Are Your Sperm Top Performers?
As you and your partner plan for having a baby, you may be curious about the quality and quantity of your sperm. Take the first step by beginning to understand the variety of factors that can influence male fertility. You will discover ways to optimize your fertility. It is reassuring to know you are doing your best to have a baby.
How do You Know Your Sperm is Healthy?
A semen analysis is a blunt instrument to assess male fertility. It describes quantity, movement and shape, but does not reliably predict the ability of a sperm to enter and egg and fertilize it normally. Here are normal values in a semen analysis:
At least 15 million sperm per milliliter in a single ejaculation.
At least 40% of sperm are moving. Movement can be shaking, chasing their tails in circles or progressive movement in a single direction. It is best that at last 1/3 of sperm moving progressively.
This is the most subjective measure. We compare the shape of your sperm to a virtually perfect sperm shape. However, the saying, ‘form should follow function’ applies here. The most current sperm shape assessment follows very strict criteria. To learn how the sperm functions, we observe how sperm perform in the laboratory petri dish with in-vitro fertilization and ask a very simple question: how low can normal sperm morphology go before there is a real decline in fertilization of eggs? The answer is below about 4% normal forms. If we were taking a test, getting a grade of 4% or greater is an ‘A’. What a curve!
What we’ve learned is that lower count, movement and shape does not mean the sperm do not naturally reach the egg. Rather, when they arrive at the egg, they may not be able to get into the egg. It’s like getting to the door of your house, but you don’t have the key to enter. We are on the hunt to discover more reliable methods to assess the fertility potential of sperm. Current research into sperm DNA and RNA may hold the key.
What Causes Male Infertility?
A variety of medical problems can reduce fertility or even be the cause of sterility (complete absence of sperm). On the flip side, some types of infertility can be a clue of having other medical problems.
- Medical problems that cause hormone imbalances in the control centers of the brain called the hypothalamus and pituitary gland can lead to diminished sperm production. This is called secondary hypogonadism
- Testicle disease caused by a genetic abnormality, trauma, exposure to toxic substances, hormone therapies including testosterone and anabolic steroid abuse, cancer, chemotherapy and radiation cancer treatments.
- Sperm transport problems caused by a genetic abnormality such as being a carrier of the cystic fibrosis mutation, trauma, past vasectomy with failed reversal, spinal cord injuries and diabetes mellitus causing sperm to enter the bladder during ejaculation rather than be expelled through the penis (retrograde ejaculation).
- Men with advanced age of 45 years and greater can result in reduced fertility and contribute to the risk of miscarriage and birth defects. We hear about older male celebrities fathering children. So we know there is hope to succeed in having a baby when male partners are older.
How Can You do Your Best to Produce Healthy Sperm?
You can follow a simple plan of action to optimize your fertility:
Maintain a healthy weight.
Some research suggests that being overweight can reduce sperm count and sperm movement.Eat a healthy diet.
Select plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants including vitamins C and E.
Prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Sexually transmitted diseases that cause infection and possible damage to your reproductive tract and that of your sexually intimate partner — such as chlamydia and gonorrhea — are a cause of infertility for men.
How can you protect yourself from STDs?
- Limit your number of sexual partners.
- Use a condom each time you have sex when not trying to have a baby.
- Stay in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who isn’t infected.
Stress can decrease sexual function and interfere with the hormones needed to produce sperm. One of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction is stress. Caution for men with erectile dysfunction less than age 50: it can be an early sign of cardiovascular disease. The coronary arteries are much larger than the penile arteries. The penile arteries can be clogged by cholesterol plaques much sooner than the coronary arteries. Reduced blood flow through the penile arteries from cholesterol plaques can result in difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection. Evaluation by a cardiologist may be needed to ensure you become a heart healthy father and later a heart healthy grandfather.
Move your body!
Moderate physical activity can increase levels of powerful antioxidant enzymes, which may prevent sperm problems from developing.
What’s out of bounds?
Sperm can be especially vulnerable to environmental factors, such as exposure to excessive heat or toxic chemicals. It takes nearly three months for sperm production to recover from a temporary damage to sperm cells. To protect your fertility:
- Don’t smoke.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
- Avoid lubricants during sex. If necessary, consider using baby oil, canola oil, egg white, or a fertility friendly lubricant, such as Pre-Seed.
- Talk to your health care provider about medications. Calcium channel blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, anti-androgens and other medications can contribute to fertility issues. Anabolic steroids can have the same effect.
- Cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer can impair sperm production and cause infertility that might be permanent. Ask your doctor about the impact on your fertility — or the possibility of retrieving and storing sperm before treatment.
- Watch out for environmental toxins at home or in the workplace. Exposure to pesticides, lead and other toxins can affect sperm quantity and quality. If you must work with toxins, do so safely. For example, wear protective clothing and equipment, and avoid skin, eye and lung contact with chemicals.
- Stay cool. Increased scrotal temperature can hamper sperm production. Although the benefits have not been fully proven, wearing loose-fitting underwear, reducing the time you spend sitting, avoiding saunas and hot tubs, and limiting scrotum exposure to warm objects, such as a laptop, might enhance sperm quality. Bicycle riding has not been shown to reduce male fertility.