28 Apr 2010

Male fertility

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As many as one in five couples experience conception difficulties, and issues with either the male partner’s fertility or a combination of male and female factors are involved in around 50% of cases.

Symptoms

  • Failure to conceive after 12 months of trying.
  • In many cases, no symptoms are present, and sexual performance and functioning are normal.
  • Laboratory tests may reveal:
    • Azoospermia, the absence of sperm in the ejaculate.
    • Oligospermia, in which some sperm are present, but quantities are too low to enable conception.
    • Abnormally shaped sperm, which makes conception difficult as the sperm have difficulties entering the egg.
    • Poor motility (movement) of the sperm, interfering with their ability to reach the egg.
    • The presence of antibodies produced by the male immune system that reduce the sperm’s ability to attach to the egg.

Causes

A number of factors may compromise male fertility. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Obstruction or absence of the tubes of the male reproductive system (the epididymis and vas deferens). This may account for as many as a third of all cases of male infertility.
  • Genetic and chromosomal issues.
  • Testicular failure (an inability to produce sperm or male hormones).
  • Undescended testes (cryptorchism).
  • Adverse effects of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, medications or surgery.
  • Erectile dysfunction, which may be a consequence of a number of physical or emotional issues, including multiple sclerosis, atherosclerosis (plaque in the arteries), diabetes, stress, anxiety and depression. Being overweight, smoking, eating a fatty diet, or not getting enough exercise may all contribute to this issue, as may the use of recreational drugs or excessive consumption of alcohol.
  • Stress, which may cause sperm count to decline.
  • Environmental or occupational exposure to pesticides, heavy metals, or heat may also be involved .

In around 10% of couples that have difficulty conceiving, no cause can be determined in either the male or female partner.

Natural therapies

  • Take a multivitamin and mineral supplement that’s specially formulated to support men’s performance and reproductive health. Key herbs and nutrients to look for include:
    • Zinc, for reproductive health and the production of healthy sperm.
    • Magnesium, which supports energy production.
    • B-group vitamins, for additional support during times of stress.
    • Antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins C and E, which may help to improve sperm quality by decreasing free radical damage.
    • Tribulus terrestris, traditionally used to assist male sexual performance. Research suggests it may increase the numbers and viability of sperm, and enhance libido.
    • Ginkgo biloba, which has traditionally been used to improve circulation to the extremities, and may be of assistance where vascular causes are involved in erectile dysfunction.
    • Korean ginseng may help to improve signs and symptoms of erectile dysfunction. This restorative remedy has also traditionally been used to enhance mental and physical performance and endurance (especially during times of stress), support energy levels and help with fatigue. Laboratory studies suggest that it may help to offset some of the adverse effects on male fertility caused by exposure to certain pollutants.
    • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) may help to support sperm count and motility.

Diet and lifestyle

  • If you and your partner have not conceived after trying for a year or more, talk to your healthcare professional about both the natural and medical options available to you. Earlier intervention is recommended for older couples. Professional treatment is recommended, as fertility issues can be complex, and are unsuitable for self-treatment.
  • Adopt a healthy diet and exercise regime with the intention of losing weight if necessary, as being overweight interferes with hormone metabolism. Even if you’re already at a healthy body weight, maintain a nutritious diet and active lifestyle. Healthy dads are more likely to make healthy babies.
  • Stop smoking, and don’t consume alcohol to excess or use recreational drugs.
  • Avoid exposure to pesticides and other environmental pollutants. Some natural therapists advocate an organic diet and a period of detoxification to allow any accumulated toxins to be cleared from your system.
  • Avoid excessive exposure to heat (e.g. hot tubs, saunas, and in your work environment) as this can temporarily decrease sperm production.
  • Some(but not all) authorities also recommend avoiding wearing tight underpants, which may interfere with the sperm’s ability to move and fertilise an egg.
  • It may be helpful to seek professional assistance to improve your ability to cope with stress.

Important notes

  • If you and your partner fail to conceive despite trying for a year, medical investigation is warranted. In both men and women, fertility issues may be symptomatic of serious underlying health problems, so an accurate diagnosis is essential.