Sperm DNA fragmentation is the term used to describe the condition of sperm having genetic abnormalities that hinder the sperm's ability from having successful fertilization and normal embryo development. This further complicates into cases of male subfertility which may lead to Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) failures and miscarriages.
How did Sperm DNA Fragmentation Happen?
How did sperm DNA fragmentation happen? Sperm DNA fragmentation itself is still a rare medical condition and hardly comes up when discussing male infertility unless your doctor suspected a genetic anomaly from your infertility diagnosis.
In order to understand DNA fragmentation, let's have a quick lesson about DNA. A genome is defined as an organism’s complete set of genetic instructions. The genetic instructions in our genome are made up of DNA which contains unique chemical codes that guide our growth, development and health. DNA has the appearance of a twisted structure called the double helix.
DNA fragmentation is the condition when there are breaks or damages in the structure of the DNA which lead to cell damage. In male infertility, these damaged cells can be packed together in the DNA carried by the sperm’s head. This causes incomplete instructions to be passed on during the fertilization stage which may lead to failure in fertilization, miscarriages or health issues for your unborn child.
What Causes DNA Fragmentation?
For men, the major cause of sperm DNA fragmentation is oxidative stress. There are several known medical conditions that are associated with oxidative stress, making them the possible cause of sperm DNA fragmentations.
Leukocytospermia, also known as Pyospermia is a condition in which an unusually high number of white blood cells are found in the semen. The white blood cells can weaken the sperm and causes damage to the genetic material by the release of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Leukocytospermia can be diagnosed through a urine test or semen culture test (test to detect the presence of microorganisms in the semen) and can be treated by eliminating the white blood cells through antibiotics medications.
Diabetes is a condition when the blood sugar level becomes too high and not properly controlled in the body. This condition influences male fertility at the molecular level. Diabetic men are found to have a higher count of damaged sperm DNA compared to men without diabetes. Diabetes is also linked to the decreased ability to naturally repair the sperm DNA thus resulting in low-quality sperms and genetic problems. Treatment for DNA fragmentation by diabetes will be the same as a diabetes treatment. The treatment will depend on which stage of diabetes you are currently in.
The testes where sperm are produced are sensitive to heat stress, hypoxia (low oxygen level) and inflammation due to oxidative stress. Varicocele is the inflammation that causes enlargement of the vein in the scrotum. High levels of ROS which are produced by oxidative stress are able to damage the sperm DNA and impact the quality of sperm produced. Varicocele can be treated by surgery to either block or unblock the enlarged vein(s).
How to Prevent DNA Fragmentation?
DNA fragmentation can be prevented to some extent by eliminating or controlling the risk factors that contribute to the condition. Below are some tips you can implement straight away in producing good quality and healthy sperm
Things Are Difficult To Change
Unfortunately, there are some risk factors that are difficult to change such as advancing age and environmental factors.
Men who are over the age of 40 have been found to be more likely to produce sperm with DNA fragmentation. The advancing age decreases the natural ability to repair their own damaged DNA.
Environmental factors are mostly due to men’s occupations. Some men are not even aware of prolonged/constant exposure to harmful chemicals or radiation that causes DNA fragmentations in their workplace. These environmental factors may not be corrected immediately (or at all) just by removing oneself from said environment.