This article first appeared on Bounty Parents website
Male fertility and why understanding his sperm characteristics is key to baby-making
One in six couples experience infertility.
By Fertility Expert, Leah Hechtman
Deciding to have a baby is an exciting time for couples, but it can become stressful if fertility issues are present.
Infertility statistics in Australia indicate that one in six couples experience infertility.
We know that male fertility accounts for one-third of cases, female fertility another one-third of cases and the remaining one-third is attributed to combined male and female issues.
When we consider male fertility, we focus on the making and transport of healthy sperm. Understanding sperm health is an important part of improving fertility and chances of conception. Two-thirds of infertile men have been shown to have a problem producing sperm.
One in six couples experience infertility and male fertility accounts for one-third of cases.
Determining sperm health
An important test for male fertility is a semen analysis that looks at the health of a man’s sperm. The main sperm health parameters analysed include:
- Quantity (sperm count) — A large quantity of sperm increases the chances of fertilisation. A semen analysis will look at the number of sperm per millilitre of semen and the total number of sperm. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of 39 million sperm per ejaculate.
- Movement (sperm motility) — Sperm needs to be able to move forward to find the woman’s egg. According to WHO, at least 32 per cent of sperm should be moving.
- Shape (sperm morphology) — A man’s sperm needs to be the correct shape to find and fuse to the egg. With strict specific criteria, at least 4% of sperm need to be these ‘super sperm’ and have a normal shape.
- Semen volume — Adequate semen volume (at least 1.5mL) is needed to transport sperm for fertilisation of a woman’s egg. Equally, too much can be a concern as well.
- Semen pH — Semen is usually slightly alkaline. The pH balance of semen may protect the sperm cell and stimulate sperm motility.
A semen sample reflects a number of health aspects on the day of collection, so diagnosis is never made on one sample. Semen quality can change between samples. Even for fertile men – illness, fever and infection can lower sperm quality. A healthcare practitioner will advise on the time frame recommended between analyses depending on the initial results.
While it appears, there are many factors needed for healthy sperm, it’s reassuring to know there are steps men can take to increase the health of their sperm when trying to conceive.
Understanding sperm health is an important part of improving fertility and chances of conception.
Improving sperm health
According to Andrology Australia, several lifestyle factors can cause sperm damage, including smoking, being overweight, overconsumption of alcohol, ageing and exposure to harmful chemicals.
Recommendations for improving sperm health include:
- Eating a balanced diet — A diet high in vegetables and fruit, legumes, nuts and seeds, omega-3 fats, and wholegrains is a healthy place to start.
- Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol — Quitting both can help protect sperm.3
- Maintaining a healthy weight — A healthy body weight improves sperm health.3 Men that are overweight are at increased risk of lower sperm counts.
- Antioxidant protection — Supplementation with antioxidants specifically ubiquinol may be beneficial for sperm production and motility. Multiple studies have shown improvement in sperm count, morphology (shape) and motility (movement) in infertile men taking ubiquinol for six months. Speak to a healthcare professional for advice on ubiquinol for male fertility.
Fertility is something couples should work towards together. Improving fertility improves the overall health of the couple and the health of future children. If you and your partner have been trying to conceive without success, you should both speak to a healthcare professional.