by Angela Le
In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, it's time to start talking about the half of the equation that rarely gets attention: men.
While historically we have considered infertility a woman's cross to bear, the truth is that male factor infertility accounts for nearly 40 percent of all cases, with 50-60 percent attributed to a combination of male and female factors.
Studies have shown that sperm count, production and quality have been dropping over the last half century around the globe. A notable study from France found that sperm concentration has decreased by a whopping one third in just 16 years, and several other European studies have provided similar data, estimating around 10 percent of males are currently infertile.
Particularly problematic in developed nations, men are paying the reproductive price as they encounter the daily environmental and lifestyle risks that have become the new global norm. The studies seem to suggest our modern lifestyle could be one of the main culprits for this worldwide decline. Luckily, there are several simple changes you can make to improve and support male fertility.
1. Know Your Exposure Risk. Men who live in urban areas or large cities may have an elevated fertility risk due to their environmental exposure. Phthalates, chemicals found in hundreds of household products (from toys to soaps to food packaging), are endocrine disruptors that can alter hormone levels, including testosterone, and negatively impact sperm quality. I recommend avoiding plastic containers, especially for heating food, as these can leach chemicals into your meal. Just being aware of these compounds, and reading the labels on personal care and food products can help significantly reduce toxin levels.
2. Avoid Overheating. Sperm require a very specific temperature in order to exist - about 4 degrees lower than a man's body temperature. While his body constantly regulates this through a muscle in the scrotum, things like hot tubs and saunas can quickly overheat the scrotum. This can reduce sperm count and even kill the sperm. To keep that important count high, eliminate activities that heat up the groin area, including strenuous workouts. It's a good idea to limit bicycling as well, as it can put weight on the area near the testis, blocking blood flow.
3. Don't Skip The Vitamins. While there is no magic multivitamin for fertility, there are a number of vitamins and supplements that can help improve male fertility, such as selenium and zinc. Pcynogenol, an extract from French pine tree bark, was shown to improve morphology by 38% when taken orally for only 90 days. I recommend seeing a fertility specialist before starting any new supplements.
4. Put Away That Cell Phone. Numerous recent studies have connected cell phone exposure to male infertility. Specifically, phones emit a radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation even when not in use, so a man carrying a cell phone in his pocket is at risk of abnormal sperm morphology (shape) and motility (movement). The same is true for laptops and tablets. If you're trying to start a family, keep the electronics off your lap.
5. Reduce Stress Levels. Stress can have an impact on male fertility, throwing off hormone levels. If stress is a factor, I recommend seeking out holistic stress reduction, such as meditation, massage and acupuncture. Acupuncture treatments have been shown to regulate hormonal balance and increase blood flow to the sex organs, improving overall sperm production and quality in less than three months.
6. Don't Forget The Basics. Don't lose sight of the basic components of health. Being overweight can be a major factor in both male and female infertility, so eating healthy and exercising regularly can improve fertility. Alcohol and drugs have a negative impact on sperm count and quality, so those should be out several months before you start trying. Lack of sleep has also been connected to male factor problems, so make rest and relaxation a high priority while you focus on starting a family.
7. Get Checked Out Together. If you and your partner have been unsuccessfully trying to conceive for a year (six months if you are over 35), it's time for both of you to see a specialist. A quick semen analysis will determine a man's sperm count, concentration, shape, and movement, among other factors. If he needs further testing, a male infertility specialist can perform hormone tests and even genetic tests to identify the issue before recommending treatment.
If you discover that your man requires some help getting his numbers where they need to be in order to conceive, be gentle with him and don't play the blame game. Both men and women find infertility to be a difficult and oftentimes deeply shameful experience. Reassure him that you are both in this together, and be united in your actions - this can mean going to appointments together, open communication and coping with both good and bad news side by side.
This piece was originally published by Angela Le on Well Rounded NY. Angela Le is a highly respected fertility expert and acupuncturist. She collaborates with both patients and physicians to create the best possible conditions for conception. Founder of Fifth Avenue Fertility Wellness, Angela has been exclusively focused on reproductive health for over a decade. A thought leader in the women's health movement, Angela is committed to changing the world by enhancing fertility - one family at a time.
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