When a couple is diagnosed infertile, first
thoughts often run to the woman. She's barren. She can't conceive. She's not a
"complete" woman because she can't get pregnant. As nature would have
it, problems with infertility are equally due to male and female
Infertility is the inability to get pregnant after one year
of unprotected sexual intercourse. Statistics suggest that 35 to 40 percent of
the problems are caused by male conditions, another 35 to 40 percent by female
conditions, and the last 20 to 30 percent a combination of the two, plus a
small percentage of unknown causes.
If it takes just one sperm and one egg to create a baby, why must men make so many sperm? And how many sperm are considered normal? How long do sperm live? Can they survive outside the body? Do men stop making sperm as they age? Is there anything you can do to increase sperm production or improve the health of your sperm?
WebMD takes a look at the facts about sperm and answers these and other frequently asked questions.
Men's part in fertilization is quite amazing. About 200
million sperm are mixed with semen to form ejaculate. In most men, 15 to 45
million of these sperm are healthy enough to fertilize an egg, although only
400 survive after a man ejaculates. Only 40 of those 400 reach the vicinity of
the egg, surviving the toxic environment of the semen and the hostile
environment of the vagina. After another process called capacitation (an
explosion that allows the remaining sperm to drill a hole through the tough
outer layer of the egg), only one lone sperm reaches the egg for fertilization
Top Causes of Male Infertility
Low sperm count
Slow sperm motility (movement)
Abnormal morphology (shape and size of sperm)
Problems with semen
Even though specialists know the causes of male infertility,
what's not always known is the cause behind the cause. There are many factors
-- lifestyle, genetics, physiology -- that might explain low sperm count, slow
sperm mobility, abnormal sperm shape, and so on.
Recent developments in treatment have made fertility
possible for many men. But before undergoing any complicated procedures, there
are some simple lifestyle changes that can better the odds of a successful
conception. (These tips are helpful for any couple trying to conceive, whether
or not infertility has been diagnosed.)
Stop smoking cigarettes or marijuana. Smoking tobacco has been
linked to low sperm counts and sluggish motility. Long-term use of marijuana
can result in low sperm count and abnormally developed sperm.
Decrease your drinking. Alcohol can reduce the production of
normally formed sperm needed for a successful pregnancy.
Watch your weight. Both overweight and underweight men can have
fertility problems. With too much weight, there can be hormonal disturbances,
and when a man's too lean, he can have decreased sperm count and
Exercise in moderation. Excessive exercise could lower your sperm
count indirectly by lowering the amount of testosterone in your body. And as
you might have guessed, stay off the steroids -- they can cause testicular
shrinkage, resulting in infertility.
Value your vitamins. Low levels of vitamin C and zinc can cause
sperm to clump together, so keep your numbers up. Vitamin E can counteract
excess free-oxygen radicals, which can also affect sperm quality.
Turn your back on toxins. Landscapers, contractors, manufacturing
workers, and men who have regular contact with environmental toxins or poisons
(pesticides, insecticides, lead, radiation, or heavy metals) are all at risk of