Dr Abayomi Ajayi

A couple of weeks back, we discussed the benefits of egg freezing through a process known as vitrification, or fast freezing. No doubt, it could be described as “cool” for women to freeze their eggs, but it might be even “cooler” for men to freeze their sperms too! Yes.

Sperm cryopreservation (sperm freezing) is actually the most established method of fertility preservation for men. Fertility preservation via sperm freezing has been utilised for decades in men after attaining puberty. They can be done by men who need life-saving therapies with a potential to wipe out the man’s ability to produce sperm, such as chemotherapy and radiation for various types of cancer; it has also been used in other situations including vasectomy.

However, before we go into the details of sperm freezing, it would be useful to talk about sperm health.

It is no longer a secret or a mystery that human fertility is time-bound, not just for women but for men too. Men also have biological clocks and, therefore, like women, experience age-related decline in fertility. As a man ages, his sperm count and sperm motility decline, making it more difficult for him to biologically father a child.

To be exact, average sperm count has declined by as much as 50 per cent over the last century and continues to decline by roughly two per cent each year. Worse still, the DNA integrity of sperm also decreases with age and this can increase the chances of men passing on genetic mutations to their offspring, leading to developmental problems like autism and schizophrenia.

Men have evolutionary advantage over women because they are constantly maturing new sperm every day until their last day on earth, whereas women are born with all the eggs they would ever have.

Sperm production, unlike the female egg, is more likely to be improved by changing lifestyle habits, and except a man has a genetic predisposition or a chronic disease, he can always produce healthy sperm. It is therefore prudent that every man should keep his sperm in tip-top shape and avoid issues that could potentially hurt sperm health.

There are basic steps that a man could take to preserve his sperm health. Factors like alcohol intake, use of recreational drugs and prescription medications and smoking all impact on semen count and quality. Also, avoiding prolonged heat from laptops and extended soaks in hot tubs is crucial. Because the testicles are between the legs, there’s a whole lot of heat generated by the clothing, especially when sitting for long periods of time or crossing legs. All of these factors hurt sperm production. As a man, watch your diet. Avoid too much intake of fats and processed meat. Try to relax to prevent stress which is bad for sperm production and sperm health. Research also shows that frequent ejaculations activate the production of newer, fresher sperm.

Back to the main topic for today. For decades, sperm cryopreservation (freezing) has proven to be a successful and cost effective option for fertility treatments for IVF. There are reputable sperm banks available in Nigeria to provide long term storage options. Sperm banks store sperm samples at -196˚F in liquid nitrogen. Freezing of sperm is straightforward.

Sperm freezing can be done easily and quickly. After the semen sample has been collected, it is placed on a warming block so the sperm can turn into liquid. The sample is mixed with a freezing medium to allow the sperm to survive the freezing and storage process. The sperm is frozen in vials and stored in liquid nitrogen vapours. Once the samples have been frozen, they are placed in special containers where they are stored in the liquid nitrogen until they are needed. Thawed sperm can be used in the future for IVF cycles when the man is ready to have children.

A semen analysis is often the best way to determine sperm health, however, the survival rate of sperm after cryopreservation can vary widely, depending on various factors.

Is there any guarantee that a man will be able to father a child using the frozen sperm? This is one of the most common questions men ask when seeking information about sperm freezing. The answer is quite straightforward. Even if you freeze many samples of your sperm, it’s not a guarantee that your partner will get pregnant afterwards.

The survival rate for sperm is different for each individual. Besides, there are so many factors that come into play, ranging from the age of the man and quality of the sperm before the freezing, to the age of the female partner and the quality of her eggs after the sperm has been thawed and IVF cycles performed.

The freezing and unfreezing processes have less impact on the viability of the sperms before and after freezing. Although there’s no limit to how long sperm can be stored, the important thing is that as long as the sperm is stored correctly inside liquid nitrogen, it would be well-preserved. As earlier explained, the sperm a man makes in his 20s is less likely than sperm he makes in his 40s and 50s to carry genetic mutations. So sperm freezing can let a man always have some of his youthful, healthy sperm to help ensure your future kids are as healthy as possible.

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