Despite the media coverage on the issues of infertility, it is still considered taboo for men to discuss their sperm in a general and relaxed fashion, unlike women who regularly discuss their periods over a cup of coffee whilst learning about women’s health from each other.
In clinic it is fair to say where fertility is concerned that I usually see women who take the lead when something isn’t right with their body which sometimes is very obvious such as erratic periods, but in general women are the first to seek help to confirm they are ovulating and that hormones are in check. I’ve yet to experience men in general who take the initiative to check their sperm and its quality. Research has yet to confirm, but I believe this behaviour is largely down to the fact that males are less aware of male fertility issues and sperm discussions outside of the consultation room doesn’t happen.
There are number of unknown facts about sperm and male infertility but with some simple explanation of the facts of the reproductive process and the difficulties of natural conception do both men and women understand the importance of male reproductive checks.
Many are not aware of the difference between sperm and semen. Sperm the head and tail shaped reproductive cell (gamete) make up 2% of the total ejaculate whereas semen is fluid consists of vitamins, proteins, fructose and salts with its primary function to provide sperm with nutrients and facilitate sperms mobility high into the uterus.
When we talk about sperm numbers in their millions you think pregnancy should be easy, but when you consider a majority of sperm have defects such as two heads and tails, miss-shaped heads and tails that whip in the wrong direction and only 200-300 of sperm get high enough into the uterus it’s no surprise that pregnancy is difficult to achieve.
With an average sperm count being over 40 million per ejaculate many men produce on average around 70% sperm deformities. This number of abnormalities is actually considered normal in a sperm sample, but many couples are often alarmed to see such high numbers of abnormalities in their results.
Although numbers of sperm defects are considered normal, low sperm count is one area of male infertility which is on the increase. Sperm count is an important factor in human reproduction for ensuring that sperm get through the many barriers of the fertility process and gens are passed onto the next generation. So why over the last 70 years have we seen a decline in sperm count which is one of the many causes of male infertility?
It’s difficult to be exact for the reasons of such decline and scientists continually look for answers and have even considered the natural instincts in animal reproduction and the ability to hold back offspring when food becomes scarce or with a rise in population. Research in human sperm decline is limited but Sharp 2012 suggests that lifestyle and environmental factors have some real impact in the falling sperm rates across the world.
Through my clinical practice lifestyle is very much taken into account particularly in the areas of nutrition, smoking, stress and exercise. Although research is limited in these areas it is no surprise that with some lifestyle changes improvements in sperm samples have been seen which for some couples is all that is needed to improve their fertility outcomes.