sperm cells. In fact, sperm health tends to fluctuate during a man’s lifetime—it’s a reflection of all those times he was sick or just making bad choices, like too much booze, smoking, inactivity, stress, not enough sleep, all that stuff.
This two to three-month maturation window is why experts recommend that men take steps to clean up their act before they try for a baby. Ideally, a man should lay the groundwork a full six months before hoping to conceive—cleaning up his lifestyle and ensuring that he’s getting adequate amounts of the key nutrients shown to optimize the processes that drive conception. In other words, swapping the multivitamin for a high-quality prenatal vitamin, because yes, men should take prenatals.
2. Tick tock goes the (male) biological clock
The idea of the virulent eighty year old fathering children well into doddering senility is a persistent bugger. And sure, it happens, but it’s not the norm. The biological clock ticks for women and men alike, and while we’ve already established that the sperm factory is open indefinitely, the quality and motility of sperm rolling off the assembly line absolutely declines with age.
Older dads are also more likely to pass along genetic mutations. And while no one seems to be able to figure out that time machine just yet, proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle can help older men achieve healthier conceptions, pregnancies, and babies.
3. Sperm cells are teeny tiny—and they move in packs
Sure, you know that sperm cells are small. But we’re talking minuscule—teensy enough that you need a microscope magnified 400 times just to see them. They’re among the smallest cells in the entire human body. Meanwhile, a female egg cell is one of the biggest—almost large enough to see with the naked eye.
These itty bitty sperm cells more than make up for their size in sheer numbers. A healthy male’s ejaculation has roughly 55 million sperm—that’s six times the population of New York City—all in the hopes that one will lead to a conception. In fact, only around fifteen sperm will actually make it to the reproductive tract. When you think about it like that, it’s easy to understand why sperm quality as a whole is so important, and why taking steps to ensure all of those sperm cells are as healthy as can be should be a priority for men hoping to become dads.
4. Just 3-5% of semen is made up of sperm cells
The typical amount of ejaculate is between one quarter of a teaspoon and a teaspoon, and sperm cells make up just three to five percent of that amount. The rest is a cocktail of proteins, enzymes, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, sugars, and other nutrients, all of which nourish those millions of sperm cells during their long, exhausting, and downright dangerous voyage. Think of it as the equivalent to the energy bars you’d pack to tackle the biggest hike of your life.
5. Not all of those little swimmers actually swim
You’d think so, but functional motility (i.e. sperm movement patterns) is actually a big hurdle for many sperm. And interestingly, newly-formed sperm in the testicles can't actually move at all. They generally fall into three groups—those that move in straight lines or big circles, those that move anywhere except forward, and the non-moving group. Hilarious visual, right? What’s even wilder is that a man is considered fertile if only 40% of his sperm are motile.
And here’s something interesting. Sperm carrying the Y chromosome actually swim faster than those with an X chromosome, because they carry less DNA. Some researchers theorize that the longer it takes to conceive, the greater the chances of having a boy.
Regardless of the DNA they’re carrying, sperm motility falls into the “quality” category, and again, you can improve the quality of sperm—including their ability to swim effectively—with the right prenatal nutrition.
6. Abnormal sperm can get pretty funky (we’re talking two heads)
Two heads, weird tails, missing parts—there’s a lot of funky sperm out there. Sperm morphology describes the shape of these little guys, and abnormal sperm are associated with lower rates of fertility. You can blame a lot of lifestyle choices on poor morphology, and you can improve morphology by dropping the bad habits and fueling up on the right nutrients.
7. A man’s health & lifestyle directly affects his sperm quality
A crummy, nutrient-void diet. A smoking habit. A beer habit. Too much sleep. Too little sleep. Too much stress. Not enough exercise. All of these poor lifestyle choices directly influence the quality and quality of a man’s sperm. The silver lining? A conscious effort to lead a healthier lifestyle, among its many benefits, can actually overcome the negative impact of all those risk factors. And it can happen faster than you’d think, which brings us to our next point.
Sperm quality is often an indication of a man’s health in general. Guys with low-quality sperm tend to have other health issues, particularly relating to hormones, skin conditions, and circulatory problems. That means you can work backwards — if you’re a smoker or dealing with obesity, it follows that sperm quality is going to be poor. Fortunately, taking steps to improve health as a whole will also improve sperm health.
8. Just one man in four has optimal sperm quality
Unfortunately, most men have pretty terrible sperm. A study from 2012 had the sobering finding that just one man in four can brag about his optimal sperm quality. That’s an issue on multiple levels, not least of which is this: Preconception health of moms- and dads-to-be can directly influence both a pregnancy and the health of a baby, including birth weight and brain development.
The good news? The most common cause of sperm deficiencies can be traced to a nutrient shortage, and proper prenatal nutrition—which includes supplementing with bioavailable forms of key nutrients—is associated with higher-quality sperm and fewer DNA abnormalities.
9. Sperm counts are declining worldwide
Studies continue to point out a troubling trend–sperm counts are falling, fast. Globally, average sperm counts fell over 62% between 1973 and 2018, and it seems to be getting worse. Experts are raising red flags about what this might mean for reproduction as a whole, and many are looking to potential causes such as environmental toxins and specific lifestyle choices.
Of course, even the very best men’s prenatal vitamin isn’t a cure-all. But committing to a daily prenatal is one of many positive lifestyle choices men can make to prioritize their health for better sperm quality.
10. Poor sperm quality means the risk of birth defects and miscarriage go up
Another reason healthy sperm is so darn important? It carries the DNA blueprint for the placenta, which nourishes a growing baby during pregnancy. What’s more, oxidative damage to sperm DNA, or DNA fragmentation, can have a profound effect on a pregnancy’s viability and a growing baby’s health. One study found that the sperm of men whose partners had experienced recurrent miscarriages had significantly higher levels of DNA damage than men whose partners carried a pregnancy to term.
THE BEST WAY TO BOOST SPERM QUALITY
Are you sensing a theme here? For dads-to-be, your best bet for healthy sperm is to commit to being healthier as a whole and make a point of adding a high-quality prenatal vitamin to the mix. Beli Vitality for Men is a scientifically-aligned men’s prenatal supplement made with the most bioavailable ingredients in their most effective amounts. Our formula is based on the latest research regarding men’s fertility nutrition—we’ve included everything you need to improve all the parameters of sperm health, and nothing you don’t.
The bottom line
When a man isn’t taking care of himself, it’ll show in his sperm. But the reverse is true too. If a baby is the goal, a clean diet, healthy lifestyle, and the right prenatal will make a huge difference in sperm quality. And here’s a happy bonus — the same nutrients that support sperm production also affect testosterone levels, which means a stronger sex drive and improved performance in the sack. It’s a win-win!