Often the burden of fertility focuses automatically on the female partner, however up to 50% of couples struggling to conceive can trace their issues to male fertility factors. Low sperm volume, poor cell quality and low mobility can all contribute to a picture of reduced fertility for men, creating difficulties naturally conceive with their partner.
“No problem” I hear you cry, “my fertility clinic say it doesn’t really matter as they will inject the sperm cell into the egg to fertilise it.”
Well, yes, there is truth in that viewpoint. When it comes to Assisted Reproductive Technology solutions, ICSI (intracytoplasmic injection), where a sperm is introduced directly into the selected egg, has become the favoured procedure in many fertility clinics, and completely bypasses the need for the male to produce a champion swimmer.
However, whilst ICSI can bypass issues commonly encountered due to a lack of sperm motility, the quality of the sperm cells injected is often overlooked. As a result, in some cases a weaker sperm cell containing lower quality genetic material can ultimately become part of the fertilisation process which may reduce the chances of producing a viable embryo. By mechanically intervening in the process, the fertility clinic is bypassing the in built survival of the fittest test which has ensured the survival of our species.
So how can we affect the quality and quantity of sperm to encourage successful natural conception or to ensure that the sperm which is picked for ICSI duties has the highest chance of being in peak condition?
- Start Now - It’s time to put aside any feelings of social stigma and to act, reduced sperm quality is a common medical condition and not something to be embarrassed about. Sperm cells take around 3 months to develop into their mature form and so start introducing changes right now to start building towards improved fertility in the coming months.
- Lose Weight - For those of us carrying a little too much weight, losing just 5-10% of our excess body weight has been proven to significantly increase our chances of conceiving naturally and to improve IVF success rates for couples. Excess fat is associated with decreased levels of testosterone which is essential to build sperm cells, and damage to sperm DNA, so start working to shed the weight now with a balanced diet and regular exercise.
- Quit Smoking - Everybody knows about the dangers of smoking, and all the research points to the damage to sperm cells and their numbers associated with smoking, both cigarettes and marijuana. With lots of method of support to quit smoking available, choose one which suits and get the support you need to quit to improve fertility and health across the board.
- Manage Stress - Elevated stress levels correlate closely with reductions in sperm numbers, cellular structure and ability to swim strongly. Managing stress through exercise, mindfulness and proper sleep, along with therapies such as massage and acupuncture, can result in a reduction in the stress hormones present in the blood and less stress usually means healthier, happier sperm cells.
- Cut Down On Coffee - High levels of caffeine have been shown to damage Sperm DNA so ease back on the coffee. Limit yourself to 1-2 cups per day or switch to decaf to limit the amount of caffeine you are pumping into your system.
- Choose the best Supplements - Along with a balanced diet taking in plenty of protein and fresh fruit and veg, supplements are a great way to plug any gaps in your vitamin and mineral intake and to ensure you have optimal levels of the essential components to build healthy sperm cells. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Coenzyme Q10, and Zinc are amongst the supplements which can contribute to sperm health. A number of herbal formula have also been seen to have a positive benefit, reducing damage to sperm cell membranes by oxidative stress.
- Have Regular Sex - At last, the advice you have been wanting to hear for years. Have more sex because it’s good for your sperm, at least in general. Frequent sex has been shown to increase the quality of sperm in semen, whilst a few days abstinence prior to your partner’s most fertile time of the month increases the number of sperm in the ejaculate. Sex every day leading up to ovulation is recommended and every other day at other times. Don’t overdo it though, in traditional Chinese medical terms you run the risk of exhausting your system if you ejaculate more than once per day.
- Take a Course of Acupuncture - The jury is in on Acupuncture and sperm health and it’s good news. More than 10 high quality clinical trials across the globe have demonstrated positive effects on sperm cell structure and mobility following a course of acupuncture and/or herbs.