Infertility is defined as the failure of a couple to become pregnant after one year of regular and unprotected intercourse. Infertility is no longer just a female issue, male infertility is on the rise, and can be caused by a number of factors, including some of the following:
- Problems and issues with sperm production, sperm transport and sperm motility.
- Anatomical problems.
- Blockage of the vas deferens (tube that brings the sperm from the testicle to the urethra).
Factors that contribute to infertility
The major cause of infertility is the failure to produce healthy sperm that are in abundance and mobile. The usual culprits of male infertility are unhealthy diets, inactive lifestyles, and the increasing amount of hormones in our food, all of which can lower sperm count and sperm motility, and contribute to male infertility.
Smoking, for instance, is a major contributor. Recent studies have shown that a 64% increase in miscarriage occurs when both partners, or just the male partner smokes.
Environmental stresses such as constant exposure to heat, can also impact on the sperm production. Men who consistently take hot steaming baths have shown in research studies, to produce a lower
Other possibilities include
- RETROGRADE EJACULATION Semen ejaculating backwards into your bladder (very rare).
- HORMONAL PROBLEMS Not testosterone, but follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) because it is the one which stimulates the formation of sperm cells.
- GENETICS The most common is Klinefelter’s syndrome in which, instead of the normal male XY chromosome, the man is born with an additional X chromosome, making him XXY. He will usually not make any sperm at all.
- HEAT Too much heat kills sperm – don’t sit too long in hot baths, and don’t wear tight trousers and underwear.
- STRESS This can adversely affect sperm count and hormone production
Testing for infertility
If a case of male infertility is suspected, the first thing a clinic would do is to analyse a sample of the male’s semen. This needs to be ejaculated into a sterile plastic pot with a lid. The lab technicians will then check for the following:
ARE ANY SPERM PRESENT?
This could be caused by several reasons, including an infection that has led to a blockage in the reproductive system or testicular failure.
HOW MUCH SEMEN HAS BEEN EJACULATED?
If only very little semen has been produced, this may suggest a partial blockage in one or both of the vas deferens tubes which brings semen from the testicles to the penis tip. Some men are born with low sperm counts, or it could mean that the testes are not working well.
HOW MANY SPERM ARE IN THE SEMEN?
Above 20 million per ml is felt to be OK; over 60 million is looking good. Below 20 million per ml is felt to be too low. But, numbers aren’t everything. The condition and quality of the sperm itself also counts.
HOW ACTIVE ARE THE SPERM?
Sperm need to be swimming strongly and straight to be able to reach and fertilise an egg.
WHAT PROPORTION ARE NORMALLY SHAPED?
Some sperm have double heads or short tails, and so will find it more difficult to fertilise an egg properly because they may not be able to reach it or break inside. Studies have found that if these sperm do fertilise the egg, the resulting pregnancy is more likely to miscarry.
Tips for enhancing fertility
1. Treat medical problems
Your first step is to rule out any medically related problems. Dr Jacobson at Vitalab, maintains that the couple’s case history dictates the medical plan of action and this information is essential from both partners.
“Before making a therapeutic decision, one must look at the inherent circumstances. The key factors include the ovulation process, sperm quality and its pathways. Once the X-rays, lab work and other clinical investigations are done, then a medical plan can be formed.”
2. Go for a physical
You’ll have your blood pressure checked, a urine test to check for infections and to check blood glucose levels, and a cervical smear to ensure that you have a healthy cervix. Blood tests include: a blood group test to see if you are Rhesus negative, tests for diabetes, multiple sclerosis, HIV, genito-urinary infections such as thrush, as well as any medication that could have an adverse effect.
3. Watch your diet
Good food will lead to good health. Eat your fair share of fruit and veggies along with reasonable portions of protein, dairy and carbs. Avoid greasy fried foods and sweets, which generally introduce toxins into your body.
Complement your diet with good vitamin supplements. Being overweight or underweight can affect your
output of hormones, which could dramatically increase your chances of conception.
4. Avoid polution
Through no fault of your own, pollution, in all its shapes and forms, exposure to chemicals, fumes and gases, and even cleaning products, can take their toll.
5. Manage stress
A positive state of mind can put everything into perspective and really provide you with the balance you need for the road ahead. Try not to obsess about falling pregnant.
6. Understand your body
Before turning to expensive medical treatments, exhaust all alternatives. To begin with, understand how the menstrual cycle works.
7. Get your mind right
It is quite important that a couple is balanced before trying. You should understand why you want to have a baby and the impact it will have on your life.
8. Explore complementary treatments
These can help you make the most of your fertility potential and improve general physical and mental health before going the medical route. Aromatherapy, homeopathy, reflexology, herbal medicine, and hypnotherapy have all helped women conceive.
Smoking can cause a 23 percent decrease in sperm density and up to 15 percent decrease in sperm
motility. It can also cause an increased number of abnormally-shaped sperm.
SAY NO TO DRUGS
Even “recreational” drugs like marijuana can cause a decreased average sperm count, motility and shape. It may also negatively affect the production and secretion of testosterone.
Cocaine causes decreased sperm counts, motility and shape. It also decreases the ability of sperm to penetrate cervical mucous, thus making it difficult for them to enter the uterus.
DO NOT TAKE STEROIDS
Male hormones also affects levels of testosterone and may result in the total absence of sperm. The effects may be irreversible, even after the steroids are stopped.
EXERCISE IN MODERATION
Moderate exercise and resistance training helps to increase testosterone levels which leads to increased sperm production.
AVOID HIGH TEMPERATURE
High temperatures increases the overall scrotal temperature and has a negative effect on sperm production.
FOLLOW A BALANCED, NUTRITIONAL DIET
Supplement this with a high antitoxidant content. Vitamin C stops sperm from clumping and keeps them
mobile. Vitamin E is known as the “sex vitamin” that carries oxygen to the sex organs, while green tea and selenium improve overall reproductive health.