There are a number of different factors to consider when assessing male fertility. If you are one half of an infertile couple, or maybe your just want to get a measure of your reproductive potency, a detailed semen analysis is a good first step for men.
Most experts would agree that a fundamental semen examination is essential in determining sperm quality. It is recommended to have a comprehensive semen analysis done first, before undergoing any type of treatment.
Who Sets the Standards for Semen Analyses?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a standardized test to aid in the interpretation of basic sperm analysis. This examination is based on several parameters that have been determined by the WHO to be crucial to sperm health and viability.
Values have been assigned to measure “normal’ levels for each of these parameters. You may then get a percentile ranking based on where you stack up against the sample base.
Looking at the chart above, we can see the low-end volume for a semen sample is currently 1.5 mls. Normal volumes fall anywhere inside the 1.5-6 mls range. This would make samples with a volume of 1.5 mls in the 5th percentile, and samples of 6 mls in the 95th percentile for semen sample volume.
Do I Really Need One?
If you have been trying to conceive for over one year, you should be getting your semen analyzed. If you are over 35 and you have been trying for 6 months, you may want to get things looked at sooner than later.
Isn’t it Embarassing to Do?
The very idea of having your sperm collected and scrutinized can cause serious stress and anxiety in a lot of individuals.
Truth Bomb Alert – if providing a sample gives you some grief or you are too embarassed to get one done, you seriously need to get over yourself. Read our article on why you shouldn’t be such a wuss about it here. This article also provides some “handy” tips as to what you can do to ensure you’re providing a clean and effective sample.
Please remember how many invasive tests females need to endure during the fertility sleuthing process and feel lucky that all you need to do is something you likely do at least once a week anyway…this time it’s just in a sterile cup. Trust me, any female would gladly switch places with you.
So, once the sample has been obtained, the doctor or lab tech will investigate the health of your sperm through a microscope. Several elements and parameters are analyzed to provide a better picture of your sperm health.
Semen parameters fall into two basic categories:
The term macroscopic refers to things that are visible to the naked eye. As you may have guessed, macroscopic parameters are those that can be seen without the aid of a microscope.
Some examples of macroscopic parameters for semen analysis are:
Volume refers to the total amount of ejaculate. Semen and sperm are not interchangeable terms. They do not mean the same thing. Semen is comprised of sperm (around 2-5%). The rest is made up of various secretions which provide nutrients, DNA stability, and room to swim for the sperm.
Normal ejaculate volumes fall somewhere in between 1.5 – 6 mls of fluid, with 3.7 mls being the average.
Chinese herbal medicine is often used to improve volume issues with men. Talk to a trained TCM practitioner for more information – click here.
Appearance and Colour
While these are macroscopic parameters that can be used to describe semen, they are not overly important when it comes to semen quality. It was traditionally thought that a translucent semen sample signified an absence of sperm, but other factors can account for semen looking more “clear”. A yellowish colour may indicate a low grade infection and antibiotics may be necessary.
Coagulation to Liquefaction
When semen is initially ejaculated, it is quite thick and viscous. This is due to coagulation, or a thickening, of the semen immediately upon ejaculation. The semen then typically begins to liquify somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes. Normal liquefaction occurs between 20 and 30 minutes after ejaculation.
This process occurs to improve the sperm’s motility. Slow liquefaction or coagulation failure may indicate an issue with the seminal vesicles or prostate.
These factors that affect sperm quality are parameters that can not be seen without a microscope. Microscopic parameters include:
- Sperm total
The sperm total includes all of the sperm found in a single ejaculate. While a high sperm total increases your chances of conception, it by no means guarantees anything. It also depends on the quality of the sperm.
Normal levels for sperm count should be at least 40,000,000 per sample, and may rise above 200,000,000 for samples in the 90th percentile or above. Be sure you are not confusing this with sperm “concentration” (see below).
Low sperm count can be attributed to various factors, such as:
- Chronic health conditions
- Hormonal imbalance
- Toxic substances
Here’s How You Can Help – increase your intake of antioxidants like vitamin E, selenium and vitamin C! Check out our resources page for more info – Resources
Sperm concentration refers to the number of sperm found in 1 ml of semen. Normal levels of sperm concentration should be a minimum of 15,000,000 sperm per ml.
Abnormal concentration levels may be due to low total sperm count, or unusually high ejaculate volume.
Motility rate refers to the percentage of sperm that are mobile, or capable of movement. While sperm total is important, it means nothing if none of your sperm are moving. In order for a sperm to achieve its primary goal, it must have motility to travel up the female reproductive tract to fertilize the egg.
There are two types of motility measurements to take into account:
- Total Motility – this category includes any type of movement the sperm makes
- Progressive Motility – this only includes sperm that are engaging in forward movement (towards the egg!)
The minimum percentage for motility is 40% (5th percentile) and can range up to 75-80% for the 90th percentile and above.
Asthenozoospermia is a term to describe low motility rates.
The shape or form of your sperm is called morphology. A semen analysis will look at the percentage of your sperm that have a normal shape. The size and proportion of the head, mid-section, and tail will be taken into account.
You can consider yourself normal if your sample has a percentage of 4% of regular sperm shape. Men that score in the 95th percentile will have percentages of about 45% or higher normal morphology rates.
Some clinics may use the “Kruger Strict criteria” which is a more stringent method of measuring morphology. Ask your clinic which measurement they are using before jumping to any conclusions.
Teratospermia is a term which may be used to describe poor morphology.
Viability, also referred to as vitality, indicates the number of sperm that are alive within the semen sample. Due to the short life span of the average sperm, it is not surprising to find dead sperm in a normal semen sample. However, if a large percentage of sperm within a sample are dead, it could be indicative of other issues or health conditions.
If all the sperm in a semen sample are dead, it is called Necrozoospermia. This can be a result of other problems, related to low sperm count, or it could be caused by a lubricant or condom. If you are using a lubricant and are trying to conceive, consider these options instead. (LINK)
Remember, if you have performed a semen analysis and your numbers are all in the “normal” range, you still may not have optimal sperm. Men are often told that “Everything looks good!” when examining their sample. I want men to understand that being on the low end of normal is NOT OPTIMIZED! You can do better! If you were completing an IQ test, I doubt you would be satisfied with being in the 5th percentile (low end of normal).
Why settle for less with your sperm?
There are ways to improve your sperm…which may improve your chances of conceiving a healthy child.
Fix your diet – take your supplements – do an online consultation if you need some help!
Disclaimer – Other methods of measuring a semen analysis may be used to analyze your sample.. This is article is not meant to diagnose or interpret your individual semen analysis. Only a qualified medical professional can do that for you.
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At Home Sperm Tests (can’t make it to a fertility clinic? Check out our reviews on some of the most common at home fertility tests!)