Couples that are having a hard time conceiving often turn to infertility specialists to see what the problem is in their quest to have a child.
Sometimes, it is the woman that has issues (30% of the time) that can be resolved with hormones, surgery, or a combination of both. Other times it is the male (30% of the time).
Male infertility often means there were abnormal results obtained during a semen analysis. When you provide a semen sample for analysis, ideally, to a specialised fertility clinic, they look at the quantity and quality of your sperm to determine if they are within the normal ranges. If you do not fall pregnant within 12 months (or 6 months if you are a female over the age of 35), then the sperm quality may be the reason behind your infertility.
The good news is, that even if you are told you have a low sperm count or that your sperm are not swimming easily (immotile) or not well formed (morphology), there are some ways that it can be assisted to maximise your chances of achieving a pregnancy.
Are Your Hormone Levels Abnormal?
A possible reason for a low sperm count is a hormone imbalance. As part of the infertility work-up, your infertility specialist can run a few extra blood tests to check for appropriate hormone levels, generally FSH and testosterone. It is important to advise your specialist if you are taking any hormone treatment such as testosterone replacement, as this generally causes more damage to sperm production than good.
If hormone levels help explain the low sperm count, it is possible that your specialist will recommend a semen freeze to store sperm for future security against any irreversible decline in sperm production. If your hormone levels are within acceptable ranges there may be a few other reasons for low sperm quality.
Do You Have An Infection?
Infections are typically treatable, but the damage to the sperm is not always reversible. The type of infection will determine whether or not the sperm is affected.
In the case of STDs, the sperm typically needs to come in contact with the infection in order to be affected or the infection may negatively impact the delivery of your sperm in a normal ejaculate. The good news is that antibiotics and surgical procedures can help to reverse the infection and help to retrieve the sperm that is necessary to help you conceive.
Is There A Blockage?
Another possible reason for low or no sperm is a blockage in the testicles. If your hormone levels come back normal, chances are there is a blockage. This can be determined with an ultrasound and sometimes a biopsy of the testicles, where a small sample of the tissue is checked for the presence of sperm.
If there is a blockage it may be determined that surgery is an option to open the blockage. Sometimes the blockage occurs as a result of scar tissue from an injury, STD, or previous surgery (vasectomy, undescended testes as a child).
If the scar tissue cannot be removed, specialists generally retrieve the sperm surgically, and use it in conjunction with an IVF cycle requiring a special sperm injection technique called ICSI (Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection). In these cases surgical sperm collections can often be performed under a local anaesthetic during a procedure that generally takes no more than 30mins.
Do You Lead A Healthy Lifestyle?
Believe it or not, your state of health can have a direct impact on the quality and quantity of your sperm. If you do not eat a healthy well balanced diet, or if you drink excessively, smoke or do drugs you could be directly impacting your fertility.
There is good news though, as generally any potential damage caused by lifestyle can be reversed, as new sperm are produced on average every 3 months. But it is best to start early with lifestyle changes in order to have a positive impact on your reproductive health, as it can take up to a year to see a difference in your sperm quality.
Try to eat as much unprocessed natural foods as possible, such as non starchy vegetables and good quality proteins like meat and dairy. The more vitamins and antioxidants you provide your body with helps to enhance your reproductive and overall health.
What about other areas of your lifestyle? Do you smoke and drink more than you should? Now is the time to stop or at least try and reduce consumption, as both habits can be detrimental to the sperm that you produce.
If you need help quitting these habits it is worth seeking professional help as they can have a direct impact on your ability to conceive.
Do you lead an active lifestyle? Again, try and work in as much incidental and planned exercise as possible as this will also lead to better reproductive outcomes.
Do You Need Supplements or Antioxidants?
Even the healthiest person sometimes needs supplements and antioxidants to enhance their health, especially in today’s day and age where we are exposed to ever increasing levels of toxins, low nutrient soils, and the possible impacts of all the technology and modern conveniences we enjoy.
Supplements can be a good addition to your daily diet that help to give your body the levels of nutrients required such as Vitamin C, Zinc, Folic Acid, Vitamin E, Selenium and Lycopene. These are all particularly helpful in producing healthy sperm.
Antioxidants are also useful in that they fight off the harmful toxins and free radicals we are exposed to. Finding the perfect combination of supplements may be useful in improving the quality of sperm, but often the benefits are hidden and may not actually improve your statistics. However, they will be doing many good things for the inner health (DNA integrity) of your sperm, so discuss these options with your healthcare professional and make sure you keep up the good work.
If you have been told that your sperm count, motility, or morphology is abnormal, do not think this is the end of the road for you; there are many ways you can help try and turn your sperm around. If it is unsuccessful, then we can generally tailor a plan to your situation to do the best with what you have.
Plenty of healthy children are born to fathers with less than optimal sperm quality, they just needed a little more help than others.
The first step is finding out why you are having an issue. This will require you to have a full infertility work-up, which may seem invasive and often embarrassing, but it will provide you with the answers you need.
Once you know your hormone levels, presence of infections, and the appearance of any blockages within your testicles, you can determine the best course of action to help you turn your sperm quality around.
It may take some time and plenty of trial and error, but eventually, most people are able to work around low sperm counts to help them conceive. Remember, even if you have sperm but it is not being delivered, we can retrieve the sperm to help you on your way towards a pregnancy.
For additional help and to get any questions here, please phone us on 1300 FERTILITY (1300 337 845). We offer a free consultation to help you get started on your fertility journey.