Behind Every Egg is A Sperm

Male Sperm Infertility San Francisco

The early bird gets the worm (Courtesy Shutterstock)

It’s a tenet of American culture that if you try hard, you’ll succeed. “Hard work pays off.” “The early bird gets the worm.” “No goal met without sweat.” But try telling this to sperm!

Sperm Are People Too

Evidence now suggests that simply looking good and moving with a swagger is not enough for sperm to be fertile. What’s inside,  the genetic payload, easily matters just as much. A sperm with lots of breaks in its DNA strands is known as a fragmented (or broken) sperm and can be deemed “infertile.”

Fewer than 5% of men with proven fertility have fragmented sperm. By contrast, easily as many as 25% of infertile men have fragmented sperm. And while male infertility has a variety of causes, sperm DNA fragmentation appears to be a common denominator as a root cause of problems.

Thinking more broadly, after introducing a perfectly healthy egg to a sperm with a faulty genetic payload, one of three things can happen:

  • No fertilization.Here, there is too much sperm dysfunction to either penetrate the eggshell or to be able to properly undress its DNA for the egg. This results in a hard and early stop for the sperm.
  • Fertilization but no ongoing pregnancy.In this situation, the egg initially thinks it can work with the sperm, but later decides it can’t. At IVF, this could appear as “dissolving embryo syndrome.” This means game over for conception.
  • The egg decides it can work with the imperfect sperm. Ideally, once straightened out, the sperm and egg eventually work together to become a baby.

The same executive decision-making by eggs likely underlies the fate of sperm with faulty epigenetic or RNA profiles, a separate issue from broken DNA. The problem with epigenomics and transcriptomics is that we simply don’t know enough about the biology of these processes to identify whether they are faulty or not. What we know for sure is that eggs are pretty strict about the way that they treat sperm in any situation, whether it be with sex, intrauterine insemination (IUI), or IVF-ICSI.

Show Some Respect

So, what’s a man to do? Should you take the Woody Allen approach and do more pushups? Maybe. The first step is to realize that health affects fertility and treat your body like a temple. Take great care of yourself and pursue a life of moderation. Avoid some things completely, such as tobacco, pot and hot tubs. Also, eat well, sleep well, exercise, and try to reduce stress and alcohol consumption. Consider taking antioxidant supplements. I know it seems like oversimplification, but your lifestyle choices and overall health affect semen quality more than you know. In my own studies and observations, I have seen excellent natural fertility rates in men whose treatment consisted of little more than deliberately making healthier lifestyle choices.

Finally, if you are having trouble putting a bun in the oven, get thee to a specialist for a quick and proper evaluation that includes a history and physical examination. Every man deserves it. With sperm, as with life, sometimes the fastest way isn’t always the best way to true success.