Explaining DNA fragmentation and why it impacts male fertility

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According to recent media reports, mounting evidence suggests that male factors may be the contributing factor in nearly half of all infertility cases.

Sperm DNA fragmentation - a term used to denote abnormal genetic material within the sperm, which may lead to male subfertility, IVF failure and miscarriage - is an increasing focus for discussion amongst researchers and fertility experts.

So, what can be done to support men who present with higher than average DNA fragmentation in their sperm?

The integrity of genetic material in the sperm is crucial for successful fertilisation and normal embryo development. Studies* have shown that high sperm DNA fragmentation affects blastocyst development. The higher the levels of DNA fragmentation, the increased likelihood of infertility, miscarriage and failed assisted conception treatment.

While a standard semen analysis can assess sperm parameters such as concentration, motility and morphology, it is unable to assess the sperm at the molecular level. Therefore, high levels of DNA fragmentation can be hard to detect.

What we do know is that sperm DNA fragmentation tends to be higher in sub-fertile men with abnormal sperm parameters. However, men with normal sperm parameters can also have high sperm DNA fragmentation.

WHAT CAUSES SPERM DNA FRAGMENTATION?

The major contributing factor is oxidative stress, which can be associated with one or more of the following:

• Infection

• Pyrexia

• Elevated testicular temperature

• Recreational drugs

• Smoking

• Alcohol

• Stress

• Diet

• Environmental and occupational pollutants

• Advanced chronological age

• Varicocoele

Fertility expert, Dr Phil Boyle*, says:

“There is growing scientific evidence to support DNA fragmentation testing for couples with infertility and recurrent miscarriage. It is widely recognised that the main cause of elevated DFI is oxidative stress caused by excessive free radicals. One simple way to combat extra free radicals is increasing antioxidant levels via diet and supplements. The cessation of smoking, drug use and alcohol consumption are other important factors. Treatment of infections, varicocele repair and anti-inflammatory medications can also help.”

The introduction of a supplement such as Proceive Men Max can help to boost antioxidant levels. There are also a number of foods that can support sperm health, our resident nutritionist Gaye Godkin recommends the following…..

WALNUT & BRAZIL NUTS

  • Walnuts contain Vitamin E, omega 3 oils, and healthy fats.

  • Brazil nuts contain selenium, magnesium, vitamins and healthy fats.

  • Eat them raw, add them to cakes, muffins, scone mixes, bread mixes and salads.

BLUEBERRIES & RASPBERRIES

  • Blueberries contain vitamin K, vitamin C, fibre, manganese and other antioxidants.

  • Like blueberries, raspberries are filled with antioxidants. They help provide Vitamin C, calcium and iron. Eat them on their own, in yogurt, in a smoothie or in cakes.

BEETROOT

  • Beetroot contains folate, fibre, vitamin C and other minerals and is rich in anti-oxidants.

  • Grate or slice them in salad or add to smoothies.

AVOCADO

  • Avocado provides monounsaturated fats, folate and Vitamin B6, which aids the regulation of hormonal activity and reduces tiredness and fatigue. Great on toast with anything added.

DARK CHOCOLATE

  • A natural mood-booster, dark chocolate is also a great antioxidant. One or two squares a day can be beneficial.

GARLIC

  • Garlic is believed to help inhibit the growth of bacteria, as well as having anti-inflammatory powers.

  • It adds a great flavour to savoury dishes

SWEET RED PEPPERS

  • Sweet red peppers contain more Vitamin C than oranges. Add them to salads, soups and curries.

PULSES

  • Pulses including beans, lentils and peas are great sources of fibre and protein. They taste great in salads, curries and soups.

Gaye Godkin, MPH Nutrition (Hons) DipNT cNLP

Sources: Reproductive Health Group, Dr Phil Boyle and Gaye Godkin.

* Dr Phil Boyle is a member of both the Irish (MICGP) and Royal (MRCGP) College of general practitioners. He is a member of the Irish Fertility Society and is currently President of The International Institute for Restorative Reproductive Medicine.

*https://www.reproductivehealthgroup.co.uk/fertility-treatments/assessments/men/dna-fragmentation/