Low sperm count: How to overcome it
by Dr Joel Akande
Low sperm count or as it’s called in medical world, oligospermia, is a major biological and reproductive issue. At the risk of being accused of hyperbole, low sperm count puts survival of humanity at risk. There is no doubt that in some parts of the world, population is increasing such as in Nigeria. But in other regions of the earth, population is diminishing. We all know that even within a country such as Nigeria where population increase is a problem, not everyone desiring a baby gets one because of low sperm count. Low sperm count is common in Nigeria and the rate is increasing, especially amongst the young generations.
All said, the individuals that are suffering from low sperm count are, obviously, very concerned as I have seen in my fertility practice on so many occasions. As the reader may know, a third of infertility issue is due to male issue which in the end is due to low sperm count. Another third is due to female and the couple together shares the remaining third. Yet, in the male factor, low sperm count or oligospermia is a major contributor and indeed, the most significant contributor to the male infertility problem. Quantity or count of sperm is just a part of the sperm problem. Sperm numbers, to be effective, should be in the order of at least 20million. That is not the end of the story.
Quality of the sperm is another great concern. For sperm to be of good quality, the sperm must be able to move actively and freely within the suitable environment of the reproductive tract of the female. The individual sperm must be free from structural abnormalities in shape and form. Fertility doctors are most concerned with sperms that are dead or sluggish even if the quantity is sufficient. Sperms must be able to penetrate the covering of the female egg before or just prior to fertilisation taking place. Failing, low sperm count and low quality of sperm remain a challenge for the childless and the attending fertility physicians.
What causes low sperm count? The life style of men accounts for a significant cause of low sperm count. Obesity and being overweight are major causes of low sperm count along with hypertension and diabetes. Nicotine or cigarette consumption is another reason. Heat around the male reproductive organs (testes and scrotum) constitutes a danger to male fertility.
Heat could impair the normal development of sperms. Heat from wearing tight pants, long distance driving and soaking the testes in hot water bath, are not friendly to sperm development. Heat from long use of laptop placed over the scrotum is a danger to sperms. There is a speculation also of mobile phones placed near the testes, causing impairment to normal sperm development.
Occupation as drivers as well as working in places where one is exposed to industrial chemicals may lead to low sperm count. Medically, infection such as HIV, gonorrhoea, Chlamydia and mumps to mention a few, which may interfere with sperm production, could lead to low sperm count and of poor quality. Remember also that infection from the female reproductive tract may be transferred to the male partner to cause sperm abnormality.
Cancers of reproductive tract may impair sperm development. Ejaculation problem, retrograde ejaculation should be noted as causes of low sperm count. In some cases, testes that are not descended into the scrotum and growths that affect male reproductive tracts are other reasons that account for low sperms. In some unfortunate cases, the sperm may suffer from anti-sperm antibodies that work against the sperm itself.
We should also bear in mind that genetic abnormalities such as Klinefelter syndrome could affect development of the testes and of the sperm production. Some medications even when legitimately prescribed could affect sperm production. This category includes chemotherapy, some antifungal, anti-ulcer medications and antibiotics could all work against sperm quality and quantity. Substances and drug abuse such as cocaine and marijuana could reduce the quality and quantity of sperm
Prevention: Stop smoking. Avoid heating the testes. Avoid hot water bath. Readers in cold clime may have to use shower instead of bath. Wear loose pants or as is recommended, wear boxers instead of pants. Stop use of alcohol and steroids if they are responsible for the low sperm count. Avoid misuse of drugs. Severe and prolonged mental stress could cause low sperm count. Avoid stress whatever it takes. Pesticides could affect sperm count. Avoid it. If you are overweight and obese, lose weight. Regular, structured exercise has been shown to benefit and improve quality of sperms and thus improve conception chances.
Solutions: Thankfully, some of the problems that cause low sperm count can be both prevented and treated. Drugs and medications that cause oligospermia can be stopped to allow the testes and sperm production to recover.
In some cases, surgery may be required to correct any abnormality discovered. There are some supporting medications, which fertility doctors can use to boost sperm quality and count. If everything else fails, fertility treatment such as in vitro fertilization or assisted conception may be called for.
Credit: The Nation