Does The Egg Choose The Sperm?

Written by ELAINE OTROFANOWEI

Elaine Otrofanowei is a Fertility and Women's Health Acupuncturist with a strong and personal interest in peri/menopause. Through ecotherapies.co; she provides Acupuncture and Functional Medicine to patients to help them restore their health and wellbeing and specialise in the treatment of both male and female infertility and other women’s health issues.

May 12, 2023

For decades, it was thought that whichever sperm was strongest and luckiest would be the one to
fertilise the egg. Yet newer research is revealing that the egg may play a bigger role in the
fertilisation process than we ever realised! It takes two to tango, and the evolving story of the egg
and sperm perfectly reflects this dance.

Instead of the egg waiting patiently to see what sperm makes the successful journey, it turns out it plays a more proactive role through something known as sperm chemotaxis. This is the process where the egg releases chemoattractant, chemical signals that help guide certain sperm toward it! 2020 research indicates that chemoattractants might be influencing how many and which sperm are able to make it to the egg by impacting their motility. Sperm that is deemed the best match will be sent those special chemicals which make certain sperm speed up.

This is an incredible new understanding, but there is a lot working against the sperm before even getting close enough to receive these chemicals in the first place. By understanding what the sperm must overcome, we can better appreciate the importance of supporting sperm health before a couple begins trying to conceive.

The fertility crisis: declining sperm

In men with a healthy sperm count, the average number of sperm per ejaculate ranges from 180 – 400 million. However, it’s been reported that the average sperm count fell from 113 million sperm per milliliter (mL) of semen in 1940 to 66 million per mL in 1990. Also, semen volume went from 3.40 mL to 2.75 mL over this same 50-year period. This means that the average man’s semen contains half the number of sperm as it did 50 years ago, and numbers continue to decline. It’s important to mention that sperm count has not declined at the same rate in less polluted areas of the world during the same period. Also, it’s been observed that sperm motility is declining.

The treacherous journey to the egg

For sperm to make it to the egg successfully, they must accomplish the following:

  1. Make it from the testicles through the vas deferens to the urethra and out the head of the penis.
    Some research shows that up to 30% of men have abnormal semen parameters due to poor sperm
    quality, making it difficult or impossible to get past this first step.
  2. Survive the highly acidic environment of the vagina.
  3. Get through cervical mucus.
  4. Choose the correct fallopian tube (whichever tube it happens to be in that cycle)
  5. Make it all the way through the fallopian tubes to the egg, which is covered in a thick layer of
    cells. Sperm cells contain enzymes that break down this layer, and many times it requires multiple
    sperm to allow one through.

Typically, an average of only 200 sperm will successfully make it through all these barriers to the egg. And once those chemoattractants are received by the lucky few, only one can ultimately penetrate and fertilize the egg.

Sperm have a lot working against them. They need to overcome multiple roadblocks, harsh environments, and in the end, only the most genetically compatible will be “chosen” by the egg. Additionally, the average man is working with less sperm than previous generations.

Therefore, to create the best chance of having as many healthy sperm as possible, we want to empower men to make research-backed changes at least 3 months before trying to conceive.

The importance of strong, healthy sperm

As you can see, sperm have a lot working against them. They need to overcome multiple roadblocks, harsh environments, and in the end, only the most genetically compatible will be “chosen” by the egg. Additionally, the average man is working with less sperm than previous generations. Therefore, to create the best chance of having as many healthy sperm as possible, we want to empower men to make research-backed changes at least 3 months before trying to conceive since this is about how long it takes sperm to mature. Starting earlier is even better! The following can help improve sperm quality, count, motility, and protect against genetic damage:

  1. Take a high-quality men’s prenatal multivitamin/mineral. Even with the healthiest diet, we
    live in an environment with many toxic burdens and depleted nutrients in our soil. Antioxidants like
    vitamins E, C, CoQ10, selenium, zinc, N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC), and L-carnitine can help
    support optimal sperm DNA and provide the nutritional requirements needed for robust, healthy
    sperm. Male Fertility Supplements
  2. Reduce exposure to environmental toxins/pollutants. Toxins in our environment are a major
    cause of sperm damage. Taking steps to ensure you are drinking clean water and breathing fresh air
    are foundational to healthy sperm. Opt for organic foods whenever it’s financially feasible and limit
    your use of plastics. You also want to avoid things that are more likely to cause damage such as
    cigarette smoke, vaping, excess alcohol consumption, and drug use. Download our Preconception
    Guide for more ways you can help reduce your toxic burden. Here
  3. Follow a diet that has been shown to improve sperm quality. Research that men who closely
    follow a Mediterranean diet have higher sperm concentration and total sperm count as well as
    improved motility and morphology. Learn more about the Mediterranean Diet and what it consists
    of here.
  4. Take steps to address your stress! Chronic and severe stress can interfere with hormones that
    are needed to produce sperm and help them mature. Whether that means engaging in daily stress
    reduction practices, making sure you are getting a healthy balance or exercise and rest, or even
    reaching out for professional help, your sperm and future baby will thank you! Acupuncture
    positive affect on sperm
  5. Let your sperm chill out! Excessive and prolonged exposure to heat has been linked to a
    reduction in fertility, known as heat-induced male infertility, due to increased oxidative stress and
    genetic changes. Avoid things that will expose testicles to too much heat such as a laptop directly on
    your lap, a phone in your pocket, hot tubs, and tight-fitting underwear and pants.

 

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