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Sperm DNA Fragmentation and Fertility


a blog by Laurence A. Jacobs, M.D., Fertility Centers of Illinois, December 6, 2011

Our cells contain genetic material known as DNA, and under certain conditions, the DNA may be damaged or "fragmented." Fragmented sperm may not work as well for fertilizing the egg and embryo development. This sperm DNA fragmentation is believed to be a leading cause of male infertility.

Several studies have demonstrated a dramatic increase in sperm DNA fragmentation in obese men, leading to a significant reduction in sperm quality.  In addition, there may also be an increase in the miscarriage rate for men with high-level fragmented DNA damage. 

Increased sperm DNA fragmentation due to oxidative stress may be due to several factors: the man's age (over age 50); possibly cigarette smoke, excessive exposure to heat; obesity; and numerous environmental toxins. 

The good news is some of this sperm DNA fragmentation may be reversed. At my Chicago fertility clinic, we often recommend various antioxidants — such as Proxeed, Conception XR or Male Fertility Supplement (MFS) — to improve sperm counts, motility (how well sperm swim) and possibly morphology (the size and shape of sperm) before doing inseminations or in vitro fertilization. What a man does now can improve his fertility two to three months from now.

Diet, lifestyle and nutritional supplements — all can affect a man's fertility. These factors can also affect a couple's chances at a successful in vitro fertilization (IVF). A recent Brazilian study of 250 men who were undergoing IVF with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), published in the journal Fertility and Sterility found that the chances of a successful IVF increase if men have a diet high in fruit and grains, and low in red meat, alcohol and coffee. The man's weight and diet had an effect on sperm concentration and motility. The researchers found the following:

  • Sperm concentration was negatively affected by body mass index (BMI) and alcohol consumption.
  • Sperm concentration was positively affected by cereal consumption and the number of meals per day.
  • Sperm motility was negatively influenced by BMI, alcohol consumption and smoking.
  • Sperm motility was positively influenced by consumption of fruits and cereals.
  • Before trying to conceive, a couple may want to go ahead and have a fertility screening. At my fertility clinic, testing for males is a single test called a Strict Kruger Morphology Semen Analysis. This particular type of Semen Analysis measures the sperm count, motility and strict morphology, which will help to determine a man’s fertility potential.

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