Male Fertility 101
Dr. Melissa Descoteaux N.D.
When most people think of ‘infertility’ they think of women. However, of the 1 in 6 Canadian couples experiencing infertility, almost 50% of the time factors influencing infertility can be related to the male partner. Which is why it is so important to support both partners during preconception. Just as women prepare their bodies for pregnancy with a balanced diet, stress management, hormone balancing and a quality prenatal vitamin, men should also ensure optimal nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits before, during pregnancy and after the baby is born. Caring for a child can be a stressful time for both partners. A recent survey across Canada, UK and Australia noted 7/10 fathers reported increased stress levels in the 12 months after becoming a father and at least 1 negative health behaviour. We want to optimize health and practice prevention to help Dad’s feel their best!
Risk Factors for Male Infertility
There are many factors than can affect male fertility such as hormonal imbalances, diabetes, liver disease, history of testicular trauma or infection and more. The most common cause of male infertility is defects in spermatogenesis (production of sperm) which accounts for 80% of all male factor infertility. There are 3 main areas of sperm health which can be affected leading to difficulties getting pregnant. These 3 categories include issues with production and maturation of sperm, structural abnormalities leading to reduced transport and reduced functionality (sperm shape, motility/movement and reduce number of sperm). The gold standard test to verify sperm quality is a semen analysis, which Naturopathic Doctors can requisition for patients to do at a near by laboratory.
Natural Treatment Options
It is important to address underlying causes of male infertility or health conditions which can negatively impact sperm health. This can be done with routine blood work to rule out diabetes, liver disease, hormonal imbalances (thyroid hormones, testosterone and estrogen) and others. Food sensitivity testing may also be beneficial as well as ruling out celiac disease which has been associated with reduced male fertility.
Once underlying causes have been identified and/or an abnormal semen analysis has been reported, specific nutrients and herbal medicines, shown in studies to improve sperm health, can be recommended. For example, folic acid, which is well known to be a necessary supplement for pregnant women can also improve sperm concentrations at a specific dose.
Diet and Lifestyle
Optimizing diet and daily lifestyle habits can also benefit male fertility. Certain activities such as biking and regular use of sauna’s or hot tubes can reduce sperm mobility and concentration. Boxer’s or briefs? Studies are mixed but this is something which can be discussed with a Naturopathic doctor to figure out the best option for you. In terms of diet, it is best to individualize diet for each patient based on health concerns and preferences while ensuring a balanced whole food diet for optimal nutrition. It is important to note that tobacco use is one of the most damaging risk factors for sperm health. It can decrease testosterone levels and chances of a successful IVF. Smoking has also been associated with increased risk of childhood cancers in children whose fathers used tobacco. Other lifestyle factors that can reduce male fertility are chronic stress and weight gain. Luckily, naturopathic medicine offers treatment options to help with smoking cessation, weight and stress management.
Overall, optimizing male fertility is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to pregnancy. Not only for sperm health but general health and wellbeing throughout pregnancy and into fatherhood. I’m sure we all want the men in our lives to feel their best!
One of the biggest obstacles for men’s health is getting them in the door to meet with a doctor. Making the process as convenient as possible may help, if virtual appointments would make this easier we offer virtual as well as in person appointments. Feel free to email if you have any questions or you can book online for an initial assessment.