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• Experts proffer solutions
By Job Osazuwa
Low sperm count, also called oligospermia (ol-ih-go-SPUR-me-uh), is one health challenge that has given men, especially of reproductive age, nagging headache. Sperm count is considered lower than normal if a man has fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen. When there is complete absence of sperm, it is called azoospermia.
Low sperm count, according to an obstetrician and gynaecologist at FT Healing Medical Centre, Lagos, Dipo Olamekan, is inseparable with fertility. He said when a couple is trying to have children, the number of sperm the man ejaculate is quite important in the whole process. When it is lower than 15 million, there is a problem. He said all hope is not lost, as there is medical solution to the challenge.
Common causes of low sperm count
A report on mayoclinic.org said “the production of sperm is a complex process and requires normal functioning of the testicles (testes) as well as the hypothalamus and pituitary glands — organs in your brain that produce hormones that trigger sperm production.”
The report said “once sperms are produced in the testicles, delicate tubes transport them until they mix with semen and are ejaculated out of the penis. Problems with any of these systems can affect sperm production.”
Dr. Olamekan said while the average man could produce the much-needed sperm multiple times per day, sometimes an internal factor, such as varicocele, could lower the number of sperm.
According to him, varicocele might develop as a result of poorly functioning valves that are normally found in veins, and might also occur from compression of a vein by a nearby structure.
Said he: “Note that most of the factors that decrease sperm count are external factors such as smoking, drug usage, poor diet and lack of exercise. In addition to that, heat can have a detrimental effect on normal sperm production. It is for this reason that the testicles are naturally placed outside the body in the scrotum rather than in the abdomen, like the ovaries. Soaking in a bathtub full of hot water can almost halt sperm production completely.
“Obese men can also become sterile because the sagging layers of fat can overheat the testicles.
“Men whose jobs involve long hours of sitting are at risk. Office workers who don’t move about and long distance lorry-drivers may have infertility due to the increased heat to the genital area.”
The gynaecologist also warned that frequent intercourse could result in the demand exceeding the supply. He warned that men who ejaculate 2-3 times a day could easily develop low sperm count.
The medical doctor revealed that cigarette smoking of more than 20 sticks a day was capable of reducing both the sperm count and sperm motility. He added that excessive alcohol intake could lower the production of sperm and of the male hormone testosterone.
He said: “A workaholic husband may find that stress and fatigue can potentially interfere with sperm production.”
Meanwhile, in analysing sperm count, the specialist described it as a complex process, saying that there were a number of measurements considered in semen analysis.
“A physician will look at the concentration – how many sperm there are per cc or millilitre of semen (the fluid). Next, we need to know how many cc of semen is present. So a count of 40 million sperm per cc with only 1cc of fluid may not be as good as a count with 18 million and 4cc. Another measurement to consider is what percentage of the sperm is moving forward progressively; 50 per cent motility is considered normal.
“The next factor is sperm morphology, which determines what percentage of sperm look normal. When you assess the fertilising potential of a given specimen, you must consider all these factors.”
Some infections could interfere with sperm production or sperm health and thereby causing low sperm count. Inflammation of the epididymis (epididymitis) or testicles (orchitis) and sexually transmitted infections, like including gonorrhea or HIV, are some infections that could hamper sperm count.
Ejaculation during sex could lead to low sperm count if it does not occur the normal way. Normally, when a man ejaculates, semen comes out of the tip of the penis, following a tube or passage. However, there is retrograde ejaculation, which occurs “when semen enters the bladder during orgasm instead of emerging out of the tip of the penis.”
Retrograde or lack of ejaculation could be caused by such health challenge, such as diabetes, spinal injuries, and surgery of the bladder, prostate or urethra.
The nature of the testicles could also cause low sperm count. In a situation of “undescended testicles,” which is a condition when one or both testicles fail to descend from the abdomen into the sac that normally contains the testicles (scrotum), there is decreased fertility in men with this condition.
Also Hormone imbalance is another cause of low sperm count. When there is alteration in hypothalamus, pituitary and testicles, which produce hormones necessary to create sperm, this may impair sperm production. Other systems, such as the thyroid and adrenal gland, may also cause the same problem.
Low sperm count could also be caused by digestive disorder caused “by sensitivity to gluten, celiac disease.”
Treatment for low sperm count
Treatment options for men with low sperm count vary, depending on the cause of the condition. According to an expert, surgery is the most common treatment recommended for men suffering from internal infection, such as varicocele. But for low sperm count caused by infections of the urinary/reproductive tract, he prescribed antibiotics to clear the infection, while medication and hormone replacement treatment options could be used when the cause of low sperm count is related to a hormone imbalance.
“In cases of low sperm motility, assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments would be used to facilitate conception by inserting sperm into the female reproductive tract,” he stated.
Foods that boost low sperm count
Fertility experts said food in high protein and Vitamin E as well as eggs could help in the production of healthy and strong sperm in the testicles. They are also believed to prevent sperm cells from the harmful effects of free radicals, which may kill sperm. The food include:
Bananas: They contain an enzyme called bromelain, which is supposed to increase male libido. They are also rich sources of Vitamin B, which can help bring an increase in stamina, making sure that you have more energy available for your sexual encounters.
Spinach: Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach are rich sources of folic acid. Low levels of foliate can give rise to distorted sperm shapes, such as ones with two heads or two tails. The sperm are also at an increased risk of chromosomal abnormalities. This means that, firstly, your sperm will find it difficult to reach an egg and even if it does reach an egg, it will not be able to fertilise it. Furthermore, even if these sperms are able to fertilise an egg, the chances of birth defects are quite high in such cases.
Garlic: This is a very effective food that has been used for centuries in treating various physical ailments, including heart problems and respiratory infections. What most people don’t know is that it is also a potent aphrodisiac and very effective in boosting sperm volume. It contains a compound called allicin, which improves blood flow to the male sexual organs, increasing sperm production and semen volume.
Carrots: They good source of Vitamin A, an important nutrient for increasing sperm production as well as improving their motility. Carrots are rich in this nutrient. You can also consume Vitamin A by eating foods, such as oatmeal, red bell peppers and dried apricots.
Goji berries: These are known to improve man’s overall stamina and mood. They also keep temperatures in the scrotum at the optimum level. The scrotum contains the testes, which produce sperm. Higher temperatures tend to hamper the sperm production and decrease the volume that is released in a man’s ejaculate. They also promote sperm production by improving blood circulation and protecting against free radical damage.
Walnuts: They are key nutrient for sperm volume. These essential fatty acids are supposed to increase sperm count as well as improve blood flow to the penis.
Pumpkin seeds: These contain phytosterols, which are known to improve testosterone production and reduce the size of an enlarged production. These factors help in increasing sperm count as well as semen volume. They also contain essential fatty acids that improve blood flow to the male reproductive organs.
Ginseng: This is a powerful herb known for its powerful effects on improving virility in men. It increases sex drive and also enhances your sexual performance. It has been found to be quite effective in men with erectile dysfunctions, increasing semen volume and sperm production.
Zinc content: Food rich in zinc, which include barley, red meat, beans, etc, play a vital role in sperm development. The mineral is found in high concentrations in testicles during the production of healthy, strong semen. So important is zinc that deficiencies of the mineral have been blamed for low sperm motility.