Infertility is defined as the failure to conceive after a full year of unprotected intercourse. At that point, couples should seek professional assistance. And while the support of a fertility doctor may be crucial, there are also steps you can take on your own to help improve the chances of conception.
Causes of Male Infertility
A varicocele is a condition in which the veins surrounding the testicle become swollen and dilated. It is fairly common, affecting about one in every seven men. Men with a varicocele have about a 50% chance of having an abnormal sperm count.
Infections of the prosate or epididymis (a duct behind the testicle) can have a major impact on a man’s fertility. Such an infection would usually be diagnosed by the finding of numerous white blood cells in the semen. If infection is suspected, the urologist may request a semen culture and may recommend treatment with an antibiotic.
Sperm production is under the control of special hormones that come both from the pituitary gland (FSH, LH) and from the testicle (testosterone). If the blood levels of these hormones are abnormal, sperm production may be very low or even completely absent. This type of problem is diagnoses with simple blood and saliva tests and, if present, may be correctable with medication.
We now realize that many cases of male infertility are caused by genetic abnormalities. These include cases in which whole chromosomes are broken or misshapen, where either a whole chromosome is missing or an extra one is present, or where individual genes on the Y chromosome are damaged. Another type of genetic problem is known as sperm DNA fragmentation. IN this condition, the DNA strands, which contain the genetic information in the sperm head, are filled with many breaks and nicks. This is believed to be due, in many instances, to oxidative stress.
Recent scientific evidence has revealed that a condition known as oxidative stress may in fact be a common factor in some of the causes of male and female infertility. Oxidative stress is caused by the presence of certain molecules known as reactive oxygen in the semen. These molecules, also known as oxidants, can damage the sperm cell membrane and DNA.
Blockage of Sperm Flow
There are several conditions that can lead to a blockage of the path from testicle to ejaculatory duct. Such a blockage could cause the sperm count to be extremely low or even crate a condition known as azoospermia, in which no sperm are present in the ejaculate. Sometimes a blockage can be repaired. And if repair of the blockage is not possible, a pregnancy should be achievable through IVF.
Medications and Treatment Side Effects
Radiation treatment for cancer can impair testicular function. Many chemotherapy drugs will have a permanent effect on production. Some drugs, such as testosterone replacement therapy, can have a temporary effect that should reverse when the medication is stopped.
IMPROVING MALE FERTILITY THROUGH DIET AND LIFESTYLE CHANGES
Several studies have linked cigarette smoking to lower sperm count, motility, and morphology. Smoking also increases levels of oxidative stress in the semen and can lead to sperm DNA damage and genetically abnormal sperm. If you’ve tried to quit without success, seek help from your family doctor.
Alcohol and Drug Use
Excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to impair normal sperm. The evidence regarding moderate alcohol intake is less clear, but most experts agree it is best to avoid more than one drink per day.
The likelihood of a woman becoming pregnant is much higher when you have intercourse in the three days immediately leading up to and including ovulation. Some experts call these three days the fertile window. You can determine when the woman ovulates either by using basal temperature charts or with an over-the-counter ovulation predictor kit. Avoid the use of any artificial lubricants, which can be toxic to sperm.
Avoid Excessive Heat
It is important to avoid other sources of heat exposure to the testicles such as hot tubs, laptop computers, high-temperature work area, or prolonged baths.
Eating a healthful diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can be beneficial for sperm function and male fertility. Drinking enough water to stay well-hydrated is also important.
Moderate exercise may be beneficial. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.
Try to limit coffee or other caffeine-containing beverages to one serving per day.
If your work or hobby brings you in contact with environmental dangers such as pesticides, solvents, organic fumes, or radiation exposure, you may be unknowingly affecting your fertility by impairing sperm production.
Harmful Nutritional Supplements
Nutritional supplements that provide hormone-like substances such as DHEA or “andro” can actually impair fertility by stopping sperm production. If you are taking any of these types of supplements, or other products intended to build muscle mass, it’s probably best to stop immediately.