1 in 7 couples will have difficulty in conceiving and male factor alone accounts for 20% of infertility issues and a further 26% male and female factor. That’s nearly 46% so if you’re having difficult conceiving is it worth testing the sperm? Yes – most definitely.
Standard semen analysis measures: volume, sperm count, motility, progressive motility (moving in a straight line) , morphology and other parameters such as pH, viscosity, white cell count, etc.
This test is offered on the NHS to those couples struggling to conceive, usually once referral to a fertility consultant has happened, or you can pay for a private analysis. On average prices are about £250 – sounds expensive? Well yes but someone literally has to count sperm! It is the first step to understanding what’s happening but by no means the last. If it looks like some of the parameters are low or boarderline it is definitely worth further testing. In fact, even with good sperm results, this does not rule out other sperm issues that might exist.
Further testing could be
- DNA fragmentation test – The head of the sperm is the part of the sperm that burrows into the egg and contains all the DNA – blueprint for life and development.This test looks at the structural genetic damage at the head of the sperm, it literally counts the number of broken strands. Testing shows the percentage of damaged sperm in the ejaculate, and can predict the likelihood of pregnancy naturally, with IVF or with ICSI. If you are having a round of IVF and the semen analysis is poor it’s a good idea to consider a DNA fragmentation test because it is possible to make improvements to the quality of sperm through lifestyle, supplements and acupuncture.
- An ultra sound scan is advised if there is pain in the testes or a poor semen analysis, a varicocele is a twisted vein which can be the cause of low sperm production and quality.
- ROS testing (Reactive Oxygen Species) measures the oxidative stress that sperm are exposed to.ROS are also known as free-radicals, they are formed in the sperm cells as by-products of oxygen metabolism, they can build up and damage the spermatozoa. This is not a common test and is not routinely available, but if you are being investigated a good urologist should take this into consideration.
- Hormone blood tests – men also have follicle stimulating hormone, luteinising hormone which are important for sperm production.
What to do immediately!
- Clear Environmental Toxins – check out one of my former blogs on this – consider all products put on the skin including washing products which may contain harmful toxins, use of plastic e.g. switch water bottles – the app Yuka is helpful here – just scan the barcode for information about how toxic the product is.
- Clean up Nutrition – there is always lots of information about what to eat and what not to eat, but optimising nutrition to make the best of sperm is crucial. It is possible that improving diet for just one week can make a difference to sperm motility!
- Eat fresh organic vegetables – improves morphology. Organic foods have reduced or no pesticides and herbicides which inhibit androgen production and cause thyroid disruption.
- Ditch the ready meals! High salt, fat and sugar depletes sperm count, concentration and morphology.
- Processed meat i.e. bacon, salami, hot dogs contain nitrates which can cause DNA damage and cancer – lower count and increase morphology.
- Fizzy drinks and sports drinks – reduce motility.
- Keep balls cool! Scrotal temperature needs to be between 34-35.5 degrees, any hotter and there is a risk in a drop in count and motility. This is such as easy win – here are things to avoid
- Avoid long periods of TV – sperm concentration 30% lower than those who don’t.
- Avoid sauna’s, hot tubs, tight fitting underwear, jeans etc.
- Top tip – after exercising allow testicles to hang free for a bit to allow them to recover from build-up of heat.
- Weight – optimal BMI of 20-25 both high and low BMI can cause poor sperm quality – the higher the BMI the more problems and higher scrotal temperature. BMI of 30+ will mean a lower count, concentration, volume, motility and increased morphology.
- Alcohol – moderate use does not cause harm, but binge drinking does.
- 4-7 units weekly is ok
- Higher alcohol use reduces testosterone and can effect erectile function
- Smoking – either direct or passive has an adverse effect and can damage chromosomes in the sperm, it also reduces zinc so the production of testosterone is reduced. E- cigarettes also reduce fertility.
- Marijuana – regular use (more than once a week) reduce the count by 29% almost a third and this increases to 55% if more than once a week – poor motility and morphology are also products of cannabis use.
- Exercise and activity – moderate exercise of moderate intensity is beneficial – more than one hour a day – this can improve sperm concentration. Intense exercise can be harmful this includes cycling for 90 mins plus – modify saddle and its position and consider looser fitting cycle pants – if there is such a thing!
- Drugs – even paracetamol can increase sperm abnormalities and sperm DNA fragmentation, anabolic steroids and testosterone supplements impair sperm production. (Zinc has a beneficial effect in improving Testosterone)
- Acupuncture and Herbs – an effects hormone levels and blood flow to the testes, therefore promoting the production of good quality sperm.
Get in touch if you would like to know how to get a sperm analysis test and ask about other ways in which acupuncture and herbs can help