Human Sperm Definition & Function
What is Human sperm?
Derived from the Greek word “sperma” meaning “seed,” human sperm was first “discovered” in 1677 under a microscope. Sperm are male reproductive cells that contain half a set of chromosomes. Human sperm live inside semen (the two terms are not one in the same). About a teaspoon of semen (white or gray liquid emitted from the penis) is discharged during ejaculation. When ejaculated, sperm search for a female egg, and if found, merge together to create a set or 46 chromosomes and reproduce.
Human sperm generates in the testes and takes months to mature. They are extremely tiny and have a head, tail, and a midpiece – like a tadpole. The head is designed to break through a female egg. The tail helps the sperm swim at the human equivalent of four miles an hour.
Sperm are undetectable to the human eye and about 30 times smaller than a female egg. Human sperm can only fertilize an egg if they are ‘normal’ – some human sperm have two heads, some don’t have tails, some don’t move and others have pinheads. A man is lucky if 15% of his sperm are normal.
What does sperm do?
When joined with a female egg, human sperm fertilize and create a fetus. Approximately 100 million sperm are released in the average ejaculation. Only a few sperm survive the ‘journey’ through the female reproductive system to reach an egg. A male will produce around 525 billion sperm cells during his lifetime (shedding about a billion per month). Women, on the other hand, are born with an average of 2 million eggs – the only eggs she will ever have.
If it only takes one sperm, why do men create so many? Competition. Men have evolved so that many sperm are created to increase the likelihood of reproduction and passing on genes. As men with the highest sperm count continue to reproduce, their genes are passed on and genes with a smaller count of human sperm are eventually eliminated.
Approximately one-third of infertility is attributed to the female, one-third to the male, and one-third is caused by a combination of problems in both partners and more than 30% of men over 40 report having reproductive health problems. Much research surrounds sperm – scientists are attempting to create human sperm in a laboratory to aid infertile men. Women are also able to visit a sperm bank in hopes to impregnate themselves without a partner.
How to Improve Sperm Quality
Human reproduction relies on sperm. Researchers believe that sperm counts are down over 50% since the 1940’s and continue to drop 1-2% every year. The drop in sperm is attributed to plastic use, certain drugs, poor diets, and pesticides and chemicals. However, there are certain behaviors and changes men can make to improve sperm count and quality.
Weight affects a man’s sperm. Being underweight or overweight will negatively affect sperm and can also affect a couple’s sex life. Physical activity along with a diet of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, grain, and dairy will help men produce healthy amounts of sperm. In addition to an overall healthy diet, there are certain foods that can help human sperm. Folic acid, found in multivitamins, beans, leafy vegetables, whole grains, and more help men get the recommended daily 400 milligrams of folic acid.
Smoking is detrimental to both men and women’s fertility. Quitting as soon as possible is ideal, but anyone trying to conceive should stop smoking at least three months before. Women are also more likely to miscarry if their partner uses recreational drugs. Alcohol has similar effects on human sperm – men should cut back to a drink per day. In addition to reducing sperm production and causing sperm abnormalities, men don’t perform as well when they are inebriated. High soda and caffeine intake also see slightly reduced sperm counts.
Stress is also unhealthy for sperm. Men should make it a point to eat and sleep well, exercise regularly, hang out with friends, and make time for other activities he enjoys to ward off stress. Men should stay away from hot tubs, saunas, or steam rooms to keep testicles cool. Regular sex (or masturbation) actually helps speed up human sperm production.
Other small changes men can make include wearing looser underwear, taking colder showers, and eating foods such as: garlic, oysters, dark chocolate, eggs, carrots, bananas, asparagus, nuts, and pumpkin seeds. Highly processed soy foods (soy milk or soy burgers) are also thought to decrease sperm counts.
If you or your partner is concerned about fertility and sperm count or quality, a doctor can give him an overview of his fertility status. A doctor can also let you know if any medications are affecting your sperm and fertility.
Human sperm takes about 3 months to mature. If you are currently having fertility issues, try some of the suggestions above and give it a few weeks – by the end of the third month you will have hopefully healthier and more sperm.