Why some men can’t make children

Saturday April 24 2010

By SUNDAY NATION Correspondent

Although the woman is usually blamed when a couple cannot have children, studies show that over 40 per cent of causes of infertility are directly attributable to the man.

But, due to the stigma around infertility, men keep it a secret when they realise they are infertile. Infertility is a condition resulting from abnormal functioning of the reproductive system. Nowadays, doctors insist on testing both the woman and the man when investigating causes of infertility.

In women, the leading cause of infertility is the blockage of the fallopian tubes, followed by fibroids and lack of ovulation. Ectopic pregnancies, cancer treatment or epilepsy can also lead to infertility.

In men, three critical areas are sperm quantity, motility and shape and structure. The recommended sperm quantity in a single ejaculation by a fertile man is over 20 million sperm cells per millilitre.

Men with sperm count between 10 and 20 million sperms cells per millilitre are classified as having a mild sub-fertile condition. Anything below 10 million is a severe form of sub-fertility.

A blockage

“For such men, we investigate if the testes are producing enough sperm or if there is a blockage in the sperm ducts,” says Prof Koigi Kamau of Nairobi Hospital’s Fertility Enhancement Centre in a past interview.

Dr Solomon Wasike of Afya Royal Clinics says the other factors they look out for in a man with low sperm count include the lifestyle or health. Stress, illness, alcohol, injury or excessive heat to the testicles, sexually transmitted infections, vitamin deficiencies and blockage of vas deferens sperm ducts are possible causes of male infertility.

Although some of these causes can be rectified, Dr Wasike say those resulting from natural factors cannot. Nutritional supplements such as vitamin E, C, zinc and L-arginine; avoiding sauna or bathing with hot water; wearing loose underwear and avoiding alcohol can boost sperm count.

Sperm motility is the ability of the sperm to move and swim quickly. For sperm in a single ejaculate to be considered normal and able to fertilise an egg, 50 per cent need to be motile. A progressively motile sperm is known to swim forward in a straight line, while the non-progressive one swims in an abnormal path like in tight circles.

Scientists say more than 14 per cent of the sperm should have normal structure – an oval head and a tail. Sperms without a tail, with large, small, tapered or crooked heads, curled or double tails are less likely to fertilise an egg. On viscosity, quality sperm should flow with ease 30 minutes outside the body for it to fertilise an egg.