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Spermatogenesis: The making of healthy sperm & how to go about it

Male factor is the second most cause of infertility after female age. 244 pieces of research have shown that sperm concentration – that is the sperm count per million per ml of semen have dropped by 50% over the past 40 years.

This has been demonstrated to be associated with advancing age, lifestyle, diet choices and environmental factors. The consequences on the future of the human population are concerning, to say the least.

We want to share this with you as we connect with couples facing fertility issues every day. We believe that it is important for men to understand that their overall health affects their sperm production and fertility.

Semen quality is a biomarker of a man’s overall health – the same as ovulation is a vital sign of women in her reproductive years. Everything you know that is bad for your health in the future – affects your sperm health TODAY. You may not develop cardiovascular issues from smoking till later in life, however, it 100% affects your sperm production right now. Research has shown that men with poor semen analysis results are more likely to develop type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease and are even more likely to die at a younger age. This is simply because it is a reflection of the man’s health overall.
The good news is if you’re trying to make a baby, rectifying these issues now can have immediate, let alone long-term benefits.

The Anatomy Bit

A male’s testes produce sperm and testosterone. Leading from each testis is a long, highly coiled tube called the epididymis, where sperm spends 2-10 days passing through and maturing. At the beginning of ejaculation, sperm are transported from the tail of the epididymis via the vas deferens to the urethra. The seminal vesicles, prostate gland and Cowper’s gland secrete liquid to make up the volume of seminal fluid. The average semen volume for healthy men ejaculating every 2 days is 3ml and the sperm concentration is 85/million per ml.

Sperm production takes a little under 3 months. 72-76 days in fact. However, when we are addressing sperm health parameters, we recommend a minimum of 3 months to influence a more positive outcome of improved sperm production. Sperm are some of the smallest cells in the human body, and sperm also have a very thin cell membrane – especially when they are in the epididymis (therefore the most exposed and vulnerable section of a man’s testes). These two factors combine to make them VERY vulnerable to the impacts of oxidative stress, which causes DNA damage. Unlike most other cells, they don’t have the capacity to repair their own DNA, so once the damage is done, a sperm is entirely useless.
Because nature and biology are very smart and works really hard to make reproduction possible against all odds, it has come up with a way of overcoming these hurdles – men produce thousands of sperm with every heartbeat so that millions are released at each ejaculation.
You can read more of my blog here where we talk about factors that affect overall fertility and sperm production, however, the question most men want answered is;

When and how should I have my sperm checked?
A small proportion of sperm made in the above ejaculate have to be any good to achieve a pregnancy, but these days we are seeing more and more semen analysis results prove that this margin is often too slim. Even in a very good sample, we would only expect 10% of sperm to look any good, but far too often we see 4% or even less.
Your checklist

  • Are you a smoker?
  • Drink alcohol or takes drugs (including prescribed pharmaceuticals)?
  • Have you ever used steroids?
  • Do you drink excess coffee?
  • Are you overweight? Metabolically well?
  • Stressed?
  • Are you a cyclist?
  • Do you frequently use saunas or spas or ice baths?
  • Have a family history of illnesses?
  • Have a family history of haemochromatosis?
  • Do you have a thyroid disorder?
  • Ever had an STD? Or other infections? Viral illness?
  • Have you ever been injured in the testes – copped a football to the “balls”
  • Work in an environment exposed to heat & chemicals?
  • Do you eat a lot of food out of plastics and use plastic water bottles?

If you answered yes, to any of these at least, then you should consider having your sperm tested.
The World Health Organisation recognizes standardization and quality assurance of semen analysis is sadly often inadequate. You need to seek a referral from your GP to go to an andrology lab attached to a fertility clinic such as IVF Australia or Genea and not the standard pathology companies you get your normal blood work taken.
You might also want to ask for these additional tests to be performed as they are special tests and do incur an extra cost. However, if you did say yes to any of the above – it is well worth it!

1. DNA Fragmentation Assesses 23 individual chromosomes for basic viability are present in the sperm and what % of the sperm don’t have viable DNA. Should you have a high percentage of DNA fragmentation this requires a commitment to change diet, lifestyle and antioxidant support. However, it is possible and can change very quickly.

2. Anti-sperm antibodies These are produced when there has been inflammation, injury, infection in the past. Essentially these antibodies, if present, clump sperm together so they are then unable to perform the role of swimming through the reproductive tract and achieving fertilization. If you have these an immediate referral to an IVF specialist for fertility is required.
Next up in the malefactor fertility blog series….”What your sperm analysis results should look like?

If, you need some guidance and direction in investigating and treating your fertile health, please feel free to get in touch by booking a complimentary Base Chat or Simplify Session here.

Author Carmen CooperAdv Dip Nut Med, Adv Dip Nat

Carmen is a qualified nutritionist & naturopath with a focus on IVF, fertility, male factor fertility, endometriosis and adrenal health
To book a session with one of our qualified practitioners click here.

References and resources;

Levine H, Jorgensen N, Martino-Andrade A, et al. Temporal trends in sperm count: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Hum Reprod Update. 2017;23(6):646-659. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmx0222. Oehninger S – Limits of current male fertility testing (Abstract) Chavarro JE – Healthy diets and men’s contribution to fertility; is semen quality good enough? Eisenberg ML – Semen quality, infertility and mortality in the USA Oostingh EC – Strong adherence to a healthy dietary pattern is associated with better semen quality, especially in men with poor semen quality (Abstract) Sakkas D – Sperm DNA fragmentation: mechanisms of origin, impact on reproductive outcome, and analysis Sermondade N – BMI in relation to sperm count: an updated systematic review and collaborative metaanalysis Veron GL8. – Impact of age, clinical conditions, and lifestyle on routine semen parameters and sperm kinematics (Abstract) Andrology Australia – now known as Healthy Male