Doctors discuss low sperm count and reproductive health

When couples want to conceive, the focus is usually on the woman, but not to be minimized is the health of the man and his sperm.

In this Special Report, we talked to Dr. Mike Hsieh, who is one of only two urologists in San Diego County who specializes in male fertility. We asked him what he thought of a headline grabbing study released last year that showed that falling sperm counts among men in Western countries.

That meta-analysis of 185 studies involving nearly 43,000 men from 1973-2011 showed a 59% drop in sperm count. Hsieh, who sees patients at the UCSD Medical Center said the study should be a wake-up call about the state of men’s health, but not a reason for panic. “Men produce millions of sperm every day. You do not need to have millions of sperm to conceive, naturally,” he said.

If a man’s sperm count is too low or the quality is poor, Hsieh said some simple modifications can be made. He would suggest getting more exercise, losing weight, quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol.

About 30-40% of men may suffer from a hormonal imbalance. The urologist also said men should avoid testosterone supplements, because contrary to what many people might believe, trying to pump up one testosterone levels actually keeps the body from making its own.

Hsieh said he prescribes other medications – not testosterone – to get the body to produce more testosterone.

Most medical discussions about low sperm count are linked to the subject of fertility. If a couple cannot conceive, they may go to a fertiliity clinic for treatment.

At the San Diego Fertility Center in Del Mar, Dr. Brooke Friedman said one out of eight couples experiences problems with infertility.

In cases where there is no known cause for poor sperm quality, Dr. Friedman said fertility treatments may be the next step.  At the Fertility Center’s lab, we watched embryologists doing in-vitro fertilization, using a technique called “intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection,” or ICSI for short.

The procedure costs about $12,000 a cycle, and may even more expensive, if genetic testing is also involved. When asked about the study showing falling sperm counts, Friedman said, “sperm counts are falling but the race is safe.”

Low sperm count may not spell doom for the speciies, but it could be a warning sign for the individual. Doctors say men with poor semen quality may die earlier, because they’re at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and other serious life threatening illnesses.

Categories: Local San Diego News, Special Reports