Meet the Expert: Dr. Darren Bryk, AKA the sperm whisperer, is an andrology/male infertility fellow at the University of Virginia. He medically reviewed each post in our three-part "It Starts With the Sperm" mini-series.
We’re back with our third and final post in our “It Starts with the Sperm” mini series on the key roles sperm plays in conception, pregnancy and baby, and this time, we’re talking DNA. When it comes to male fertility, it’s not enough to have a high sperm count and top marks for motility and morphology. Without low levels of DNA fragmentation, a man’s fertility—along with his ability to successfully conceive with a partner—is affected.
The DNA in a man’s sperm is vulnerable to serious damage from all sorts of things—age, illness, infection, and notably, his lifestyle habits. Turns out, poor choices can have bigger consequences than a beer belly and an increased risk of diabetes or heart disease. In fact, sperm DNA fragmentation is one of the leading causes of male fertility and is associated with a high risk of miscarriage. But there is some good news. Here’s what a guy can do to protect sperm DNA.
What is Sperm DNA Fragmentation?
We can all agree that sperm has a very big job, and the integrity of sperm DNA is absolutely critical for both a successful conception and a healthy pregnancy and baby. During the sperm maturation process, or spermatogenesis, specific behaviors can seriously affect that integrity, which creates DNA fragmentation. That term describes changes or physical breaks in one or both of the DNA strands of chromosomes in the sperm. This kind of damage affects sperm quality and has a direct impact not only on sperm’s ability to fertilize the egg but on the health of both the embryo and fetus.
That’s true if you’re going the IVF route, too. According to one study (1) of 360 couples, a higher sperm DNA fragmentation index was associated with lower fertilization rates, embryo quality and pregnancy rates. Couples who couldn’t achieve pregnancy had an average of 51.7% sperm with DNA fragmentation. Couples in the study who became pregnant averaged 39.5%.
What Causes Sperm Fragmentation?
Here’s a short, non-exhaustive list of possible causes of DNA fragmentation (check out our 11 tips for addressing them all to boost male fertility!):
- Heat exposure
- Environmental toxins
- Drug use
- Advanced age (older than 40)
- Chronic disease
- Oxidative stress
That last one is a major contributor, with research (2) demonstrating that oxidative stress is a big-time contributor to male infertility. Couples who do conceive in spite of DNA damage are at a much higher risk of giving birth to a baby with health and well-being issues (3). Not only is there a greater chance of birth defects, the chances of recurrent miscarriage also increase.
Sperm DNA Fragmentation & Recurrent Miscarriage
A study (4) at the Imperial College London compared the sperm health of men whose partners had three or more consecutive miscarriages to the sperm health of men whose partners had experienced no miscarriages. It should come as no surprise that the first group of men had significantly more sperm DNA damage, to the tune of twice as much. Lead author Dr. Channa Jayasena specifically designed the study to look closely at the influence of sperm health, unlike prior research on recurrent miscarriage that focused on maternal health issues. “It has taken medicine a long time to realize sperm health has a role to play in miscarriage and that the cause doesn’t lie solely with women,” she explains. “Now we realize both partners contribute to recurrent miscarriage, we can hopefully get a clearer picture of the problem and start to look for ways of ensuring more pregnancies result in a healthy baby.”
What You Can Do to Minimize Sperm DNA Fragmentation
Decreasing exposure to oxidative stress can help decrease sperm DNA fragmentation. Here’s how that shakes out in the real world:
- Take Beli Vitality for Men to fuel with the right nutrients
- Minimize or avoid alcohol and substance use
- Find healthy outlets to manage stress
- Commit to regular exercise
- Eat a nutritious, varied diet high in fruits and vegetables
Clearly, it comes down to healthy lifestyle habits and one key focus: antioxidants. Antioxidant supplementation can actually counteract oxidative stress and improve spermatogenesis (5). Researchers specifically call out vitamin C, vitamin E, carnitines, folate, selenium and zinc for their antioxidant benefits. And in excellent news, bioavailable forms of these key nutrients can all be found in Beli Vitality for Men. They’re among 14 handpicked ingredients we chose to support and nourish sperm health across all parameters, and that includes protecting sperm DNA.
For men, a high-quality prenatal vitamin like Beli is an easy addition to a healthy lifestyle with a big pay-off. A key driver of sperm deficiencies, including DNA fragmentation, is a nutrient shortage (6) during the sperm maturation process. Swapping the multivitamin for a supercharged men’s prenatal vitamin like Beli is a smart way to ensure you’re getting all the right nutrients in all the right amounts to support your fertility.
The Bottom Line
Decades of research makes it clear that the right vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can support and promote sperm health, and that includes the quality of the DNA in sperm. It’s no coincidence that you’ll find them in the Beli Vitality blend, and it makes for a great addition to an otherwise healthy lifestyle.
Gat, I. et al. (2017). Sperm DNA fragmentation index does not correlate with blastocyst aneuploidy or morphological grading. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5462460/
Agarwal, A et al. (2020). Sperm DNA fragmentation: A new guideline for clinicians. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7502318/
Aitken, R. (2017). DNA damage in human spermatozoa; important contributor to mutagenesis in the offspring. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29082208/
Qui, Y. et al. (2020). Progress in Research on Sperm DNA Fragmentation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7191954/
Urol, T. (2022). Antioxidant supplementation on sperm DNA fragmentation and sperm parameters: a systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9623341/
Cetin, I et al. (2010). Role of micronutrients in the periconceptional period. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19567449/