Teratozoospermia is an abnormality in sperm morphology. Sperm morphology refers to the size and shape of the sperm.
Does sperm shape affect fertility?
The typical shape of the sperm makes it capable of swimming across the female genital tract so as to reach the ovum and fertilize it. Tail defects in a sperm may hamper the motility of the sperm. Head of the sperm is responsible for penetrating the ovum during fertilization and any abnormality of the acrosome or head leads unsuccessful penetration of the ovum by the sperm. For the above mentioned reasons, teratozoospermia or abnormal sperm morphology has some effect on male fertility.
Most of the times teratozoospermia is diagnosed while evaluating a man for infertility. Men with teratozoospermia, though not nil, have less chances of naturally impregnating a woman.
But it is important to be aware that sperm morphology is only one of the many factors related to semen quality that is known to have an effect on male fertility. The various other qualities of semen that are important with regards to male fertility are:
- Semen Volume
- Sperm Count
- Sperm Motility
- Semen Consistency
- Semen Composition
Does teratozoospermia cause birth defects?
Even if the sperm has minor malformations, there are chances that it may successfully fertilize an ovum leading to pregnancy. Such pregnancies may end in the delivery of a necessarily normal healthy baby. Rarely, it may lead to birth defects in the newborn and even if it does, the defects may be mild.
More serious malformations of the sperm are unlikely to result in pregnancy as they may have a decreased load of genetic material. If at all it results in pregnancy, the fetal development may get arrested at a very early stage. Mostly in the presence of fetal developmental anomalies at such early stage, the pregnancy will not continue to full term. So, the birth of a baby with gross birth defects due to abnormal sperm morphology in the parent is very unlikely .
So, teratozoospermia in a man may lead to difficulty in getting a woman pregnant naturally; but in case of successful impregnation, there is least likelihood of the abnormal sperms contributing to anomalies in the baby.
Can teratozoospermia cause miscarriage?
Since the mother carries the baby in her womb, causes for miscarriage are usually attributed to maternal factors. The possibility of paternal factors, specifically the sperm related factors has been overlooked in the past. It is recommended that when miscarriages occur, particularly recurrent pregnancy losses, focus should be laid on testing for both maternal and paternal factors .
About 75% of miscarriages happen in the first trimester which is the initial 3 months of pregnancy. The most common cause for first trimester miscarriages have been identified as chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus. Since the baby inherits one set of chromosomes or genetic material from each of the parent, even abnormalities in the genetic material contained within the sperm can lead to chromosomal defects in the baby. As we already elaborated, serious abnormalities in the sperm shape and size are mostly associated with significant chromosomal defects in the sperm, leading to defective development of the baby and early pregnancy loss.
Can teratozoospermia be reversed?
If teratozoospermia is secondary to viral infections, high fevers or acute stressful situations, it may be reversible. So as to find out whether your sperms have reverted to normal after having overcome the stress period, you will have to repeat semen tests after few months. It is so because the already present abnormal sperms cannot revert to normal and it takes at least 90 days for new sperms to develop completely. So the reversal of teratozoospermia will be evident only in tests carried out at least 90 days following the persons recovery from the stress .
Mild to moderate degrees of teratozoospermia attributable to other causes is usually reversible with prompt intervention and some lifestyle changes. You may consider quitting smoking and alcohol abuse as a priority so as to improve sperm quality. A regular exercise routine will also help reduce stress levels. Eating a well balanced diet is also important for healthy sperm production.
In case a varicocele is detected as the cause for abnormal sperm, prompt surgical correction may help in reversing production of sperms with altered morphology .
Inherited teratozoospermia is usually severe and irreversible .
Can teratozoospermia be cured?
If teratozoospermia is inherited genetically, it is not curable. Cancer chemotherapy and radiotherapy induced defects in sperm morphology are also difficult to cure. Hence freezing sperm prior to treatment is considered if future fertility is desired .
But the good news is that if the condition is caused by other factors, it can be cured with prompt intervention.
Adopting a healthy life style would be the first step in curing teratozoospermia. Natural cure for teratozoospermia can be achieved by consuming a diet rich in fruits. Eliminating toxic inputs like tobacco and alcohol will sometimes in itself be very effective in achieving cure.
If you are looking at improving your sperm quality, fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants are an inevitable part of your daily diet. Three important antioxidants in fruits and vegetable diet are:
- Beta carotene found in carrots
- Lutein found in lettuce and spinach
- Lycopene found in tomatoes
It is also important to make sure your getting enough of folic acid as men deficient in folic acid tend to produce sperms with chromosomal anomalies. Green leafy vegetables are rich in folic acid. Vitamin A which is plenty in carrots is also an essential vitamin for improving sperm quality. Fishes like salmon, tuna and sardines rich in DHA and omega-3-fatty acids are good to improve sperm quality. Walnuts also contain appreciable amounts of omega-3-fatty acids.
Garlic contains allicin which improves blood supply to male sexual organs. It also contains vitamin B6 and selenium which control secretion of sex hormones and reduce sperm damage. Asian ginseng plant used in Chinese medicine may also prove effective in improving sperm quality. It forms the ingredient of many nutraceuticals for sexual health and herbal supplements.
If teratozoospermia has been confirmed and all the above mentioned corrective measures have been exhausted in an attempt to restore normal sperm morphology, assisted reproductive techniques may become the final resort to achieve a successful pregnancy.