Lets Talk About Sperm: Infertility, DNA and Semen Analysis

Male infertility is more common than you’d think. Here, Examen cut to the facts.

What constitutes healthy sperm?

A healthy sperm has good quality DNA and can swim well. Good sperm DNA is what makes a baby look and act like their Dad and is vital for a healthy child. If a sperm can swim well, it is more likely to reach the egg and fertilize it naturally. A good swimmer will also be better in IVF than a slow swimmer or a sperm that can’t swim at all.

Other measures like sperm count and shape (morphology) are less important. Men can produce up to five million sperm in one ejaculate and still be infertile. Also, poor swimming causes more infertility than low counts. 

How common is male infertility?

Up until a few years ago, we thought that nearly all infertility was due to the woman. Now, things are changing. We know that male infertility is even more common than female infertility and, of course, if both partners have problems, the chances of having a baby are even smaller. 

One in six couples need help to have a family. That’s a whole lot of couples and it is increasing year on year across UK and Europe.

What causes male infertility?

We know that sperm counts are dropping across the globe and it seems that our 21st century lifestyle doesn’t suit our sperm. So many of our habits cause problems. For example, bad lifestyle habits like smoking, drinking heavily, gym steroids, shakes, and food ‘on the run’ that is calorie rich and nutrient poor; as well as our sedentary work. Men’s testes are also meant to be at 35 degrees—that is why they are outside the body. If a man sits with his legs crossed all day, or behind a desk or driving a van, the heat rises.

What are the symptoms of male infertility?

There aren’t really any symptoms. Infertility isn’t like other diseases—it doesn’t creep up on you and you don’t feel unwell. For most of your life, you try to prevent getting in the family way, so you don’t expect it and if your friends have the problem, they don’t discuss it in the changing rooms.  Infertility hits most men like a sledgehammer—they don’t realize that they have a fertility problem until their partner can’t get pregnant. Usually, she has had a whole range of tests that come back clear and finally, it’s his turn to have a sperm check.

What does a semen analysis identify?

A sperm check (or semen analysis to call it by its proper name) just counts the number of sperm in a man’s ejaculate, how well they can swim and how normal they look. It’s the first test a man has and, unfortunately, sometimes it’s the only one he is offered.

What are the disadvantages of semen analysis?

It’s a test that hasn’t been updated for years. Also, it only looks at the outside of the sperm. Many men with normal semen analysis can’t get their partners pregnant, but lots of men with abnormal results conceive naturally. So, it’s not a very accurate test.

The most important part of a sperm is tucked away inside in its DNA. It’s DNA that has the instructions for making a baby. Good quality sperm DNA is essential for getting pregnant and having a healthy baby. Also, semen analysis results don’t tell a couple how well IVF or ICSI will work for them. 

What is sperm DNA fragmentation?

DNA is the code of life. It is unique to every person. DNA is made up of two long strands of genetic info. These strands are wrapped round and round each other to keep them safe, but sometimes the strands can snap. Specialized labs can measure the amount of damage in the DNA using sophisticated equipment. The test can’t be done in Fertility Clinics but the clinics can send your sample off for testing if you ask for the test. DNA damage is also called DNA fragmentation, DNA frag, and DFI—just so you know!

How can DNA fragmentation impact fertility, IVF treatment and miscarriage?

Lots of research from around the world has shown that sperm DNA damage is closely associated with male infertility. The level of DNA damage in a man’s sperm is also one of the tests used to predict how likely the couple will be to have a baby with IVF or ICSI. Recent research has also shown that sperm DNA damage can double the chance of a miscarriage.  

How can male infertility be treated?

It’s a good idea for a man to go and see an urologist—a doctor who specializes in male reproduction. It may be that the man has a varicocele (a varicose vein on his scrotum) or an infection, and these can be treated first to improve his sperm quality. In other cases, the couple may need to consider IVF and ICSI. Because the IVF success rates are quite low, it makes sense for a man to get his sperm in good condition before he and his partner have their first round of treatment.  

What lifestyle factors can be altered to boost male fertility?

These are just the opposite of the causes of male infertility. Improve your diet, stop or reduce smoking, lay off alcohol, get fit and lose some weight. Oh, and don’t forget to have plenty of sex…

Visit examenlab.com for more information.

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