Every day women come into our clinic with considerable fertility challenges. When that happens, there is an almost automatic assumption that it is a woman’s problem. Even when the diagnosis is male factor infertility, typically his female counterpart comes in for acupuncture treatments to try to optimize their chances in having a baby.
The fact is it takes two to tango.
Male factor infertility (MFI) alone contributes to almost half of fertility issues, and sperm factors like DNA fragmentation contribute to up to thirty percent of recurrent miscarriages. Although there’s a belief that men remain virile virtually without limit, advancing age for a fellow can decrease success rates of In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF or fertilization in a petri dish) and Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI otherwise known as the “turkey baster” technique) while increasing rates of preterm births, autism, childhood leukemia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and cleft lip.[i]
Just as eggs can get older and need more care, so can sperm. The good news is that for some sperm problems, like egg problems, don’t necessarily to be permanent. Any cell, including eggs and sperm, can grow to its full potential given the right environment. Just as a woman can take charge of her health, a man can too.
Do’s and don’ts to protect sperm health:
Reduce coffee intake. The Department of Urology at Cornell Medical College recommends one to two cups per day. There is no conclusive evidence that coffee damages sperm but, looking at it from a TCM perspective, we say to do things in moderation. Coffee lovers can decrease their intake and buy organic, pesticide-free coffee. If they can cut it to half a cup per day or just have it as a treat occasionally, so much the better.
Do not smoke. Smoking causes oxidative damage to cells.[ii]
Do not drink more than two ounces of alcohol per week. In a study, men who had six ounces of hard liquor (forty to fifty percent alcohol) five days per week for a year had lowered testosterone and progesterone levels, and increased levels of FSH, estrogen, and LH, which lowered sperm parameters in volume, count, motility, and morphology.[iii]
Exercise moderately to release stress. As with women, accumulated stress may impede energy flow to reproductive organs. Moderate exercise allows energy and blood to flow through the body, whereas vigorous exercise can over-consume energy that could go toward sperm production.
Watch your weight. In a study, overweight men (BMI 25–29.9 kg/m2 ) had decreased semen volume; obese men (BMI 30–40 kg/m2) had not only decreased semen volume but also fewer motile sperm (good swimmers) [iv] and an increased number of chromosomal abnormalities.[v]
Manage stress. In a study that compared men who experienced two or more stressful life events (like a death in the family) within a year with men who had experienced no stressful events in the same time period, the former had a lower percentage of motile sperm and morphologically normal sperm even though they had a similar sperm concentration. Job strain was not associated with semen parameters, although it was found that employed men had higher sperm concentration overall with more motile sperm, and more morphologically normal sperm than unemployed men.[vi]
Minimize exposure to toxins like PCBs in farmed fatty fish, Bisphenol-A in plastics and canned foods, pesticides, lead, pollutants, and ozone. They cause oxidative stress and DNA damage to sperm.[vii] A study showed that occupational exposure to toxic solvents, heavy metals, heat, vibrations, and non-ionizing radiation increased risk factors that affected sperm parameters. This would relate to laborers, painters, farmers, welders, plumbers, and technicians.[viii]
Do not overheat testicles. Nature positioned the scrotum away from the body because sperm are produced in a slightly cooler environment than core body temperature.
Limit time wearing biking tights or shorts. The constriction decreases scrotal blood flow. A study showed men who biked more than five hours per week had a more than four percent less motile sperm (good swimmers) than those who did not (12.1% vs. 16.4%).[ix]
Brush and floss teeth. Bacteria from gum disease and bad oral hygiene can enter the blood stream, infecting semen and causing sub-fertility in men.[x]
If possible, consult your doctor for certain prescriptions to discuss alternative drugs that may have less impact on fertility. Otherwise, use your doctor’s guidance to find the minimum dose you can take. Do not go off medication without consulting your doctor first.
The main take away is that for a couple trying to conceive, the man should be just as proactive as the woman in his overall health which can potentially affect his sperm.
[i] Rakesh Sharma, Ashok Agarwal1, Vikram K Rohra1, Mourad Assidi, Muhammad Abu-Elmagd, and Rola F Turki. Effects of increased paternal age on sperm quality, reproductive outcome and associated epigenetic risks to offspring. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology (2015) 13:35 DOI 10.1186/s12958-015-0028-x
[ii] Kolesnikova, L.I., Kolesnikov, S.I., Kurashova, N.A. ,Bairova, T.A. Causes and factors of male infertility. Vestnik Rossiiskoi Akademii Meditsinskikh Nauk. 2015, Volume 70 (50): 579-584
[iii] Muthusami, K., & Chinnaswamy, P. (2005). Effect Of Chronic Alcoholism On Male Fertility Hormones And Semen Quality. Fertility and Sterility, 84(4), 919-924. doi:doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2005.04.025
[iv] Joanna Jurewicz, Michal Radwan, Sobala Wojciech, et al. Lifestyle and semen quality: role of modifiable risk factors. Systems Biology in Reproductive Medicine. 2014; 60 (1): 43–51
[v] T Janevic, LG Kahn, P Landsbergis, et al. Effects of work and life stress on semen quality. Fertil Steril. 2014 Aug;102(2):530-8. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2014.04.021. Epub 2014 May 23.
[vii] C. Wright, S. Milne, H. Leeson. Sperm DNA damage caused by oxidative stress: modifiable clinical, lifestyle and nutritional factors in male infertility. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 2014-06-01, Volume 28, Issue 6, Pages 684-703.
[viii] S Ould Hamouda, J Perrin, V Achard et al. Association between sperm abnormalities and occupational environment among male consulting for couple infertility. J Gynecol Obstet Biol Reprod (Paris). 2016 Jan;45(1):1-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jgyn.2015.08.011. Epub 2015 Sep 19.
[ix] J Jurewicz, M Radwan, W Sobala, et al. Lifestyle factors and sperm aneuploidy. Reprod Biol. 2014 Sep;14(3):190-9. doi: 10.1016/j.repbio.2014.02.002. Epub 2014 Mar 4