Health and Harmony
Creating Super Swimmers
When a couple is going through a fertility struggle it is almost always framed as a female issue. When you think about it, women are raised with the knowledge that their eggs have a certain shelf life and that at some stage may affect their ability to have a child.
The truth is, male infertility accounts for about 50% of the reason that couples undergo IVF treatment. So even when male infertility has been identified as the issue, treatment is still female-focused. It’s the only field of medicine where someone without a health complaint undergoes treatment for someone who does.
There are several factors which affect the health of the sperm such as poor nutrition, alcohol, chemical exposure, being overweight, smoking. Although men do not go through menopause in the same way that women do, the DNA quality of sperm also reduces with age much the same as eggs do. Miscarriage rates are higher with older fathers and if there is a lot of DNA damage this can even prevent fertilisation from taking place.
Yet because the fertility industry comes under the remit of gynaecology, sperm quality is often the last thing to be considered. I know of one couple who had invested €20,000 in fertility treatments before his sperm was finally checked.
There are limitations with the sperm test too because it can test the sperm count and how fast the sperm swim but can miss DNA damage.
Sperm have a very demanding role to play in reproduction. The journey sperm undertake on their way to fertilise an egg has been likened to a human trying to swim a journey of several thousand kilometres.
Then when they arrive at the egg, they need to be fully healthy to help make a healthy baby.
There are three factors which determine healthy sperm. They are:
· Quantity: Because it's survival of the fittest, you want many millions to be sent out in search of a receptive egg. Most will drop off or get lost along the way.
· Quality: Only 4% of them will have a normal shape and structure - that is, an oval head and a long tail, which work together to propel it forward. Sperm with large, small, tapered or crooked heads or curled or double tails will struggle to fertilise an egg.
· Motility: To reach the egg, sperm have to move on their own, making their way to the egg. In a healthy sperm sample, about 40% are moving.
Sperm health is heavily influence by lifestyle and dietary habits. Here are a few ways to boost sperm quality, and possibly even quantity.
1. Stop smoking:
A new study has been released confirming that that smoking can harm sperm quality. German research showed that men who smoke heavily may experience fertility problems stemming from a drop in levels of a protein crucial to sperm development, as well as damage to sperm's DNA.
2. Minimise the alcohol:
Alcohol consumption has also been linked with lowering both the quantity and quality of sperm. Fertility specialists advise that when men are planning a baby, they should cut back on how much they drink and avoid all binge drinking.
3. Strive to reach and maintain a healthy weight for your build
There is an association between male obesity and increased DNA damage in the sperm, which can also be associated with reduced fertility. Having too much or too little body fat can disrupt production of the male reproductive hormones including testosterone which is needed to stimulate the production of sperm.
Because body fat is closely associated with the production of these male reproductive hormones, a man is most likely to produce healthy sperm when he is at a healthy weight for his structure.
4. But don't over-exercise:
Exercise moderately, particularly while you're actively trying to conceive. Over exercising can cause the internal temperature of a man's testicles to rise and sperm to overheat and die off. Bike riding has been found to be a less than ideal way of exercising for the man trying to conceive. Also, men who over exercise and become underweight can also experience lower sperm mortality and poor sperm morphology.
5. Eat these sperm-boosting foods:
Obviously a healthy, balanced diet is the way to go at all stages of life. Cutting back on processed foods, sugar and alcohol will boost sperm health.
There are a few foods believed to be especially good at helping make healthy, moving, high quality sperm, such as foods rich in:
· Zinc - like oysters, whole grains and lean red meats
· Dark, leafy green, veggies and green tea
· Vitamin C - strawberries, broccoli and kiwi fruit
· Lycopene - tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit
· Vitamin A - dairy foods, chicken, fish oils, eggs and liver
6. Keeping things cool
Sitting in hot baths or hot tubs, driving or sitting for long periods, wearing tight fitting jeans or trousers can all have a negative effect on sperm health. Wearing loose fitting pants and underwear can help. You can even buy special underwear designed to cool down your boys!! I kid you not!
7. Mind where you keep the phone
Phones give off a signal called EMFs (electro magnetic frequency) and several studies have linked these frequency to sperm damage. Keeping the phone in the pocket is a complete no-no if you want to protect the health of your sperm.
8. Watch your products
Women are the not the only ones exposed to environmental toxins. Hair products, beard oil, shampoo, cologne and shower gel can all contain chemicals which can interfere with the health of your sperm. Switching to organic or more natural products can help to keep sperm healthy.
Also, drinking from plastic water bottles can increase your exposure to BPA – a common hormone disrupter. Switch to glass or metal bottles for drinking water to avoid this.
The truth is, even if the sperm test has not thrown up any problems, any lifestyle changes you can make together will improve your overall fertility as a couple which will improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy.
As an added bonus, these are lifestyle changes that you can bring forward in to parenthood so that you are teaching your children healthy habits too!