Firstly, no, not all sperm are great. An increasing number of men are demonstrating sperm analysis results that indicate a natural conception with their partner is either unlikely or almost impossible. Male infertility accounts for around 30% of infertility in couples, with around 50-60% of infertile couples experiencing a degree of subfertility with both partners.
Male fertility cannot be ignored. And, it is not limited to only sperm quality. Varicocele, cysts, infections, hormone imbalance, genetic disorders and erectile problems can also play a part. These can be investigated with a physical examination, sperm analysis and blood test.
But back to the sperm, which is the most common area for problems in male fertility. Sperm need to be motile (their swimming power) to find and fertilise the egg, there needs to be enough of them to statistically survive the ‘hostile’ environment on the way to fertilising the egg (many also get lost along the way), they need to have healthy DNA in their heads and they need to be formed correctly in order to fertilise the egg and provide healthy genetic information for the formation of the new life. Recurrent miscarriages, which used to be pinned solely on the female partner, are now known to often be due to DNA fragmentation in the sperm.
So, should all sperm be great? No, again. They just aren’t designed that way. If a man is ejaculating every 1-3 days his semen analysis to achieve a natural conception, (providing his female partner is also in good fertility health), should look more like this:
- Volume (ml): 3.7
- Count (106/ml): 64
- Total motility (%): 61
- Morphology (%): 15
These figures are based on the semen analysis results from a WHO report averaging the results of over 1700 men whose female partners became pregnant within a 12 month period. This is a good indication of the minimum levels that any man wishing to conceive should be aiming for, after all, you want to conceive easily, have a viable pregnancy, with a live birth and a healthy baby.
Note: these values are higher than the standard reference ranges on a sperm analysis. This is because we are interested in a healthy, natural conception. The reference ranges used for the sperm analysis refer to sperm parameters that show the sperm are suitable to be used for ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), an assisted reproductive technique where a sperm that looks healthy is taken from the ejaculate (usually with sperm of low quality and count) and injected into an egg rather than fertilisation occuring naturally.
So, if you are staring at your (or your partner’s) semen analysis and it doesn’t look up to scratch, what can be done? See your general practitioner or fertility specialist, perhaps additional testing is needed (e.g. repeat semen analysis or blood testing). If no cause is found, many men are encouraged to use ICSI (described earlier) to produce a pregnancy as no other medical option exists to address the health of the sperm.
Here’s the good news. There is another way. For unexplained male infertility and low sperm parameters, natural medicine has some modalities that may help. Given spermatogenesis (the process of making sperm) occurs in a period of around 3 months, your minimum treatment time should be three months.
Firstly, your practitioner will recommend some lifestyle advice which should include:
- Do not overheat the scrotum (this means no computers on the lap, phones in pockets, tight underwear, excessive overheating exercise or spa/sauna use and limiting the amount of hours spent consecutively on a bicycle – whether stationary, push or motor).
- Maintain a healthy weight – studies have shown men with a body mass index that is either too high or too low affects their sperm.
- Avoid or at least limit alcohol. This may be hard, but the results will be worth it.
- Don’t smoke. No butts about it. And that goes for marijuana and other recreational drugs too).
- Include walnuts (handful per day), oily fish (salmon and sardines), zinc rich foods (oysters, lean meat, nuts, greens and pumpkin seeds) and of course your vitamin C and antioxidant rich 5 serves of brightly coloured vegetables and 2 serves of fruit per day. Plus get your two litres of water each day to keep your body hydrated and the water works working.
Through a consultation with you, your practitioner will also ascertain any other areas of your health that are under par that may be affecting your fertility and then make recommendations to resolve them. This may include additional dietary and other lifestyle recommendations.
Acupuncture has been the focus of some male infertility studies in recent years and has shown promising results in the areas of sperm count, morphology, motility and fertilisation rate. In practice, we often see significant changes to a man’s semen analysis following treatment.
And just because you are wondering (and I know that you are), we don’t stick any needles in the man’s bits. So you can relax. In fact, acupuncture treatment is relaxing. To get optimal results, acupuncture treatment should be as frequent as 1-2 times per week, for three months.
Nutritional medicine and herbal medicine also have plenty to offer men with low sperm parameters. These will often be selected to suit each man’s individual health profile to enhance the effect of their acupuncture.
A Danish study showed that a man’s sperm analysis was indicative of his overall health and longevity. So, with acupuncture, natural medicine and some dietary/lifestyle tweaks, not only may your fertility get a boost but so too may your overall vitality. Win, win!
For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture). Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.