Sperm motility is the ability of sperm to move fast and in a straight line. It is normal for any semen sample to contain slower sperm, but if most sperm are slow and do not move properly, this is called low sperm motility. When sperm motility is low, this does not mean that it cannot fertilise the egg, but it can affect male fertility.
Sperm motility takes into account the mobility of the sperm, so it is important to differentiate it from sperm count, although they are closely related. Having a low sperm count in the semen can also negatively affect fertility. In short, there may be a minimum number of sperm to fertilise (oligospermia) with slow spermatozoa or low sperm motility and vice versa, or even the coincidence of both.
In either case, if there is a fertility problem, there may be other elements at play and it is necessary to study what they are, for which we recommend that you consult specialists and undergo a male fertility assessment. Around 25% of a couple’s problems conceiving are caused by a defect in the sperm as the main cause.
What values are considered normal in sperm motility analysis?
If a couple is having problems conceiving, as part of the fertility study, a semen analysis or seminogram is performed, which is still the standard test to check sperm motility (at Eugin it is included in your first visit, completely free of charge). The man ejaculates into a special container which is sent to the laboratory for analysis (usually more than one sample is recommended). The sample is analysed to see if the behaviour of the spermatozoa is normal or if there is any abnormality; how they move and in which direction, as well as the semen’s PH and volume. If you want to know more, we invite you to read the following article where we explain how to read a spermogram.
Alterations in sperm motility, whether in shape or in the parameters analysed, can help to assess the inability of the sperm to fertilise the egg. Therefore, within normal values, we must take into account that, in order for the sperm to be able to pass through the cervical mucus, they must have a minimum progressive sperm motility of about 25 micrometres per second. If less than 30% of the sperm sample can move at this speed, we say that there is asthenozoospermia.
Men with motility above 45% and a normal sperm count do not usually have fertility problems. If motility is 30% and the total sperm count is greater than 5 million, assisted reproductive techniques such as artificial insemination may be considered.
What are the causes of low sperm motility?
There are many factors that can affect sperm motility:
- Exposure to certain toxins (such as heavy metals like lead or cadmium).
- Excessive heat (e.g. from fevers, tight-fitting clothes, working in very hot places (kitchens, hairdressers) or using saunas or jacuzzis too much.
- Having a job that requires prolonged sitting (e.g. taxi drivers).
- Tobacco, alcohol or drugs.
- Being overweight.
- Chronic stress.
- Injury, anatomical changes or infection of the testicles:
- Cryptorchidism (undescended testes).
- Varicocele (very large veins in the scrotum).
- Cancer or treatments.
- Hormonal imbalances.
- Gluten intolerance.
- Use of medicines:
- Anabolic steroids.
- Anti-sperm antibodies: this is a fairly rare condition, but it does exist. The body itself produces antibodies that attack sperm and can damage them.
Treatment and prevention of low sperm motility and oligospermia
As we can see, some of the causes of low sperm motility can be prevented or corrected by changing things in our lifestyle. Below, we will look at some of the most recommended, as well as treatments that, in addition to improving motility, can help increase sperm count.
A healthy diet to increase sperm count
Studies show that diets high in processed meat (salami, sausages) or trans fats (such as industrial sweets or frozen pizzas) have an impact on sperm counts. It has also been seen in soy products (which are rich in phytoestrogen, a compound similar to the female hormone oestrogen) and high-fat dairy products (thought to be due to steroids given to cows).
Increasing your intake of oily fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids (tuna, mackerel, salmon, swordfish, trout) is recommended, as well as fresh fruit and vegetables, which are rich in vitamins and antioxidants and can protect the body’s cells from damage and boost sperm count. It is also advisable to eat a diet rich in whole grains and nuts. If we add regular exercise to these healthy habits, the results can be even better.
Avoid tobacco, alcohol and other drug use
Smoking is the worst possible choice you can make if you want to have children. Not only is it associated with poor sperm count, but also with a whole range of DNA alterations that can affect the sperm. And this can lead to miscarriages and problems conceiving.
Experts recommend quitting smoking at least three months before you start planning to conceive, so that the semen is free of tobacco traces and sperm quality is improved.
Certain supplements, such as L-carnitine, coenzyme Q10 or vitamins A, E, C or D, are regarded as useful in this respect because of their effects.
Medical and surgical treatment
Even if the causes of impaired sperm count or sperm motility are beyond your control, there are alternatives such as the treatments outlined below to help you fulfil your dream of becoming a father.
- Conjugal artificial insemination: ideal treatment for men with mild oligospermia and somewhat decreased motility. Insemination can be successful and is usually the first step before attempting in vitro fertilisation. It involves depositing sperm in the woman’s uterus as close to the site of conception as possible by using a thin, flexible tube. It is a painless procedure that shortens the distance the sperm have to travel.
- In vitro fertilisation using the partner’s sperm: It is the most recommended treatment when the semen analysis parameters are highly impaired. It is also the treatment that offers the highest success rate. In this case, the egg is removed for fertilisation outside the uterus and then healthy embryos are implanted in the uterus.
Whatever the case, if you have any doubts about fertility (both male and female), don’t hesitate to consult us. At Eugin we support you every step of the way to help you and your partner, by offering solutions tailored to the needs of the parents-to-be.