Although infertility affects 1 in 6 couples worldwide, with male and female factors each accounting for 50% of a couple’s potential issues, many couples don’t realize just how relevant a future father’s health today is to their overall chances of successful pregnancy.
The Most Important Fact about Sperm
The most important fact you need to know about sperm is that it takes 100 days to make them.
Why is this fact so mind-blowing?
It means that in just a few month’s time, a man can make changes in his health that will significantly change his sperm quality. In fact, we’ve seen men have their sperm count and quality improve drastically within 6 months of individualized naturopathic care. I’ve even had a fertility specialist ask what I’d recommended to one of my patients so she could have all of her male patients do the same. (Note that our approach is individualized so not all men are necessarily going to be put on exactly the same program, but all of our recommendations are evidence-based and selected for the individual man we’re working with).
The 100 Days
Sperm cells need about 3 months’ time – 100 days – to be produced, and matured to the point they can fertilize an egg. So, the sperm that’s tested in a semen analysis completed today, is already 3 months old. In the process of sperm development, called spermatogenesis, immature and mature sperm cells are exquisitely sensitive to their environment. Specifically, sperm need a high level of antioxidants to protect them from oxidative stress. Otherwise, they get damaged, and so does the DNA inside them – that’s 50% of your baby’s genetic material.
Most clinical research on improving sperm health has provided men with antioxidant supplements – such as coenzyme Q10, zinc and L-carnitine. I’ve published an article about the research on these antioxidants for male fertility, which you can download here.
It’s also important to consider the impact of food on fertility – men and women included! The major source of antioxidants is actually through diet. The Mediterranean diet includes plenty of vegetables, fruit as dessert, and fish as a key source of protein as well as anti-oxidant omega 3 oils, and has been associated with improved fertility in men. I encourage my fertility patients to consider a cleanse to help them release unwanted toxins that can create oxidative damage, while boosting their food-based intake of antioxidants naturally. The 21-Day Fertility Cleanse Program* has helped many couples to boost their fertility and we continue to count the pregnancies that occur with just this intervention alone.
*Please contact us to learn whether one of our fertility programs is the right fit for you.
Male fertility has declined by 50% in the span of a few generations. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that normal human sperm counts are at least 20 million per sample. Just 50 years ago, “normal” counts were considered to be at least 5 times greater. Why the drop in what’s considered “normal”? This startling decline in male fertility is thought to be due to many contributing factors affecting men’s health: increased pollution, fast foods, use of plastics, hormone-disrupting personal care products, psychological stress, recreational drugs and prescription medications.
Basic Fertility Testing for Men
When your man first sees a fertility specialist, he’ll have a physical exam to assess for blockages like varicoceles (lumps of veins that block sperm flow) and other anatomical concerns. He might have some blood work done (usually this is limited to the public health screens for history of infections) and he’ll be referred to have a semen analysis, a test that looks at the sperm count, shape and movement. It’s important to have these basic screening tests done, but note that not all semen analysis labs are equal in their test reliability. In fact, two semen analyses is considered standard of care, while using a specialist andrology lab may also be indicated especially if you’ve been trying for a long time and coming up with the diagnosis of “unexplained infertility’.
The common denominator with all of these factors affecting sperm quality and count: oxidative stress. This is a damaging chemical process that happens as a result of both normal sperm metabolism AND is worsened by environmental factors: a man’s diet, mental stress, over or under exercising, being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking, or having nutrient deficiencies not only speeds his aging process, but effectively “ages” his sperm, too.
What’s worse, oxidative stress damages the sperm’s ability to have a healthy shape, strong forward movement and intact DNA. The sperm carry 50% of your future child’s DNA – their genetic blueprint for their entire life will be formed at fertilization. We want that DNA complement carried by your baby’s father to be intact, damage-free so it minimizes the risk of genetic damage being passed onto your child. Damaged sperm are also more likely to cause a miscarriage, as the genetic material in sperm creates the placenta, the organ that’s most needed to support your baby as he or she develops.
Sperm Quality Affects Miscarriage Risk
Sperm exclusively carry the DNA that codes for the placenta – the organ that will nourish your baby through the stages of pregnancy. Poor sperm quality can lead to a poor quality placenta, which means an increased risk for miscarriage. That’s why it’s ultra important to assess a man’s health if his partner has had 2 or more pregnancy losses.
Uplevel Your Testing
A valuable fertility test that’s not routinely done in most fertility clinics (yet) is DNA Fragmentation. This test looks at the quality of the DNA found inside sperm cells. That’s right, taking a close look at a full 50% of your future baby’s genetic material can give you great insight into why you’re not getting pregnant or why you may be having repeated miscarriages.
If you’re a patient at Two Rivers Health, we can now refer you for a DNA Fragmentation test at through TRIO Fertility Partners. We can also refer you directly to this research-level fertility clinic for a second opinion, or for your first fertility assessment as a couple. (This is great news! Fertility docs are some of the only specialists actively accepting referrals from Naturopathic Doctors, although we expect this to grow ;)). We work actively with all Ontario fertility clinics to help you maximize your results and chances of conceiving with each opportunity.
Most men are also neglected when it comes to assessment of their overall health as it relates to their fertility. In fact, all of our work is based on the approach that fertility is a function of your health, so optimizing your health is of paramount importance. Fertility flows from health. You may need additional blood work to assess for hormonal balance, screen for inflammation or other clues to where your suboptimal fertility could be coming from. As your naturopathic doctors we can help you sort out which tests are needed and what information they will give you about your fertility and health status, so you can decide how detailed you’d like to be with investigations.
Need Help From Afar?
We also coach clients worldwide through our online courses and Skype calls. Contact us for details about our fertility support programs and make sure you’re getting the most out of your journey no matter where you are in the world!