Understanding sperm health is just as important in fertility care as any woman’s issue.
Men are just as likely as women to have issues with their fertility. In fact, in up to 40% of couples having trouble conceiving, the cause can be linked back to the male partner. When this happens, the culprit almost always has to do with sperm health.
Sperm are male reproductive cells present in the ejaculated semen. Fertility specialists are concerned with several factors related to sperm most notably count, motility (movement of the sperm) and morphology (shape of the sperm). A doctor can tell you about these factors using a test called semen analysis.
To test a person’s sperm, a doctor will ask the person to ejaculate into a specimen cup. They will send this specimen to a laboratory, where technicians will evaluate the sample for the estimated sperm count, motility and morphology.
A semen analysis is a test that can indicate sperm health.
The average sperm count is between 40 million and 300 million sperm per milliliter. Even people with an average, or “normal,” sperm count may experience infertility, as other factors can influence how effectively sperm can fertilize an egg.
A low sperm count is typically anything under 10 million sperm per ml. Although a low sperm count can negatively impact a person’s fertility, it does not mean that pregnancy is not possible. Even a single sperm injected directly into an egg can fertilize it.
The semen analysis can also measure the sperm’s motility and velocity. These are measurements of how well sperm can swim to fertilize an egg and how fast the sperm travel.
In addition, a semen analysis can assess the size and shape of the sperm which can affect fertility. While all semen samples contain abnormally shaped sperm, the more defects that are present, the higher the likelihood of infertility.
If the sperm count is low but the sperm is of high quality, with a good shape, size and swimming speed, a doctor may consider these sperm count levels in the normal range.
Poor sperm can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes.
Medications, such as anti-estrogens or gonadotropin therapies, which are hormones that can boost fertility, may also be prescribed in some instances to boost sperm health.
Some treatments to strengthen sperm may depend on the underlying cause of a low sperm count. For example, if a person has a blockage in the seminal vesicles, called a varicocele, a doctor may recommend surgery to remove or correct the obstruction.
Certain lifestyle changes can also make sperm healthier. Some of these lifestyle recommendations may include:
- Drinking less or no alcohol. Alcohol can reduce testosterone production, which can reduce sperm count.
- Not smoking. Men who smoke typically have lower sperm counts than those who do not.
- Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight. Fat cells in the body release an enzyme called aromatase, which breaks down testosterone into estrogen. This can decrease testosterone and sperm count.
- Avoiding overheating the testicles. Although research on this topic has yielded mixed results, some people who want to improve fertility should avoid using hot tubs, saunas, and laptop computers on their lap.
- Avoiding performance enhancing supplements such as testosterone or steroids. Anabolic steroids used to enhance strength and fitness can actually drastically lower a man’s sperm count, sometimes even to zero in many cases. Similarly, testosterone supplements can also cause sperm counts to plummet.
Anyone who is concerned about their sperm health can contact our Louisiana fertility specialists at 888-467-2229.