Men's Sperm Count Is Falling, But This New Fertility Test Could Help

It could mean couples need fewer cycles of IVF before conceiving.

Talk of fertility often centres around women and our ever-present biological clocks (joy). But around 50% of cases where a couple is having difficulty conceiving are actually caused by a male fertility issue.

Modern life is killing men’s sperm, or at least making it poor quality. Heat, alcohol, smoking, pollutants and excessive exercise have all been linked to male infertility, according to clinicians at Cambridge University Hospitals.

Obesity is also known to reduce sperm count and quality. One study found obese men were 42% more likely to have a low sperm count than their lighter peers and 81% more likely to produce no sperm.

But the Cambridge experts have created a new test to counteract the issue, allowing them to target the strongest sperm during fertility treatment, designed to give a couple the best chance of conceiving.

Julia Simina, Olga Zarytska via Getty Images

The new test has been launched at a time when sperm counts are decreasing around the world.

An analysis in 2017 of 185 studies concluded there has been a 52.5% decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3% decline in total sperm count in North America and Europe in the past 40 years.

The new enhanced semen analysis is deigned to work by identifying samples where there are high levels of oxidising chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide, which can damage the vitality and swimming ability of sperm.

The experts use a technique called “magnetic cell sorting”, which involves mixing semen with magnetic micro-beads. The micro-beads attach only to the damaged sperm, which can then be removed, meaning only the healthy remaining sperm will be used in the IVF process.

This new technology could improve a couple’s chances of conceiving via IVF, reducing the need for repeated cycles, the clinicians said.

Lead clinician and associate professor at the University of Stirling, Alka Prakash, said: “IVF is expensive and requires women to take fertility drugs that can have side effects. It is also invasive as eggs are collected from ovaries using fine needles. Therefore if it can be avoided this is extremely positive.”

The clinic isn’t charging extra for the semen analysis, but its services still do not come cheap, with one cycle of IVF, including drugs, costing £2,500.

To maximise your chances of conceiving naturally, the NHS recommends men take the following steps:

  • Have sex every two or three days

  • Moderate your alcohol consumption and stop smoking

  • Stay in good shape, exercise regularly and have a healthy, balanced diet.