Men’s Health and Fertility
When we speak about the topic of fertility the focus is predominantly on women. As a practitioner who works with individuals and couples trying to conceive, I find this very frustrating as the male or dad-to-be is ½ the equation when it comes to making a baby.
There are several health concerns that men can present with that may impact their fertility. Some of these include concerns with sperm, inflammatory concerns, infections, or autoimmune conditions.
We know that at least 30% of infertility couples have a male factor concern so it is essential to ensure that the male partner has their sperm tested. During testing, a variety of different parameters are explored including total volume of semen, total count, morphology (how to do the sperm look) motility (can they swim and in the right direction), and DNA fragmentation.
A variety of factors contribute to concerns with sperm, many environmental factors such as exposure to certain chemicals, medications, heavy metals, pesticides, heat, or electromagnetic radiation. Other factors can also include smoking, drug use, alcohol abuse, chronic stress, poor diet, obesity, urogenital trauma, and inflammation in the male reproductive system. All these factors inevitably lead to elevated reactive oxygen species (ROS) or oxidative stress, which plays a significant role in male infertility.
Higher amounts of ROS can harm sperm DNA, leading to concerns with sperm morphology. ROS production also leads to reduced ability of the sperm to swim and issues with sperm membrane integrity. It has been shown that the antioxidant capacity of semen from infertile men is less than that of fertile men. In addition to the environmental and lifestyle factors, mounting evidence points towards the vital role of nutrition in sperm quality and infertility. This is the reason that diet, lifestyle, and nutrients have been gaining more attention in the treatment and management of male infertility.
New sperm are constantly being developed so there are lots of opportunities to improve their health. Nutrients such as CoQ10, L-carnitine, B12, Folate, Zinc, and selenium can all play a role in improving the health of a man’s sperm. It takes around 75 days or roughly 2.5-3 months from when a sperm first starts to develop to when it is ejaculated from the body.
When we consider inflammatory can include concerns such as arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and any condition ending in -itis, for example, prostatitis. Any of these conditions can present with pain or swelling, indicating there is an inflammatory process that can harm sperm development. Essentially, markers such as CPR and ESR can result if your body is experiencing chronic inflammation. When these show up in the seminal fluid, they can increase the chance of suffering a pregnancy loss.
If you are experiencing concerns with an inflammatory issue, it is important to speak to your Naturopathic doctor or health professional about strategies you can use to help lower your inflammation. These might include reducing inflammatory foods such as wheat, dairy, or sugars. There are also some herbs – Boswellia, curcumin, and black cumin seed - that can also help modulate inflammation. It is important to make sure you address the underlying cause of the inflammation to help support your ability to conceive, as well as your overall long-term health.
Having an acute or chronic infection can also impact your sperm quality. This can include concerns such as urinary tract infections and infections in the prostate or digestive system, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). There is now research showing that healthy bacteria in your intestinal tract and seminal fluid, play an important role in sperm health. If you have been struggling with infections, or aren’t sure if you have one, see your health professional for appropriate testing. Several different herbs may be recommended, or a prescription antibiotic may be needed to help your body clear the infection. Once the infection has been addressed, it is then very important to make sure to repopulate your system with probiotics, and potentially to use prebiotics to help provide a food source for the healthy bacteria that we want to be populated in your system. If you find you are getting sick often there are also strategies you can put in place to support your overall immune function, such as vitamin D, C, zinc, and astragalus or reishi mushroom.
Autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Crohn’s, or Colitis can all cause concerns, inflammation, and immune function. As already mentioned, both of these can cause concerns when it comes to male fertility. When addressing autoimmune conditions, it is important to aim to reduce the overreaction of the immune system and reduce the inflammatory process. In many cases, making dietary changes can play a significant role in improving the symptoms associated with various autoimmune conditions. Common foods that can be problematic include gluten, sugars, and corn. It is also helpful to increase fish in your diet and reduce red meats and animal proteins. Animal-based protein creates arachidonic acid which promotes inflammation, whereas fish contains omega 3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation in the body.
Certain nutrients such as zinc, vitamin D, and B12 can be low in autoimmune conditions so having your blood levels tested for these nutrients is a great idea. As these nutrients return to a healthy range often via supplementation, we can usually see symptoms start to improve. Probiotics can also play an important role in helping modulate your body’s immune response. Some herbs already mentioned - curcumin, Boswellia, and black cumin seed - may also help lower antibody levels as well as reduce inflammation. For proper dosing and to know which herbs are best in your situation please speak to your Naturopathic Doctor.
The overall health of men is extremely important when it comes to conception, as well as to long-term health. If you think you may have any of the concerns listed above, please reach out to your health professional for support in optimizing your sperm, immune and inflammatory pathways.