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Sperm DNA damage and Fertility

What is sperm DNA damage?
Sperm DNA is vulnerable to damage. The main cause of the damage is oxidative stress (chemical damage caused by ‘oxidants’). Oxidants are derived from oxygen metabolism processes.

What is the significance of Sperm DNA damage?
Sperm with DNA damage has reduced fertilisation potential, produces poorer quality embryos, and if implantation occurs, has a higher chance of miscarriage. There is also some evidence to suggest that men with high proportion of sperm with DNA damage produce offspring with a higher risk of autism and childhood cancers.

What causes sperm DNA damage?
Sperm DNA damage is very common. A study of 1600 infertile men in France showed that 60% had severe DNA damage. Men with abnormal sperm parameters, white blood cells in sperm, those exposed to harmful chemicals, those with febrile illness, varicocoeles, cancers and older men are more likely to have sperm DNA damage.

Eggs have a sperm DNA repair mechanism. However this mechanism is compromised with age, and contributes to the lower fertility rates seen in older women.

What happens if I have sperm DNA damage?
If you have abnormal sperm counts, or sperm DNA damage, then micro-injection of eggs into sperm for fertilisation (ICSI) is recommended. Using ICSI for fertilisation improves success rates if sperm has DNA damage.

Is there a test for sperm DNA damage?
There are tests available for sperm DNA damage. This will be performed on sperm before treatment. If a high proportion of sperm with DNA damage is found, then ICSI would be recommended for fertilisation.

Who should have the test?
Men with abnormal sperm counts will have ICSI anyway, so there is no clinical value in the sperm DNA test. Those with normal sperm counts would benefit from the test, as it provides more information, to determine whether IVF or ICSI should be used for fertilisation.

Can Sperm DNA damage be treated?
A recent research review has confirmed that ‘anti oxidants’ (nutritional supplements with Vitamin C, E, zinc, selenium, carnitine and carotene) do reduce sperm DNA damage. The review of 23 research studies confirmed that taking anti oxidants reduces the proportion of sperm with DNA damage. The motility also seems to improve. The review also confirmed a significant increase in clinical pregnancy rates with this treatment.

What does this mean for me?
We recommend that all men take antioxidants to start as soon as possible, and continue during fertility treatment (ideally 2-3 months before fertilisation. These are cheap, and can be bought over the counter. Women should also take fertility designed supplements.

If the sperm parameters are normal, DNA test is recommended, as it will provide further information, i.e. need for ICSI vs. using IVF for fertilisation.

For more information, please contact us at:

Mr David Ogutu
Consultant gynaecologist and fertility specialist, BMI Cavell Hospital, Enfield
Private Secretary: Ruth Blissett
Tel: 07838171641
Fax: 01992 423832


Herts & Essex Fertility Centre
Bishops College Churchgate Cheshunt, London, EN8 9XP
Secretary: Sharon Julians
Tel: 01992 78 50 60
Fax: 01992 350 111

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