Article in Body and Soul
The game plan for dealing with a low sperm count.
Infertility is on the rise in Australia with one in six Australian couples currently experiencing challenges with falling pregnant. Of the causes of infertility, reduced sperm count (and/or quality) accounts for around one third of cases. One of the questions, then, commonly asked of a GP in relation to difficulties with conceiving is what to do about a low sperm count?
What causes low sperm count?
Keep in mind that a low sperm count can be caused by a number of genetic, anatomical, environmental, and nutritional factors.
Genetic causes – conditions such as cystic fibrosis and Klinefelter’s syndrome can cause a reduction in sperm count and can be detected via genetic testing.
Anatomical causes – the most common anatomical cause for reduced sperm count is in those men who have had a vasectomy.
Environmental causes – exposure of the testes to prolonged periods of heat such as having regular saunas can reduce sperm count; as can having a high fever from an infection. High stress levels for prolonged periods of time may also reduce sperm numbers.
Nutritional causes – insulin resistance (due to subsequent reduction of testosterone levels) can reduce sperm quantity as can recreational drug use, steroid use, and excessive alcohol consumption. Severe zinc deficiency may also reduce sperm count.
How a low sperm count is detected
Ruling out a low sperm count involves a simple semen analysis. This can be arranged by your GP and is part of the routine investigations for infertility. This test involves self-collection (at home) of a semen sample into a specified collection container as provided by your GP. Semen is then analysed in terms of sperm count and quality. In terms of numbers, a normal result would show a sperm count of at least 20 million sperm per mL of semen.
Treatment for a low sperm count
If a low sperm count has been confirmed then your GP would likely undertake a blood test to check for male hormone levels, namely testosterone, as well as other hormone levels. DNA testing from your blood sample may also be undertaken, after full counselling of the risks and benefits of genetic testing, to rule out genetic causes for a reduced sperm count.
Aside from the anatomical and genetic causes for reduced sperm count, which oftentimes require specific intervention by an IVF specialist, individuals can improve their chances of producing higher numbers of sperm by addressing lifestyle factors such as reducing alcohol intake, avoiding recreational drug use and steroid use, reducing body weight to within healthy limits, and reducing stress levels. Taking a nutritional supplement specifically designed to improve male fertility, to which there are a few on the market, may also help to improve male fertility, although definite research showing benefit is lacking.
The message here though is that if you are worried about sperm count levels do go and see your GP who will start the process of basic investigations and will guide when referral to an IVF specialist is necessary.