Causes of male infertility
22nd November 2018
So, who is an avid fan of Handmaid’s tale? Definitely me! (Lina and Tyler, don’t watch it yet, I’m trying to show them the errors of their ways….)
Fellow fans will have noticed when ‘Commander Waterford and Mrs Waterford’ visited Canada in the last episode, an American official – in protest of the regime in Gilead – said “Gilead blames the fertility crisis on women, on their sinfulness, we see the problem more often originating with the men. Some of the best scientists in America have been working on fertility for years.”
**End of spoiler**
So what is the role of male fertility? Men don’t have an equivalent to the menopause right? So they don’t have this ticking biological clock? In this blog we explore what the most recent scientific research says.
While women do have a biological cut-off point for fertility – the menopause – it is true that no such point has been defined for men. This has meant, however, that the study of age and male fertility has lagged behind that of female fertility – this includes the public perception of the issue.
But science is starting to catch up. Recent research shows that age does have an impact on male fertility. One study found men over 40 years old were half as fertile as men under 25. Another study found it takes five times longer to conceive when the father is over 45. Studies also associate paternal age with increased risk of pregnancy complications and loss.
It’s fair to say our current healthcare system doesn’t reflect this. As pointed out by Dr Sarah Martins da Silva, female fertility is closely scrutinised for fertility treatments. But the influence of paternal age is often ignored.
Whatever the cause of fertility problems, it’s obviously crucial for no blame to be assigned – the dystopian version of that reality can be found in the Handmaid’s Tale. Instead we must have an open and honest conversation, empowering people to understand the facts and make more informed choices.
We often focus on women’s fertility when trying to get pregnant. Have you ever wondered about the male side of the equation –and how important sperm health is? It is often considered a taboo to discuss this issue among men and if you have a male partner, it can certainly be tricky to talk about. As a result it is often ignored.
Movember time again!
November, also known as Movember, is the month where you will see lots of moustaches around town. Movember is a big campaign to raise awareness about men’s health. It’s all about starting a conversation about taboo topics and encouraging men to take action about their health. One of their big campaigns is around mental health – three quarters of suicides are men and poor mental health leads to half a million men taking their own life every year – yet men’s mental health remains shrouded in silence.
Influence of Male factors on Infertility
If you’re planning on trying to conceive in the near future it’s important for you to remember the crucial role that sperm health plays. It’s not just women who are responsible for fertility health. In fact, you might be quite surprised to know that female factors just account for the 40% of the problems in conceiving which means men’s factors account for more than 50%!
Everyone seems fixated on the age of 35 that women’s fertility starts to decline. Yet little attention is given to sperm health and it is a widespread historical misconception that male fertility doesn’t decline with age. While it’s true that men don’t experience the menopause – a biological cut-off point for fertility – research does show that ageing has an impact on male fertility.
Research finds that men above the age of 40 have less than half the fertility than males under the age of 25. Research also finds that older parents also experience more pregnancy and fertility complications.
What are the causes of male subfertility?
There are several issues that can be a cause of male subfertility:
- Very low or no sperm count (called oligozoospermia, yes, that’s for real!)
- Weak sperms that aren’t able to reach the egg (known as sperm motility)
- Abnormal sperm shape (known as morphology), which makes it difficult for them to reach and fertilize the egg
- Damage to testicles which affects the quality of semen (typically varicocele, the enlargement of veins)
- Ejaculation disorder, whether premature, delayed or retrograde, and
- Hypogonadism, when the body doesn’t produce enough testosterone
How to take action
- Get those sperm tested: If you have been trying to conceive for quite some time, but haven’t had any success, then undertake a semen test or sperm test to know whether you have a normal sperm count or not and whether your sperms are healthy and moving properly or not.
- Boost your sperm health: There are steps you can take to boost sperm health. Some of the steps are well known (although easy to say and harder to do in practice!) – like stopping smoking, reducing alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy weight. Others like keeping your testicles cool and managing stress less so! More information here.
- Take supplements: Oxidative stress (sperm cell damage) is a leading cause of male subfertility. Recent studies have also shown that antioxidants can reduce oxidative damage. Proxeed is a supplement that has been validated in clinical trials to support sperm health, and contains antioxidants.
- Focus on your relationships: Trying to conceive can place pressure on your relationships – whether that’s with a partner, family or friends. Having open conversations, including about any issues, can provide much needed support. If you’re in a relationship, take time for your partner – remember to have date nights, practice gratitude, and have fun together
- Get support: Don’t go it alone – speak to fertility experts, speak to your friends/ family or connect with others going through a similar experience – once you start the conversation you’ll be surprised how many people experience complications on this journey. Your Adia Coach and Experts can help guide you too.
This post is a summary of a longer module in Adia’s FREE 12-week fertility health programme. To see the whole programme just sign up!