Infertility Due to Low Sperm Counts
If you’ve been trying to conceive, you have probably read something about the proportion of infertility that is due to sperm production being around 40-50%. This surprises many because even today, “infertility” is thought of as a “female problem.” Part of the reason for that is due to the fact that even when the cause of infertility is sperm production, the person who has to go through the treatment is the one with a uterus.
The Low Sperm Count Crisis
According to a team of researchers at Hebrew University, sperm counts have been declining for the last 50 years, and the decline is accelerating. The team collected data from men around the world. Another analysis suggests that if the current rate of decline in sperm count is not curbed, the average sperm count could be zero by 2045.
What is causing this steep decline? Some scientists think smoking, atmospheric pollution, pesticides, and other environmental toxins might be to blame, including exposure to these substances while in utero. Endocrine disruptors are some of these environmental toxins, and they are everywhere in our lives, like added fragrance in cleaning products, non-stick cookware, and parabens or pthalates in soap.
How do I know if low sperm count or poor sperm quality is making it difficult for us to conceive? All it takes is a very easy semen analysis. Your doctor can order the test and you can provide a semen sample to the laboratory within 30-60 minutes of ejaculation. It can take about a week to get the results. Your doctor will review the results with you.
If my sperm count or sperm quality is low, what can I do? There are a variety of interventions for low sperm count or poor sperm quality, including taking a pre-conception multi-vitamin, exercise, acupuncture, herbs, medication, and surgery. If none of these interventions work, your provider may recommend intra-uterine insemination (IUI), where washed sperm is inserted into the uterus through a catheter. Another option is IVF, where eggs are retrieved from the ovaries, fertilized and grown in a lab, then the embryo is introduced to the uterus via a catheter.
The easiest thing to do is start taking a high-quality multivitamin. There are “preconception multivitamins” that are formulated for people who produce sperm. Please read our blog post here for more information about what should be included in any pre-conception multivitamin.
Exercise is another relatively easy intervention to include. Any kind of exercise will help, but research shows that moderate exercise of 30 minutes of running on a treadmill three times per week resulted in the most improvement.
Acupuncture is well-known for reducing stress and increasing the parasympathetic “rest and digest” response, both of which are helpful for conceiving.
It’s also important to use fertility-friendly lubricant during intercourse. Many commercially-available lubricants can impair sperm motility. Look for one that specifically says it’s fertility-friendly. Or you can opt for coconut oil.
Medication and surgery are options you can discuss with your health care provider. Some medications are indicated with specific infertility issues. Surgery might be an option if there’s a blockage in the duct or a varicose vein in the scrotum.
My sperm count quality is low and my partner has to go through IVF in order for us to conceive. How can I support her? Great question! First, understand that the medications used for an egg retrieval and embryo transfer can be pretty intense for your partner. Common side effects of these medications are headaches, nausea, mood swings, pain and cramping, hot flashes and bloating. It’s like the worst case of premenstrual tension syndrome. We recommend acupuncture twice a week during a retrieval cycle to help alleviate these side effects. You can also help by being extra patient and pampering and supporting your partner in whatever ways work for her.