Having a low sperm count doesn’t just impact your choice to have children. It can also be linked to certain illnesses such as testicular or prostate cancer. Keeping your sperm count healthy—meaning having at least fifteen million sperm in a milliliter of semen—is important for keeping healthy and ensuring that you’ll be ready when or if you decide to have children. What are the causes of low sperm count?

1. Male Stress

Stress impacts the hormones that are required for producing sperm, thereby affecting your sperm count. Having healthy ways to cope with stress is important. Make sure to get enough sleep, as this ensures that your hormones are balanced and your immunity is up. Getting enough sleep can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which is something stress can throw out of balance. When you’re stressed, your body is functioning as if it’s under attack and therefore is not functioning optimally. Manage stress through exercise, sleep, and identifying the stressful areas in your life and seeing what you can do to reduce that stress.

2. Vitamin or Mineral Deficiencies

When we’re not getting enough of a certain vitamin or mineral, it can affect our entire system. Zinc, folic acid, vitamin C, and selenium are all important vitamins and minerals for fertility. Zinc is particularly important for men as it is a strong component of semen. Your doctor can run a blood test to determine if you are deficient in any vitamins or minerals. Foods high in selenium include Brazil nuts, fish, sunflower seeds, and mushrooms. Foods high in zinc include spinach, pumpkin seeds, and cocoa powder. A quality multivitamin could help you achieve optimal levels of these nutrients, or a single supplement in whatever you are deficient in. Check with your doctor to see if a vitamin or mineral deficiency could be causing your low sperm count.

3. Pesticides, Alcohol, and Other Toxins

Your low sperm count may be caused by exposure to pesticides or other chemicals. Pesticides could be anything from non-organic produce to the lawn treatment you use on your yard. Eliminate or minimize your exposure to these toxic chemicals to help increase your sperm count. Drinking alcohol and smoking can damage your sperm count too. Occasional drinks are fine but daily drinking could dramatically reduce your sperm count. Other toxins you may consider avoiding are BPA (found in certain plastics and can liners), perfluorinated chemicals (found in non-stick cookware), and certain medications such as antibiotics. Talk with your doctor to see if your medications could be hindering your sperm count.

4. Not Moving Enough

Exercise is important for all aspects of our body. Regular exercise helps to decrease your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It also promotes stress reduction, sleep, and a healthy sex life. Men who sit for long periods of time or aren’t very mobile in their daily lives tend to have lower sperm counts. To promote healthy sperm and increase your sperm count, try a moderate routine of exercise every day. Something as simple as taking a walk on your lunch break or doing yoga in the evenings could increase your circulation, improve your mood, and increase your sperm count. 

5. Certain Medical Conditions

There are certain medical conditions that affect your sperm count. These include having low testosterone, a varicocele (a swollen vein in the testicle), a sexually transmitted infection such as HIV, an undescended testicle, or certain surgeries such as prostate surgery. Some of these conditions are easily treatable, such as a varicocele, while others may only be manageable such as having a sexually transmitted infection. See your doctor if you have a medical condition to determine if it could be causing your low sperm count, and to talk about how to treat your condition to increase sperm count.

Having a low sperm count doesn’t have to be chronic. Consider these five causes of a low sperm count and visit your doctor to ensure that you aren’t experiencing any deficiencies or being exposed to any toxins that could lower your sperm count.