The Male Factor

They say it takes two to tango …. Well, the same can be said when it comes to making a baby! Fertility issues are not specific only to the female gender; in fact, it’s been documented that infertility affects both men and women equally. While female fertility issues are discussed more freely and openly, male fertility is just as important to address.

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To get started, let’s kick off with a few statistics on today’s state of male fertility and sperm health:

  • Sperm counts have been cut in half in the last fifty years – and 85% of that is abnormal.
  • In the last few decades there has been a 200% increase in male genital birth defects.
  • Male birth rates have declined. Since 1970 there have been nearly 3 million fewer baby boys.
  • The quality of sperm is declining. Eighty-five percent of the sperm produced by a healthy male is DNA-damaged.

How crazy are those stats?! So much has changed in the past few decades, and a lot of that can be attributed to changes in the way we live, eat, and function on a day to day basis. Do you think your great Grandfather used to veg out to Netflix to relax?! Definitely not. I have good news for you – there are ways for men to improve their fertility health, so we can start improving those statistics. Supporting optimal sperm production and health is possible through diet, lifestyle modifications, supplements, and increased circulation to the reproductive system. It should be noted that sperm are some of the most delicate cells in the body and, therefore are easily damaged. More good news – sperm respond very quickly to health and lifestyle modifications, as well as targeted nutrition supplements.

What is the Male Factor?

The Male Factor refers to three areas: low sperm count, low sperm morphology, and low sperm motility. To get a better understanding of what these three terms refer to, let’s begin with understanding basic sperm production.

Within the adult testicle, there is 700 feet of tubing – seminiferous tubules – within which sperm is made. Sperm is made from precursor cells – germ cells – that give rise to approximately 120 million sperm daily, in a process – spermatogenesis – that takes anywhere from 75 to 90 days. Within the seminiferous tubule, germ cells are arranged in a highly ordered sequence from outside to inside. Lining the tubules, there are adult testis stem cells that begin the process of sperm production. Overall there are 13 recognizable germ cell types in the human testis; however, despite the high volume production of sperm, quality control checkpoints exist throughout the sperm production process to ensure the biological and genetic integrity of ejaculated sperm. While these checkpoints are often able to “catch” less than ideal sperm, some do get through, leading to low sperm count, low sperm morphology, and low sperm motility.

Low Sperm Count

The simplest measurable part of a man’s reproductive health is sperm count, or the number of sperm in his ejaculate, most often expressed as the number of sperm found per milliliter (ml) of semen with each ejaculation. A sperm count anywhere in the range from 15 million to 150 million per milliliter is considered normal: therefore, low sperm count refers to when the semen ejaculated during an orgasm is fewer than 15 million per milliliter of semen. A lower-than-normal sperm count is also referred to as oligospermia, while a complete lack of sperm in the semen is called azoospermia.

Low Sperm Morphology

Also known as teratozoospermia, low sperm morphology refers to the shape and size of sperm. Ideal sperm should have a head that is oval in shape, have a mid-section, and have a long, straight tail. If sperm have a double tail, no tail, or a head that is crooked, misshapen, has double heads, or a head too large, it is considered to be abnormal, and likely unable to successfully penetrate an egg. Most men have a large percentage of abnormal sperm morphology, with only 4-15% of their sperm being considered normal. When considering optimal sperm health, it’s important that those 4-15% have extremely good vitality and motility!

Low Sperm Motility

Also known as asthenospermia, low sperm motility is, quite simply, the sperm’s inability to move correctly. It means your little swimmers have a mind of their own, and they’re going to their own party! If the movement of the sperm is sluggish or not in a straight line, then the sperm will have a hard time attempting to invade the cervical mucus, or penetrate the egg. The sperm have to be very quick to get where they are going, and in some cases if they are not strong enough swimmers, they will perish before they ever reach the egg. If less than 40% of the sperm can move in a straight line, then low sperm motility is usually diagnosed.

How does it affect fertility?

Healthy, normal shaped, quick swimming sperm are pertinent in not only fertilizing an egg, but also in providing optimal DNA so that the embryo is genetically healthy and has a greater chance of surviving.

In most cases there are no obvious signs of male infertility. Intercourse, erections, and ejaculation will usually happen without difficulty. The quantity and appearance of the ejaculated semen generally appears normal to the naked eye, which is why medical tests are absolutely necessary to find out if a man is suffering from low sperm count, poor motility or poor morphology.

What can we do to improve male fertility health?

Sperm regeneration can take upwards of 60-90 days, and in similar practice to improving a woman’s egg quality, the sperm are affected by both healthy or unhealthy influences during this time.

There are many contributing factors that affect the health of sperm – medical conditions, environmental factors, and overall health and wellness. Men who smoke cigarettes, consume excess alcohol and caffeine, and/or are overweight have lowered fertility due to a negative impact on sperm health. Step one in improving sperm health is eliminating these top lifestyle factors that harm sperm quality. Here are some additional steps that I recommend taking in order to support and improve a man’s fertility health.

Blood Flow & Proper Oxygenation

Oxygen rich blood flow to the testicles is essential for healthy sperm formation. Decreased blood flow can result from a lack of exercise, dehydration, and thick blood. To increase blood flow to the testicles follow these suggestions:

  • Water: Drink at least ½ your bodyweight in ounces of clean, filtered water per day. Do not drink out of plastic water bottles. Purchase a water filter for your home, and then use glass or stainless steel refillable water bottles. The AquaCera HCP Counter-Top Filter System is one of my favorites!
  • Exercise: This should be one of the first steps in optimizing fertility and improving sperm health. Oxygen rich blood flow to the testicles is essential for good sperm health, so get movin’! Find an activity that you love – running, yoga, tennis, hiking, anything! – and sweat it out. Regular movement helps to keep your blood oxygenated and flowing. Remember to stay hydrated while exercising, as this too will help with blood flow. A note to add to all my male cyclists – hot, tight, spandex biking shorts really aren’t the best for sperm health. See the info below on ‘The Heat Factor’ to learn your best strategies if you’re a cyclist.

Nutrition

Focus on eating real, whole, fresh food that you cook yourself. This will help protect and positively impact your sperm health. Be sure to incorporate the following into your daily diet:

  • Wild Caught Fish & Seafood: salmon,mackerel, herring, halibut, shellfish, oysters, cod, tuna, flounder, sardines, hake, skate, trout, red snapper,
  • 100% Organic, Grass-Fed/Grass-Finished, Pasture-Raised Meat: beef, wild game, bison, lamb, pork, duck, goose, Cornish game hen, chicken and turkey
  • Fats & Oils: Organic, grass-fed butter and ghee, egg yolks from pastured chickens, animal fats from clean/organic animals (lard, tallow, duck fat, bacon grease, etc), wild caught fatty fish and seafood, avocados, extra-virgin olive oil, olives, and raw & unrefined coconut products.
  • Fruits: Focus on the low-sugar fruits including all kinds of berries, nectarines, plums, apricots, cantaloupe, grapefruit, lemons and limes. Choose organic, local and in-season as often as possible.
  • Vegetables: kale, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, kale, turnips, arugula, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, watercress. Choose organic, local and in-season as often as possible.

Supplements

To ensure your body is capable of doing all of the above, we need to ensure that your body has optimized nutrient levels to promote high quality sperm that can get the job done. There a TON of options when it comes to supplements, but I’ve narrowed down my top 6 for you:

  • Designs For Health Complete Multi without Copper and Iron: DFH Complete Multi is a full-spectrum multivitamin with Albion chelated minerals for maximum absorption and bioavailability. This powerhouse multivitamin supplies supporting nutrients not normally found in regular multis, such as alpha lipoic acid, TMG, fruit bioflavanoids, choline, and inositol. This formula also contains vitamin E, high levels of all B vitamins, and natural mixed carotenoids. This copper and iron free version is appropriate for men.
  • Designs For Health Omega TG1000: OmegAvail TG1000 uses the latest innovation in omega-3 EPA/DHA technology to insure superior quality, purity and absorption. Essential fatty acids ensure a healthy sperm membrane, which is required for proper sperm maturation. Omega 3’s also improve sperm count significantly.
  • Designs For Health Detox Antiox: Detox Antiox synergistically combines many nutrients that have a positive effect on sperm health, including zinc, vitamin C, E, selenium, and other potent antioxidants. Adequate zinc intake is important for the creation of the outer membrane and tail of a sperm. Sperm utilize zinc for maturation, mobility and strength. Zinc is also necessary for hormone balance. Selenium is necessary for proper sperm formation. This formula also contains multiple ingredients known to raise glutathione levels making it helpful for protecting delicate sperm cells. It also combats free radicals and helps detoxify harmful chemicals including heavy metals. L-Leucine when taken with NAC prevents mercury from being reabsorbed into the central nervous system.
  • Designs For Health CoQnol Ubiquinol 100mg: CoQnol contains ubiquinol, the reduced, antioxidant form of CoQ10. As an antioxidant, coQ10 increases fertility, especially in men. CoQ10 improves sperm motility and is especially useful for men with poor sperm quality. CoQ10 is necessary for a healthy sperm cell membrane and energy (forward movement). It is also protective of sperm cells and protects the important genetic codes they carry (DNA) for creation of a healthy child.
  • Designs For Health Arginine: Researchers have discovered that Arginine regulates nitric oxide, a powerful compound in the blood responsible for regulating blood flow, immune function, communication among nerve cells, liver function, blood clotting, and even sexual arousal. Arginine acts as a natural Viagra – improving erectile function and increasing the quantity of sperm (by up to 250%). Arginine also improves sperm motility & health.
  • Designs For Health Carnitine Synergy: L-Carnitine is an amino acid responsible for shuttling omega fatty acids. L-Carnitine has been shown to help normalize sperm motility in men with low sperm quality. L-Carnitine helps sperm to metabolize fats and sugars for energy. L-Carnitine is also vital for the formation of sperm cells. L-Carnitine stimulates the natural production of sperm, and the higher the sperm-cell count, the higher the chances for fertilization. Not only does L-Carnitine increases sperm levels, but it also enhances the sperm’s motility and improves the health of the sperm cells. It is believed that this supplement can be particularly efficient for the treatment of age-related infertility in men.

Avoid Toxins

“Endocrine disrupting compounds” (EDC) found in synthetic chemicals, like phthalates, mimic estrogen in the body and can have a negative impact on hormonal balance. The endocrine system is responsible for the intricate dance of hormones that are constantly ebbing and flowing. EDC have the ability to mimic estrogen in both men and women, and in men this can cause a decline in testosterone and affect the quality of the sperm. To reduce your exposure to EDC:

  • Consume organic animal products 100% of the time and aim to purchase at least the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables organic.
  • Drink purified, filtered water only, do not drink tap water and do NOT drink water out of plastic bottles. Plastic is a major sources of EDC.
  • Avoid soy.
  • Eliminate toxic household cleaners (see the EWG’s guide to find the cleanest household cleaners).
  • Eliminate toxic bodycare and skincare products (see the EWG’s guide to find the cleanest products to use).

The Heat Factor

While many people consider this an old wives tale, heat has a huge impact on your little swimmers. The testicles need to keep the sperm at a healthy temperature (which is less than the body’s temperature). It is thought that this may be in part why the male reproductive organs are external. Increased temperatures around your testicles can impact sperm production. To keep your testes cool as a cucumber, avoid the following:

  • Hot tubs
  • Saunas
  • Steamy baths
  • Briefs and/or tight athletic shorts

If you’re a cyclist, you should also be aware that riding a bike more than two hours a day, six days a week could negatively affect sperm health. If you’re a hardcore cyclist, make sure you take frequent breaks and get those bike shorts off IMMEDIATELY after a ride.

De-Stress

The present world is filled with stress, that’s non-negotiable. But how you respond and react to stress is entirely in your control. Practice managing your daily stressors with ease. This may be one of the most important things you can do to optimize your fertility health.

Sleep

Easier said than done: get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis! Consistent, adequate, and unmedicated sleep is critical in improving your sperm health, and it’s something that I cannot stress enough. Wind down a few hours before bedtime, and ensure that you remove all distractions from your bedroom.

The Varicocele Factor

While not exactly something that you can change, the vericocele factor is something that can be addressed by a healthcare provider. A varicocele is a group of swollen veins around one or both testicles, and can be felt through the skin of the scrotum. It is believed that the swollen veins may keep the testicle too warm, which can lower the sperm count and movement of the sperm. Approximately 40% of men with fertility problems have a varicocele.

While there are often there are no symptoms of a vericocele, your testicle may have a dull, achy feeling. There may be some painful swelling. Symptoms may develop gradually, long after the varicocele is first discovered. If you feel an abnormality in your testicle(s), please see your healthcare provider. A varicocele usually doesn’t need any treatment, but surgery to repair the veins may be recommended if there is a risk that the varicocele may be the cause of your fertility problems. The purpose of surgery is to seal off the veins with poor blood flow and redirect the blood flow into other, normal veins.

In a nutshell

  1. There are three main concerns that can be the reason for male factor fertility issues: low sperm count, low sperm morphology, and low sperm motility.
  1. Male infertility does not mean you will never be a father! Avoiding chemicals, smoking, excessive alcohol and caffeine; while at the same time eating a nutrient-heavy diet, participating in regular exercise, reducing daily stresses, getting quality sleep, and introducing targeted supplements can result in healthier, more mobile sperm.
  1. Avoiding environmental and household toxins is imperative in improving your fertility health.
  1. Keep your little swimmers housed in a cool environment! Heat is a major contributing factor in declining sperm health.

Let’s Talk!

I’d love to use this space as a forum of sorts, providing inspiration and community among my readers, so … I want to hear from you!

Did you know that fertility issues affect men and women equally?

Have you, or someone in your life, been diagnosed with male infertility?

What are some of your favorite nutrient-dense recipes?

Spread some sperm lovin’! Sharing is caring, and I bet the men in your life would love to read this too :).

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