There are many factors that affect male fertility, but sperm quality, or the ability to fertilize an egg, is one of the most important aspects in determining fertility.
What Defines Sperm Quality
A semen analysis measuring the quantity and quality of a man’s semen is one of the first steps to detect male fertility issues. A normal sperm count is between 15 million and 200 million per milliliter of semen, and while having a low sperm count can make it more difficult to conceive, a high sperm count isn’t always indicative of fertility.
Motility refers to movement, and sperm must be able to move–or swim–swiftly through the female reproductive anatomy to find and fertilize the egg. With a semen analysis, your “swimmers” are placed under a microscope and assessed for their motility. In order for sperm to be considered good quality, they must have progressive movement, which means they need to move in a straight line or large circular manner.
The shape and structure of sperm is called sperm morphology. Along with motility, morphology is a critical component of sperm quality. If any of the morphology described below isn’t as it should be, the sperm won’t be able to reach and fertilize the egg.
- The sperm head: The head carries all of the sperm’s genetic material along with enzymes that help the sperm penetrate the egg for fertilization. It must be uniform in shape and oval; any defects such as a large misshapen head interfere with sperm’s ability to reach and penetrate the egg.
- The sperm midpiece: Also known as the midsection or the body of the sperm, the midpiece must appear intact as it contains the cellular material that powers the sperm to reach the egg.
- The sperm tail: The tail is made of protein fibers that help sperm swim to their intended destination, so it must be uncoiled and singular. A double tail or a tail that’s coiled won’t reach the egg.
Chromosomes are part of our DNA and guide physical and mental development. Human beings have 46 chromosomes: 23 come from the mother’s egg and 23 from the father’s sperm. This full cell of chromosomes continues to divide into more 46-cell chromosomes, eventually becoming an embryo, a fetus, and finally, a healthy baby.
If an embryo has chromosomal abnormalities, either too few or too many chromosomes, it can result in a whole range of issues–from developmental delay to physical defects to miscarriage or stillbirth.
Sometimes the DNA within the sperm becomes broken. This damaged or abnormal DNA is called DNA fragmentation , which results in recurrent miscarriages or lowered male fertility. Exposure to toxins, age, illness, certain drugs and smoking all contribute to sperm DNA fragmentation.
Other Factors Affecting Sperm Quality
Like female fertility, male fertility is also affected by age. But unlike females, who stop producing eggs at a certain point, men continue to produce sperm. However, the sperm they produce isn’t always considered viable, with studies showing that motility and morphology declines with age. Older sperm also likely contains more fragmented DNA and genetic mutations that affect the lifelong health of children. Freezing your younger, healthy sperm is one way to prevent these issues.
Smoking, medication, alcohol consumption and diet all impact sperm quality. Obesity, drug use, stress, a nightly soak in the hot tub and wearing compression shorts can also disrupt the quality and viability of your sperm. But luckily, sperm regenerates every 90 days and responds positively to healthy changes you make.
There are some infections and illnesses, especially those accompanied by a high fever, that impact the quality and production of your sperm. Medications used in testosterone replacement therapy, chemo, opioids, anabolic steroids, some antidepressants and even some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) may interfere with your sperm quality. Of course, the duration you take the medication and the strength of those meds all play into how your sperm bounces back after you halt your meds.
Exposure to Toxins
A job or lifestyle that puts you at risk for exposure to certain toxins (below) may also cause a decline in sperm quality, and can talk to your doctor about your concerns.
- Chemical compounds found inside transformers (PCBs)
- Diesel exhaust
Together We’ll Boost Your Sperm Quality (and Fertility)
If you have concerns about your sperm health due to any of the above issues, HALO can help. Our doctors are dedicated to helping couples and individuals realize their goal of growing a family. Contact Halo Fertility today.