Prof.Dr. Kaan Aydos | 27 January

The fluid that the sperm cells swim in, namely seminal plasma, looks exactly like the sea. Just as the fish swimming in the sea, sperm cells also float in the seminal plasma. Therefore, the healthier the environment in which they swim, the better the health of the sperm. Conversely, as the seminal plasma gets dirty, the sperm are affected, and their health deteriorates. As a result, they will lose their potential to have children.

Environmental factors such as dirty water wastes, diesel oil and chemical residues are the main causes of marine pollution. Similar environmental factors apply to sperm. In fact, many scientific studies have revealed that electromagnetic waves, industrial residues, pesticides, cigarette smoke, air pollution, chemicals in the environment we live in, etc. impair the health of sperms.

The toxic substances mentioned above leads to the accumulation of some harmful metabolites in the seminal fluid that impair the sperm health. These harmful metabolites that cause sperm pollution are called “reactive oxygen species; ROS”. Although they are normal by-products in various metabolic processes, excessive production results in the oxidative stress. The more ROS increases in the seminal fluid, the more sperm will be affected.

ROS-induced DNA damage may potentiate germ cell apoptosis, leading to a decrease in sperm count and thus to the decline of semen quality. Impaired mitochondrial respiration in spermatogenic cells leads also to a decrease in energy production that ultimately causes abnormalities in sperm morphology. An important reason for low concentration, impaired morphology or reduced motility in sperm analysis is excessive accumulation of ROS, i.e. harmful oxygen metabolites.

As ROS increases, the damage does not only remain on the surface of the sperm, but also begins to appear in its internal structure. The most important result in this process is the breaks in the genetic material we call DNA. Here, not only DNA damage, but also a special mechanism called epigenetics comes into play and causes a condition known as "epigenetic disorders". But before that, the action between the damaged DNA of the sperm and the DNA of the egg is affected, so fertilization cannot occur. An important cause of IVF failures is such damaged DNA content in the sperm nucleus. Even if there is fertilization, the embryo cannot hold on to the uterine wall and eventually results in miscarriage.

Interestingly, these harmful metabolites are also produced by the sperm itself. Therefore, before DNA damage is observed, sperm motility and morphology may also be impaired. In such cases, no abnormality is observed in sperm tests, but pregnancy may still not occur. So, investigation of sperm health in unexplained infertility cases also gains importance in this regard.

As an important cause of infertility, sperm pollution that develops as a result of increased ROS products should be thought. Sperm pollution is a problem to be considered in couples who cannot have children despite their efforts. For this reason, measuring these harmful metabolites in the seminal fluid, in which sperm cells swim, is important in evaluating sperm health. Sperm pollution and DNA damages can be treated by making some changes in lifestyle and using supportive products in addition to taking hormonal or antioxidant medications.


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