Men’s health is a subject that is often avoided in our society, mostly due to pride and pure stubbornness. Men stereotypically ignore symptoms and changes in their bodies, such as testicular lumps and symptoms of prostate cancer. The ‘crown jewels’ are arguably a modern males most prized possession, but do we really take enough care of our ‘little swimmers’? Or does the importance of our modern lifestyle outweigh fertility implications?
Infertility is a disease that affects a couples’ ability to conceive a baby within a year of regular unprotected intercourse. Around 1 in 7 couples in the UK have difficulty conceiving, with male and female factors attributing near enough equally. Upon investigation of the male cause, problems may be with the DNA within the sperm. However, most cases are problems with the quantity and/ or quality of the sperm.
A low sperm count, also known as oligozoospermia, is diagnosed when a man has less than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen. This may sound like a lot, but a sperm count this low may need the use of intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). In some cases, no sperm is present in the semen sample, this is known as azoospermia (commonly known as ‘shooting blanks’). The cause of this differs, but most likely is the result of some kind of blockage within the tubes that carry the sperm. Technology can assist in this case via the extraction of sperm directly from the testes, ready to be injected into the egg. Poor morphology (teratozoospermia) and motility (asthenzoospermia) of the sperm can also affect the ability to fertilize an egg, ICSI can greatly enhance the success rates compared to conventional IVF.
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So… what causes this problem in men? Many factors affect the quality of sperm; from internal genetic causes to STIs and even hormonal imbalances. External factors also affect the quality of sperm produced. Environmental factors can greatly reduce the sperm count, chemical exposure in the workplace can be detrimental to sperm health if necessary protection is not ensured. The temperature at which testicles are kept is a fine tuned evolutionary process, hence the location of the testes within the scrotal sac outside the body. Changes in the body temperature cause the muscles to bring the testes to (cold conditions) and from (warm conditions) the body to maintain a temperature 4°C below basal body temperature (37°C) in order to prevent morphological changes in the sperm.
Lifestyle factors such as excessive drinking, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and diet can all affect sperm production and quality. A balanced lifestyle is optimum for sperm production, too much of anything is considered a bad thing. Increased body fat can lead to excess heat applied to the testicles, directly resulting in damaged sperm, although obesity can affect sperm in other ways which will be explored later in this blog journey.
In conclusion to this first blog entry, many different aspects of modern society could potentially affect a man’s ability to produce offspring in the long run. Further awareness of the external factors can help men to make decisions in the best interests of the well-being of their sperm.