The male reproductive system is both internal and external. The testes, the two organs located within the scrotal act are the manufacturers of both sperm and the primary hormone Testosterone. Within each testis, coiled tubules contain two different types of cells; germ cells (immature sperm cells) and Sertoli cells. Between the tubules is a third type of cell called Leydig cells. Stroll cells nourish the sperm cells, whereas Leydig cells are responsible for producing Testosterone, which is necessary for normal sperm production.
Under the influence of Leydig and Sertoli cells, germ cells develop into mature sperm. This is an ongoing process that takes about 72-74 days of which about 50 days are spent in the testes and the remaining time is spent in the long ductal system.
Because spermatogenesis (production of sperm) takes about 70 days, the prospective father needs to watch his diet pre-conceptually with as much care as the mother, to avoid any problems with defective sperm.
As sperm mature, they pass from the testes through the coiled channels of the epididymis, an organ that stores and nourishes the sperm as they develop. Although sperm have tails when they enter the epididymis, normal movement (motility) is acquired only after 18-24 hours within the epididymis. It takes sperm about 14 days to travel through the epididymis where they then move into the vas deferens, a tubal structure that connects the epididymis with the seminal vesicles via a common ejaculatory duct. The seminal vesicles are pouch like glands that produce the majority of fluid seen through ejaculation.
Mature sperm then wait in the vas deferens until the man ejaculates, or expels fluid from his penis during intercourse. As the man ejaculates, sperm combines with fluid from the seminal vesicle and with a thick secretion from the prostate gland, which creates semen. This ejaculate is discharged through the erect penis and deposited into the woman’s vagina. The semen is gel-like and liquefies which enables the sperm to more effectively swim through the female reproductive tract and reach the ovum (egg).
Normally millions of sperm are deposited into the vagina, however as they swim through the cervix and uterus, up to the fallopian tube, their numbers decline. Only a few hundred sperm will get close to the egg, where they then must penetrate and fertilise the egg. Sperm are able to survive for 2-3 days within the female reproductive tract and the length of time that a woman’s egg can be fertilised by a man’s sperm are between 12-24 hours. No wonder each and every baby born are a miracles! So much effort from both the male and female is required for this amazing test of endurance to occur.
Several factors determine whether a man’s sperm is likely to fertilise and egg. Sperm motility and forward progression appear to be the most important.
The production of reproductive hormones is central to fertility, and Pituitary hormones initiate the sperm production process. The Pituitary gland secretes follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). FSH stimulates the production of sperm within the testicles and LH stimulates the production of Testosterone, the male hormone that helps maintain spermatogenesis as well as the male sexual characteristics.
Zinc is vital for a viable sperm count, motility and a high percentage of liver sperm in the semen. It is usually present in large amounts in semen, and excessive loss of semen through ejaculation, may lose 2 to 5mg of Zinc each day. This is the most important mineral for male reproductive health and a deficiency can cause chromosome aberrations. Begin taking a quality Zinc supplement at least 3 months prior to conception.
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive. In sixty percent of male infertility the causes are known and can be divided broadly into three areas:
The single most common cause of male infertility is sperm production disorders. These can be either genetic or acquired and both may cause infertility by lowering sperm count, decreasing sperm motility or causing sperm agglutination.
Acquired sperm abnormalities may be the result of various factors such as contracting mumps after puberty, endocrine disorders, exposure to radiation or chemotherapy, immunological disorders where antibodies against the sperm are produced, nutritional deficiencies and drug or alcohol abuse.
Anatomical obstructions may be congenital or acquired. This could be caused from an enlarged prostate, scar tissue from surgery, the presence of varicose veins in the scrotum, undescended testes or trauma to the genitals. Other factors causing infertility include impotence, pre-mature ejaculation and faulty delivery of the sperm into the female genital tract.