Men are told that they will be able to father children well into their 70s, but research is proving otherwise. Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Larisa Corda explains what can affect your sperm and how to improve it
Globally speaking, there’s a stigma surrounding male infertility, which is nowhere near as widely discussed as the female problem.
This taboo subject is even seen in the medical profession where the term ‘andrological ignorance’ has been coined to describe the paucity of male fertility treatments and male contraception. This is compared to the female, where there are many more options.
It could be argued that some of this is cultural, whereby traditionally, the responsibilities of family building were placed on the female.
But from a survey done in 2017, 93 per cent of men said that infertility had a negative impact on their lives, their wellbeing and self esteem. Men claimed to feel depressed, anxious, lonely and even suicidal.
Unlike women, most men do not find that social media offers them the same sort of space to be able to interact and deal with their emotions.
They feel out of tune with their peer group who seem to be having children, coupled with the fact that the social view of masculinity is about being strong, independent, virile and capable.
Up to one in five young men have low sperm counts, and one in two are below optimum
If a man has difficulty in the reproductive department, he can’t help but feel inferior and less of a man.
All too often, we reduce the man’s contribution to nothing more than a sperm donor, that erodes someone’s sense of identity and enthusiasm, with most men responding by mentally withdrawing from the treatment itself or becoming increasingly aggravated and frustrated if it doesn’t work.
Some men don’t even attend the first appointment with their partner; they’re reluctant to engage even before they’ve started, presuming their role is of no real significance.
A good deal of the problem lies in the fact that there is little education about the incidence of male infertility, which can account for problems in 30 to 40 per cent of cases.
There’s growing evidence that male fertility is declining faster than anyone had anticipated which has led some to question whether this is all part of a wider testicular dysgenesis syndrome that involves declining sperm quality, and an increasing incidence of testicular cancer as well as undescended testicles in male children.
A comprehensive study published last year by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem suggests that sperm count among Western men has more than halved over the past 40 years.
According to experts in the field, as many as one in five young men have low sperm counts, and shockingly about one in two are below the optimum.
Male fertility myths
In an age where women and men are getting older before they look to start a family, we often hear about the reproductive decline on the female side, yet there remains this false popular notion that men will be able to continue to father children even into their 90s!
The media runs headlines of men in their 70s and 80s who supposedly had no problem at all making their partner pregnant. Despite the fact that studies have shown a man’s fertility at the age of 40 is about half of that of a man aged 20.
Add the fact that sperm counts are declining all over the world, such that over 15 per cent of young men now have poor semen quality.
What most men don’t realise is that unlike women, they are able to produce new sperm every three months, whereas women are born with the biggest number of eggs they will ever have, unable to produce any new ones.
a man’s fertility at the age of 40 is about half of that of a man aged 20
This essentially means that lifestyle changes have the ability to positively influence male fertility on a scale that is much bigger than for a woman.
Sperm are particularly sensitive to environmental triggers, as is being shown by various studies looking at the effect of everything from the use of paracetamol in the mother during pregnancy, to the effect of plastics on semen parameters, so it’s especially important to consider how to minimise the risk of exposure to this.
On the other hand, antioxidants such as LactoLycopene, found in cooked tomatoes, has been shown to increase faster swimming sperm by almost 40 per cent, with improvements to sperm size and shape also seen.
So how can you improve your infertility?
It’s precisely because of these significant lifestyle effects on sperm that I always recommend My Conception Plan to any man who is looking to optimise his reproductive health, even if he hasn’t already actively started trying with his partner, or if he is undergoing treatment.
The principles are essentially the same as for women, with all pillars complementing each other and improving sperm health in a real and significant way after just three months. Here are the main principles:
#1 Eat a healthy diet, mainly plant-based
Eat well and focus on eating organically and seasonally as this way you’ll know the produce is far less likely to have been influenced by hormones, pesticides, added preservatives, chemicals and additives.
Have a majority plant based diet and get strict about what you’re putting inside of yourself as it literally influences not just your health, but the health of your baby.
#2 Move your body
Exercise will help to boost the circulation to your reproductive organs, and ensure you maintain a healthy body and mind.
Exercising more can also help to reduce stress, but doing too much or being over vigorous can do the opposite, so be mindful and aim for that which is realistic and achievable for you.
Regular movement will also help you to keep weight within the normal range that is vital for fertility and also sperm health (don’t get too underweight either as this also affects fertility adversely).
#3 Stop with the bad habits (smokers we’re looking at you…)
You absolutely need to stop smoking (even e-cigarettes, though the evidence for this is not yet uncovered) as this can cause damage to the sperm, that may even be passed on to the future baby.
In addition, second hand smoke inhalation when a woman is pregnant can have negative effects on the growth and development of the child.
Keep alcohol to a minimum (I usually advise no more than five units a week for a man), as it can affect sperm production and increase the amount of oestrogen in your body, whilst reducing testosterone.
#4 Check any long-term medication with your doctor
Steroids can also reduce testosterone and sperm production, so don’t use these.
Check with your doctor about any long term medication you may be on that could affect sperm count or quality, and see if your doctor is able to change these or lower their dose, whilst continuing to manage your symptoms.
#5 Stress management – think meditation, yoga and mindfulness
Manage your stress and keep caffeine (which is a stress activator) to a minimum. Too much chronic stress, especially if you are struggling with infertility, can lead to an imbalance in your fertility hormones and also problems with sleep and lowered libido.
We also tend to adopt unhealthy behaviour if we feel stressed, such as eating too much sugar, drinking alcohol, or smoking, all of which can reduce the chance of getting pregnant.
Meditation, yoga, mindfulness, being outdoors in nature, having a bath, spending time with close friends, or a hobby can all help reduce stress, as can acupuncture, reflexology, hypnotherapy and reiki.
#7 Get your crucial 7 to 8 hours sleep per night
Sleeping well and ensuring your bedroom becomes a sanctuary that is conducive to sleep. It’s important to get enough rest to support your physical, mental and emotional health.
This means clearing out the clutter, not using any electrical devices such as TVs and mobile phones before bed time, and ensuring the room is dark enough to allow you to get the crucial seven to eight hours sleep a night that most of us need for our wellbeing.
#8 Have a lot of sex, and not just during the fertile window
Have sex often and throughout your partner’s menstrual cycle. Most people become too obsessed with the fertile window and only having sex then.
As long as you’re having intercourse several times a week throughout your cycle, there will be sperm available to fertilise the egg, as sperm can survive in the reproductive tract for several days.
Recent studies are suggesting that sperm quality may actually improve with more regular sex, increasing the chance of conception.
#9 Take a quality multivitamin
Get yourself on a good multivitamin supplement a few months before you start to try but remember that this is not an alternative to a good diet.
For men, a supplement rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, E, selenium, zinc and garlic can support healthy sperm.
#10 Watch out for external toxins like plastics in food
Be mindful of the toxic elements influencing your environment, from the water you drink, to the toxins found in cleaning products, to the make up you apply, to the plastic used to cover food in.
The toxins we absorb can end up being harmful to our hormones that control fertility, as well as the sperm.
Always try and use products in their most natural state especially as some recent studies have also shown toxins influencing sperm DNA which can be passed on to offspring and has been linked to obesity and other health issues in the child.
Try not to neglect your own emotional needs. Whether its dealing with your own infertility, or helping to support your partner, it’s important to seek help and talk to a counsellor or a support group that can help and where you will be able to gain strategies in how to deal with the stress this burden brings, as well as realising you are not alone.
Dr Larisa Corda is an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and Fertility Specialist MBBS BSc MRCOG. She qualified from Imperial College London and trained in the UK and Australia, gaining a wide understanding of womens’ health issues across an international population.
She believes in a holistic approach to treatment that addresses many lifestyle factors as well as a combination of Eastern and Western principles, that underpin The Conception Plan she has devised, as seen on TV.
Larisa is a passionate womens’ rights campaigner, with roles on a number of charities, and supports the use of natural and mild IVF techniques to assist conception where needed. She regularly appears in the media, and has several research interests including the effect of stress on fertility.
As another one of our resident doctors on the new Healthista Collective which launches on Monday, Dr Corda will bring fertility advice to help Healthista readers.
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