July 15, 2016

Do sperm have a sense of smell, and what’s it got to do with Lily of the Valley and sea urchins?

Posted in brisbane, health, life, love tagged , , , , , , at 8:40 pm by Margi Macdonald

Convallaria_majalis_0002.jpegDuring pre-conception care, one of the things I discuss with couples is the “fertile window“, and that there’s a lot of chemical signalling going on between sperm and the egg.

In these discussions, essentially we’re working to ensure that there will be several million healthy, active sperm waiting in the fallopian tubes before ovulation occurs, quietly communicating with the egg once it’s released.

About ten years ago – or thereabouts – scientists discovered “smelling capabilities” (or rather, an odorant receptor on human sperm). You can read about that here.

Bourgeonal is the sperm-attracting chemical discussed in that article .

Bourgeonal smells floral, green and watery, and is highly reminiscent of Lily of the Valley. How delightful is that?!

A “scent trail” was thought to be laid by the egg for the sperm to follow.

Sperm have a long journey ahead in their quest for the egg cell or ovum, and just a few of the million sperm reach their destination. The ovum supports the sperm in their quest by transmitting “chemical signposts”, known as attractants. Researchers first discovered this ingenious system in sea urchins and found out that attractants control the swimming movement of the sperm by altering their calcium balance. The attraction of the sperm to the egg is referred to as “chemotaxis”. Read more here

Anyway, research continued and scientists concluded  “the ‘Lily of the Valley phenomenon’ is a laboratory artefact: sperm do not have an olfactory signalling pathway.”

*SIGH* it was just becoming exciting and delightful… no more Lily of the Valley.

Then researchers moved onto the hormone progesterone which is produced by the corpus luteum in the ovary, just after ovulation (egg release), and how progesterone activates sperm swimming behaviour.

Swimming! Sea Urchins! Sperm! Flowery smells! Eggs! Hormones!Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 9.55.23 AM

What does all this mean for couples who are planning a pregnancy, or who have been trying for a while, without any luck?

Not much. Don’t stress about bourgeonal or the complex interplay between progesterone and ion channels in sperm.

Natural medicine practitioners help couples understand that conception can be a simple, happy process.

We use low-tech methods to help you identify your fertile window, and to tweak any reversible factors which might affect sperm health and/or the natural ebb and flow of monthly cycles and ovulation.

Don’t bother with Fertility Apps. Most of them miscalculate the fertility window.

Nutrition, lifestyle, mindset, exposure to certain chemicals, exercise and time (yes, good old fashioned time) all contribute to a couple’s fertility.

The one thing which makes me sad and frustrated, is that for too long, the focus has been almost exclusively on the woman, her reproductive organs, and her menstrual cycle.

“Male factors” are just as important, but don’t receive the attention they deserve.

As someone once said “it takes two to tango“.

And I say “keep it natural” and uncomplicated.

(And don’t use Lily of the Valley or any other perfume internally.)

_______

Cautions and care: This blog is for information and education, and not for diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your reproductive or sexual health, please see an appropriately qualified health professional, such as your family doctor.

Images

Lily of the Valley: By H. Zell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9592154

Sperm: By Mariana Ruiz Villarreal spermatozoa – “based on the one found on the book “Gray’s anatomy” 36th edition, Williams & Warwick, 1980; and a diagram found of the review “Formation and organization of the mammalian sperm head” from Kiyotaka Toshimori and Chizuro Ito. (Chiba, Japan)., Public Domain” https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=699220

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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