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Male fertility

Male Fertility Factsheet

Male Fertility Factsheet

Male Fertility Factsheet

By Ian Stones, Hove Fertility and Wellness. In this article Ian explains the many factors that can affect male fertility and shares top tips to help.

‘If you are experiencing fertility issues, then you may be aware you are not alone..’

 
In the UK, around 1 in 6 couples have difficulty trying to conceive. What perhaps isn’t so widely known though, is that issues with sperm quality and quantity account for around half of those cases. For any couple trying to conceive, it is imperative to focus as much on the man as the woman.
 
Assisted fertility treatment naturally focuses on women due to the very nature of the medical interventions. Typically, as long as the man can produce some amount of sperm, then an IVF clinic will proceed with treatment. But, as the figures above might suggest, this type of treatment can’t guarantee success because it doesn’t take into proper account the actual health of the sperm.
 
Sperm production is a constant cycle and it takes around 100 days for sperm to mature. Any semen analysis result will only ever be a snapshot of the health of the man 100 days prior to the test and will only show certain parameters. If you’re a man who wants to enhance his fertility, you need to start working on improving your sperm health at least 3 months before you start trying to conceive.
 
The good news is that sperm health, unless there are underlying medical issues, is relatively easy to influence. Below are my top tips in order to maximise sperm health and fertility.

Oxidative stress

Before looking at any diet/lifestyle advice, it’s important to understand the role of oxidative stress within the body and how this can affect sperm health.

Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals, which are produced from the body’s natural metabolic process, and antioxidants, which neutralise and counteract the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are cells which are known to cause damage to other healthy cells in the body, so naturally, when free radicals increase, the amount of damage increases. Sperm are particularly prone to free radical damage.

The most common causes of free radicals are:

  • Processed foods, especially those high in poor fats, sugars and additives
  • Fried, burnt and BBQ’d food
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Tobacco
  • Recreational drugs
  • Environmental pollution

Nutrition

As with most health issues, nutrition is absolutely key and is one of the biggest influencers in terms of sperm health. A few small changes in your diet can have a huge impact on your chances of success when it comes to conceiving.

For a start, given the Free Radicals list above, it naturally makes sense to reduce all the foods listed on it. But it is also just as important to focus on what you put into your diet as much as what you take out. A diet high in good quality fruit, vegetables and unprocessed meat is essential, not only because of vitamins and minerals, but also because of their antioxidant elements.

Where possible, organic meat and vegetables are best. Generally, meat should be lean and low fat. Saturated fats, as found in red meat and processed meats, are particularly bad for sperm health so these should be limited. Fish is generally very good, especially those higher in Omega 3s, such as Salmon, Mackerel and Trout.

One word of caution on some oily fish, such as Tuna, is to be aware of their high mercury content, which can be bad for the body if you have too much. Nuts are a particularly good snack and very good for sperm health, particularly Walnuts, Almonds and Pumkin seeds.
 
Tomato puree is high in a substance called Lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant and a useful boost to other dietary changes. You can buy it as a supplement or, alternatively, some men take a teaspoon of good quality tomato puree every day.
 
Protein shakes can be an issue for some men and you should ensure there are no steroids added to the mix you are taking. There is no evidence to suggest protein shakes are bad for sperm but do check the ingredients for additives and sugars / sweeteners which would be detrimental to sperm health. Stay within the recommended dose and definitely avoid anabolic steroids.
 
For some people, making dietary changes can be hard work and bewildering. If you’re someone who needs help and support, then drop me a line and I can help you find a way. Often it’s about making small changes over a period of time to get the best long-term results, rather than jumping on a crash diet. Please note though, the above advice is general advice and, for some, it may be worth seeing a nutritional therapist for a more detailed plan.

Alcohol

 
This can sometimes be challenging for couples looking to conceive, as a nice glass of wine or beer can be the preferred way to unwind. Binge drinking should definitely be avoided; however, research has shown that moderate drinking doesn’t have a significant impact on fertility, so the odd glass may actually help rather than harm, especially where stress is concerned.
 
If you find that cutting out all drinking is too stressful, then that is clearly going to be detrimental! And if you find the occasional drink here or there helps your sanity, then you shouldn’t worry too much about it. The important thing is to keep a sensible check on alcohol intake and if you are happy to cut it out in places, then go with that.

Tobacco and recreational drugs

Unfortunately, there isn’t anything good about tobacco or recreational drugs when it comes to sperm health. Both will increase the level of free radicals and therefore the damage being done to sperm.

Caffeine

A little caffeine is ok and some argue that coffee has some great health benefits and is strong in antioxidants. As with a lot of this advice, it’s about moderation so 1 – 2 cups of coffee or tea a day won’t be too detrimental to your health.

Heat

The testicles are outside of the body for a reason and that reason is to keep them cool. Typically, the testicles need to be around 2 – 3 degrees cooler than core body temperature. Exposure to higher temperatures can cause damage to sperm production.

Common factors around heat include:

  • Long use of laptops
  • Working in a hot environment
  • Long periods sitting
  • Hot baths and saunas
  • Tight fitting underwear
  • Excessive cycling
  • Lycra
 
It’s important that any man looking to improve his fertility does all he can to keep his testicles cool. This means avoiding anything that will make them hot for any period of time, and instead embracing ‘cooling’ actions, such as wearing loose fitting underwear.

Mobile phones

In many ways, the jury is still out on the effects mobile phones have on our health. Mobile phones emit Electromagnetic Field (EMF) radiation and some research suggests this can be bad for health and fertility. My view, and that of other experts in the field of fertility, is that phones should not be kept in pockets close to the scrotum because of the potential effects of this radiation. If you’re wanting to do all you can to improve your fertility, then this isn’t too big a step to take just in case!

Stress

 
We all hear how bad stress is for us and, unfortunately, there is some truth in that. Ultimately, stress triggers our very primal instincts of ‘fight or flight’, and when our stress levels are particularly high, we live in a state of high alert, whereby our body suppresses non- essential functions, including reproduction.
 
Long-term stress has a detrimental effect on many areas of the body, so it’s important to find a way to manage this, whether you are trying to conceive or not. Many complimentary therapies, such as acupuncture, are great at managing and alleviating the harmful effects of stress.

Exercise

Regular exercise is another great way to help combat the negative effects of stress.

When it comes to choosing what exercise to do, it’s about finding what works for you. For some, higher energy exercise works well; whilst others enjoy calmer restorative exercise. I’m personally an advocate of balancing both. Certainly, activities like yoga, tai chi and pilates are all good for those living busy stressful lives as they allow for some down time and space to relax.

Another important thing for men to consider when it comes to maximising the chances of conception, is body temperature and the clothes worn whilst exercising. If, for example, you’re a keen cyclist and regularly wear lycra shorts, then, as this will have a negative effect on your sperm health, you might want to consider switching cycling for yoga or running for the period during which you are trying to conceive. It’s about balancing what’s best for you whilst considering the impact it has on your sperm health.

Balance

Ultimately, all of this comes down to balance. For couples trying to conceive, it can sometimes feel like life has to be put on hold. But, whilst being sensible with diet, exercise and stress management is very important, it’s equally important that these things don’t take over and stop you from enjoying your life. In any case, most of the advice above will help you live a happier and healthier life regardless of whether you’re trying to conceive or not, so it’s probably worth bearing most of it in mind anyway.

Further tests and medical information

Typically, when a couple present to their GP for fertility issues, the man will be offered a standard semen analysis which looks at 3 important issues:
1. Concentration/Volume (Number of sperm)
2. Motility (are they swimming?)
3. Morphology (are they the right shape?)
 
Once a man has that result, regardless of whether it’s good or bad, not a lot else happens. If a couple do go for IVF treatment, some clinics will run further tests, whilst some will just continue on to treatment, knowing that as long as there is some sperm they can do something.
 
A standard semen analysis is a good starting point for men, but there is much more that can and should be investigated. Some clinics are now starting to offer Sperm DNA Fragmentation testing, which looks at the actual DNA damage being done to the sperm. This is a far more comprehensive test which will actually identify the true quality of the sperm. High levels of DNA fragmentation are often behind recurrent miscarriages and failed IVF cycles so it’s important that this gets investigated thoroughly. Further investigations also need to look out for any dormant infections or other medical issues which could also be causing issues despite a lack of symptoms.
 
Any man with a poor semen analysis or high DNA fragmentation would be strongly advised to see a Urologist in order to have further in depth investigations.
 
Part of the support I offer to men is to offer the Sperm Comet DNA test via my clinics in Hove and Farnham.

Support

For some men, trying to conceive can bring about big challenges both emotionally and physically. It’s fair to say that there is far less support for men going through fertility treatment than there is for women, which can leave men feeling isolated and at a loss as to what they should do for the best.

Couple that with the pressure of supporting their partner whilst trying to manage their own diet, emotions, work and stress levels can all become quite overwhelming. Finding somewhere to talk openly and get realistic, practical advice can be hard for men, which is why I’m keen to change that and can offer support to men struggling on their fertility journey.

If you’d like a FREE 30 minute chat to review where you are or to just talk to someone then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Sometimes speaking about it can be the hardest thing but equally the best thing you can do for yourself.

There is also plenty of online support such as Fertility Network UK and my male fertility support group on Facebook
 
I also co-host a monthly online support group for men which is a great opportunity to share your story or hear from other men going through similar experiences.
 
If you’ve found this useful and would like some further advice, support or a chat, then please drop me a line I’ll be happy to help -  ian@hovefertilityandwellness.co.uk or 07740 300465
 
Head to our app Directory and check out Hove Fertility and Wellness to find out more about the services Ian offers. Ian is also one of our Resident Experts so you can connect with him in our Experts section and look out for some of his live events!  
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Acupuncture: let's talk about... acupuncture for male fertility

Acupuncture: let's talk about... acupuncture for male fertility

You probably know the stat: one in six couples in the UK struggle to conceive.  But did you know that in around 40% of those cases, male sub fertility is the cause? While it’s great that we’re finally beginning to talk more openly about it,  there’s still a real need for better support – both practical and emotional – for men.

Acupuncture can be a great option for men experiencing fertility issues, so we invited acupuncturist Ian Stones of Hove Fertility + Wellness to explain a little more about its many benefits.

Note: If you’re brand new to acupuncture and would like to find out more, you can read Ian’s previous article, FERTILITY 101: ALL ABOUT ACUPUNCTURE FOR FERTILITY

When a couple first present to their GP for fertility issues they’re often sent away and told to come back after 12 months’ trying (if they’re under 35; six months if over). If they then return having not conceived they will both be sent to see a gynaecologist and the guy is offered a standard semen analysis.

Typically at this point not much else happens for the man and incredibly, I have known men be told they have poor sperm quality over the phone with no further support or guidance. Then as a couple continue to have fertility investigations very little attention is given to the man.

Men are often left not knowing what to do and can feel helpless. As a couple get deeper into fertility treatment and investigations and the journey becomes tougher the guys can end up carrying a huge weight whilst supporting their partner but with nowhere to turn themselves. The fertility journey is often quite heavily focused on the woman, which is understandable given the often arduous nature of IVF, but it can mean some men feel side-lined and unsupported.

However…it’s not all doom and gloom for the men: there is support out there!  You just need to know where to look.

Many women explore complementary therapies during their fertility journey and acupuncture is certainly one of the most commonly used. Not many men would think to try it though, so let’s walk through what acupuncture is – and how it can help.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a system of medicine that is based on ancient Chinese philosophies and the concept of Yin, Yang and Qi (pronounced ‘chee’).  It’s rooted in the concept of balance and living by the natural cycles around us. According to Chinese medicine, ill health is a result of imbalances and treatment is aimed at restoring balance and therefore good health to the body.

Western medicine doesn’t necessarily recognise the more traditional understanding of acupuncture however it has been well proven to help reduce stress levels, regulate hormones and increase blood flow.

However, there is so much more to acupuncture than the treatment itself and it’s often the case that people don’t realise this until they’ve started treatment.

So what’s in it for the men?

What men seem to value is practical advice, clear guidance on what they should and shouldn’t be doing and a chance to talk about what struggling to conceive is like for them. It doesn’t have to be in-depth emotional counselling or full-on navel-gazing type therapy. A down-to-earth and honest chat with realistic achievable lifestyle changes will help a man feel empowered and supported. 

Acupuncture – and, specifically, seeing an acupuncturist with experience of working with fertility –  is a fantastic option for men to get the support they need outside of the clinical world of IVF.

Through a tailored treatment plan acupuncture can work wonders on reducing the effects of stress whilst also allowing men to get practical advice on what they need to do to maximise their health and specifically their sperm health.

Seeing a practitioner regularly helps keep men on track with positive lifestyle changes, reduces stress and will help with overall health, mental wellbeing and energy. It’s well known that poor sperm health is linked to other health conditions so there are far more benefits to regular treatment than just the fertility stuff.

Regular treatment also helps build a relationship of trust and support and a great opportunity to talk if that’s what’s needed. Equally if guys just need somewhere quiet to escape the hassles of life and to switch off from the fertility stuff then treatment can do that, too.

Giving men more support and getting them engaged in the process earlier is paramount to success and could potentially negate the need for any medical interventions or fertility treatment at all. It seems crazy to go into what can often be invasive, expensive and emotionally demanding treatment without ensuring that both elements of the equation have been properly assessed and supported.

Where else can men go for support?

GP’s and IVF clinics can only do so much and don’t necessarily spend a great deal of time with men. A good next step if you’re experiencing problems is to see a urologist who is able to carry out more advanced testing, physical examinations and blood tests to ensure all is as it should be. This is great in terms of addressing the medical aspect of sperm health, however this should be balanced with the all-important lifestyle and dietary advice as well as emotional support during fertility treatment.

I’d urge all men to think about regular acupuncture treatment throughout their fertility journey or as a fantastic way to prepare themselves for IVF. It’s well known that it takes around 90 days for sperm to mature so a course of acupuncture prior to IVF could be a great way to enhance sperm health whilst also reducing the stress of the whole process.

How do I get started?

Finding the right acupuncturist is crucial and no two acupuncturists are the same. Each practitioner will bring their own experience, training and most importantly personality to the table. It’s important that you take time to find who’s right for you. The British Acupuncture Council are the lead professional body for Traditional Acupuncture in the UK and they hold a register on their website www.acupuncture.org.uk. It’s worth researching practitioners in your area and then calling them to have a chat. Many will offer a free chat which will enable you to suss them out and get a feel for who you’re most comfortable with. Getting the right practitioner will make a huge difference as they’ll be someone you can rely on, trust and share your journey with.

Read more about Ian on his listing here.

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