Nearly half of all cases of infertility can be attributed to sperm — so why aren’t we talking about it more? This article will help to dissolve some misconceptions around sperm health, as well as explore what a semen analysis is, possible causes of reduced sperm quality, and how to improve semen parameters.
What is a Semen Analysis?
A semen analysis is a quick way to assess sperm quality, and it forms an important part of your initial fertility testing with TRIO. A standard semen analysis will check a few key aspects, including:
Semen Volume: How much semen has been produced.
Semen pH: How acidic or alkali the sample is.
Sperm Count: How many sperm are in your sample. This parameter is also known as sperm concentration.
Motility: How your sperm is swimming. Motility is usually split into progressive (sperm that are moving forward), non-progressive (sperm that are moving on the spot), and immotile (sperm that are not moving).
Morphology: How the sperm looks. Are their heads the right shape? Do they have two tails instead of one? Morphology is important because if sperm are the wrong shape, they are less likely to swim to the egg and fertilize it and they be abnormal.
What are ‘Normal’ Semen Parameters?
The World Health Organization has released semen parameter reference values, which can be seen in the table below (1). If your semen parameters are above these reference values, you may have better odds of achieving a pregnancy.
However, if sperm quality falls below these values, it does not mean you cannot become a parent. If it is found that the sperm count is close to zero, you may still be able to become a biological parent with the help of assisted conception. If this applies to you, please speak with a TRIO expert for more information about your options.
|Semen Parameter||Reference Value|
|Sperm Concentration (x106/ml)||16|
|Total Motility (%)||42|
|Progressive Motility (%)||30|
|Normal Morphology (%)||4|
Although a standard semen analysis is very useful, it can’t tell us everything about someone’s reproductive potential. Sometimes it’s beneficial to take a closer look at the sperm to check for breaks (fragmentation) in their DNA.
A high level of DNA fragmentation has been linked to an increased miscarriage risk and difficulty achieving a pregnancy (2). Anyone can opt to have a DNA fragmentation test, though it may be particularly useful for patients who have:
- Reduced Sperm Morphology
- Recurrent Pregnancy Loss
- Been Trying to Conceive for an Extended Period
There are many potential causes for high DNA fragmentation, and it may be possible to lower the amount of fragmentation with the help of a doctor. Please get in touch if you would like more information about DNA fragmentation testing.
Potential Causes of Reduced Sperm Quality
There are many factors that could impact your sperm quality, some of which include:
Genetics: Certain genetic conditions, such as Klinefelter Syndrome and Y-chromosome microdeletions, can negatively impact sperm production.
Hormonal Imbalances: The reproductive system relies on a carefully regulated balance of hormones to function properly. Consequently, hormonal imbalances can have adverse effects on fertility. There are many possible causes for hormonal imbalances including the use of steroids, tumours in the pituitary gland, diabetes, and chronic stress.
Medical Conditions: Numerous medical conditions can negatively affect someone’s ability to become a parent. These could include varicoceles, undescended testes, blockages in or absence of the reproductive tubes, and nerve damage.
Gender-Affirming Medications: If you are currently transitioning and having estrogen therapy, there is a chance it could negatively impact sperm production (3). If you have any questions about the potential effects that gender-affirming treatments may have on fertility, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Lifestyle Factors: For some people, a poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle adversely affect their sperm quality.
How to Improve Sperm Quality & Quantity
If your doctor identifies that lifestyle factors may be contributing to your subfertility, making small changes to your everyday life may improve your sperm quality in as little as three months. These changes could include:
Getting Within a Healthy BMI Range: Having excess body fat may cause an imbalance in estrogen and testosterone, which could reduce sperm quality and quantity (4). Being underweight can also have negative consequences for fertility by reducing sperm counts (5).
Quitting Smoking: Research suggests that smoking can reduce sperm counts, motility, and morphology (6). So, if you smoke, quitting may help improve your semen parameters.
Keeping it Cool: For optimal sperm production, the testes should be kept cooler than the rest of your body. Therefore, opting for loose-fitting underwear and avoiding long soaks in the bath may increase your sperm quality.
Eating a Balanced Diet: Evidence suggests that following the Mediterranean Diet may be best when trying to conceive (7). This diet is rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and fish. Fast food intake should be limited to the occasional treat.
Taking Part in Regular Exercise: Being sedentary is associated with poorer sperm quality, so taking part in moderate exercise may be a good way to improve your semen parameters. It’s important not to overdo it though, as extremely intense exercise can have negative consequences for fertility too.
Saying No to Recreational Drugs: Taking non-prescription drugs that create excess testosterone in the body, like steroids, can damage sperm production. Other recreational drugs, such as cannabis, can make it difficult to sustain an erection and may reduce sperm quality.
FAQs: Semen Analyses & Sperm Quality
How can I prepare for a semen analysis?
Your fertility team will ask you to abstain from ejaculation for a period (2-5 days) before your semen analysis. Abstinence that is too long or too short may impact your results, so it’s important to follow your physician’s guidelines. If you are producing your sample at home, it’s essential that you return it to the clinic within one hour of production, as sperm quality steadily decreases post-ejaculation.
Can TRIO help me optimize my lifestyle?
Yes! Changing your habits can be hard, and we are here to make the process of optimizing your lifestyle as easy as possible. Our fertility naturopaths offer Preconception Care which, amongst other things, can help you make healthy lifestyle changes.
Should I take supplements to improve my fertility?
There is some evidence to suggest that certain supplements may help improve sperm parameters for some people. However, you should always take supplements under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as some may actually be counterproductive to your goals.