Over my ten years of practice at the Natural Fertility Centre, I have lost count of the number of couples I’ve met who had been told after a standard semen analysis, ‘everything looks fine’, but for whom everything was most certainly not fine. A whopping 25% of couples are told that their infertility is ‘unexplained’ and common sense must dictate that for some of those it will be down to undetected problems on the man’s side. Indeed it is now thought that 80% of unexplained infertility may be due to problems with the quality of sperm DNA.
I think, initially, there’s a huge sense of relief for men who are told after a standard semen analysis that their sperm is in good working order. But this quickly gives way to intense frustration as months, and indeed years go by without the expected pregnancy materialising. When I first heard about testing for sperm DNA damage, I was hopeful it would help shine a new light into dark areas of the fertility unknown. Anything that provides more information to a couple with unexplained infertility is to be seized upon.
The message that I want to send out is that there is much more to men’s fertility than just the numbers in the standard semen analysis. I am amazed at how many couples are still unaware of sperm DNA testing and how it can be the missing explanation for unexplained infertility, recurrent miscarriage and IVF failure. It’s not a panacea, of course, but getting to the point where all men have their DNA tested as part of the routine fertility workup would be a huge step forward and would save many couples years of heartache as well as thousands of pounds. It’s not good enough to suggest, as some doctors do, that ‘there is no need to test DNA damage because we are going to use IVF or ICSI anyway and that will get around the problem’. It may not get around the problem sadly and besides, men should know what state their sperm is in and what to do about it. That’s the subject for my next blog – there is much that can be done to improve sperm quality through lifestyle changes and using nutritional and anti-oxidant therapy in particular.