Male factor infertility affects 40-50% of couples who struggle to conceive

40-50% of couples who struggle to have a baby suffer from male factor infertility. If your sperm count is a little low or your sperm are spinning around in circles, it suddenly seems obvious why they are finding it difficult to reach the egg for fertilisation.

The most common reason for male factor infertility is a reduction in one or more sperm parameters. This could be a low number of sperm, poor sperm movement or abnormalities in the shape. A basic semen analysis can quickly and easily tell if these parameters are in the normal ranges. There may also be other problems with the sperm which are not so easy to detect, such as DNA errors. Because sperm are so small, their DNA must be packaged incredibly tightly to fit it all into the sperm head. Unfortunately this leaves the DNA vulnerable to damage which can affect its ability to make a healthy baby. Specialist tests are available to test for DNA damage but these often come at a more significant cost.

Fortunately, the invention of ICSI has offered couples with male factor infertility an amazing solution by bypassing the barriers associated with poor sperm parameters. In this process, a single sperm is selected and injected directly into the egg. This means that only few healthy sperm are needed (as opposed to with IVF insemination where millions are needed) and they don’t necessarily have to be strong swimmers. ICSI has now offered hope to countless couples who would previously have been unable to conceive.

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Men make around 3000 sperm every second

A sperm is the smallest cell in the body. Each one is produced in tiny tubules which are tightly coiled into the testes - if you stretched out all if these tubes they would be over a metre long! It takes around 3 months to make a sperm from start to finish then it is carried outside the body in semen which is a fluid produced mostly by the seminal vesicles and the prostate gland. In men with an average sperm count, around 3000 sperm are produced every second and millions are released in every ejaculate. Unlike women, men will continue to produce sperm for their whole lives, however the quality may reduce a little with age.

Although it takes approximately 3 months to produce a single sperm, new waves of sperm production are happening constantly within the long stretches of tubules in the testes. This constant production line ensures that there are always mature sperm ready to be released for every ejaculate.

You can't 'save up' sperm in the testes

If you are trying for a baby, it may seem like the best thing to do is to save up the sperm you have so there is more waiting in the testes for when you really need it rather than wasting it with frequent ejaculations but this isn't true. Sperm cannot survive for more than a few days before they are reabsorbed into the body and it takes around 24-36 hours to fully replenish your stock. This is why you will be asked to abstain from any sex or masturbation for at least 2 days but no more than 7 days before a semen analysis or fertility treatment to give the optimum results. Frequent ejaculations actually help to improve the quality of the sperm and keeps everything flowing.

Your lifestyle can have a huge impact on sperm production

The quantity and quality of sperm in your semen sample is affected by many factors; from your genetic make-up to your diet, lifestyle and environment. For example, taking steroids or recreational drugs can act as a male contraceptive and even stop sperm production completely. Even taking hot baths can drastically reduce your sperm count as cooler temperatures are required for sperm production – this is the reason why the testes hang outside the body.

Getting the right vitamins is also important in make good quality sperm. They are very vulnerable to DNA damage from oxidative stress which can occur from variety of sources including poor diet, stress, smoking and alcohol. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables provides nourishing antioxidants to counteract the harmful everyday effects sperm are exposed to. The good news is that making positive lifestyle changes can have an effect in as little as 12 weeks.

It is also important to note that reduced semen parameters can also be caused by many diseases and may be a sign of an underlying health concern which should be investigated. For example, there may be a blockage in the tubes delivering the sperm to the ejaculate. This can mean that the sperm count in the semen is low or zero, but it does not necessarily mean that there are not sperm being produced, they just aren’t being released. Speak to your doctor if you are concerned about your sperm.

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