By Natalie Pickering, Naturopath
If you are trying to conceive you may be hungrily searching for everything there is to know about egg health, hormone health, fertility foods and how to get your embryo to stick, you may have been to see your GP or even a Fertility Specialist and been poked, prodded and jabbed all over… BUT there is an element that is absolutely vital to your successful conception and it is still being overlooked or glossed over and its driving me crazy!!
Today I am introducing a taboo subject… the idea that maybe your man’s swimmers may not be fabulously fertile!
I know this sounds crazy, but honestly, I am working with couples trying to conceive every day and I am still coming up against this resistance to the idea that male fertility is playing an equal part in the likelihood of a couple’s positive pregnancy test. The frustration comes from knowing that if you are not both working towards conception you are potentially missing out on a quicker, easier, less stressful journey. Getting pregnant is a team sport!
The count and quality of men’s sperm is at an all-time low, there has been a massive shift downward in male fertility. The problem is, that no one is asking why this has happened, instead we are just putting our heads in the sand and accepting the new “normal” level. I think of this as a global health issue as well as a fertility issue.
Here are the facts
- Abnormal semen production, a male factor infertility (MFI), is thought to be the cause of up to 50% of all infertility in developed countries.
- 40 million to 300 million is the normal range for the number of sperm per ml. Counts below 10 million are considered poor; counts of 20 million or more may be fine if motility and morphology are normal.
- In the 1940s a man was considered to have normal fertility if he had a concentration of 60 million sperm /ml or higher, the average was 113 million sperm per ml, in 1990 the concentration fell to about 65million sperm/ml, in 2010 the World Health Organisation changed the reference range to set the lower limit of “normal” to 15million/ml or higher. That is a massive drop in my opinion!
- Morphology (the shape of the sperm) is now considered to be ok if at least 4% are normal, that leaves 96% of them abnormal. The reference range of one well regarded lab shows that a result below 4% is considered to have a low likelihood of success in an IVF cycle, a result above 12% is considered to have a higher likelihood of success in an IVF cycle. So For those of you hoping to conceive the good old-fashioned way we really need to see the percentage at the higher end of the range.
What to do?
If you are thinking about trying to conceive soon, you have already started trying, or you have been trying for a while one of the most empowering steps you can take is to ask your partner to have a semen analysis done.
It’s important to ensure the sample is being tested by an andrology lab, these labs have the specialized equipment and training to give you an accurate result that you can trust.
Then you need to discuss the result with a natural fertility specialist, if you have only discussed it with your GP or Fertility Specialist then you may not have been given a thorough understanding of each parameter and what the optimal result should be, and most importantly what can be done to specifically target the areas of concern.
The issue I am finding frequently in working with fertility and preconception patients, is simply that a semen analysis result often has to be infertile before a man, or couple, is advised that there may be a problem. He is rarely counseled on the low or borderline levels of any of the parameters -motility (swimming), morphology (shape) and count (number) of his sperm and how to improve them.
The good news
It is possible to improve the result of a semen analysis. If the result comes back showing an issue with low count or lots of sperm not moving or swimming in circles, with a high level of abnormally shaped sperm or with a high percentage of DNA fragmentation then its time for a targeted program to specifically support the issues that have come up.
Sperm are created and matured in 90 days, throughout that time they are exquisitely sensitive to the internal environment, making them vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies, toxin exposure, excess heat, hormone imbalances or deficiencies, oxidative stress, social toxins and medications. In my experience, significant improvements can be seen in 1 cycle of spermatogenesis (sperm production) and even more in two cycles with a personalized, holistic approach.
3 months may seem like a long time in our fast-paced lives, we all struggle with patience! The reality is though that if the results are on the low or borderline then the likelihood of a positive pregnancy is a lot lower. What I suggest is getting started now, not waiting until you are both feeling stressed and anxious every month. At the very least you know you will be actively improving the genetic blueprint – the future health, of the child you will soon conceive.
Just this week one of the men I am working with repeated his analysis, the results showed he had improved his DNA fragmentation rate from 32% (“poor”) to 9% (“very good”), increasing his, and his wife’s, combined fertility enormously!
What can we do to increase sperm quality?
In short, plenty. It always starts with diet and lifestyle factors, cutting out alcohol, cigarette smoking, minimizing coffee, processed and refined food, increasing intake of colourful fruit and veggies all have an impact on sperm health and that’s just the start. I have found that a carefully prescribed and monitored fertility cleanse is the most effective first step for men with sperm count and quality issues. The men who really commit to the cleanse are the ones who get the best results. Integrating that with specifically prescribed supplements and lifestyle changes and you are on your way to making healthy sperm.
1. Get the semen analysis done.
2. Have the results interpreted for you by a Natural Fertility Specialist.
3. Work together as a team making the changes you both need to make to reclaim your fertility.
Don’t forget to reach out to me if you need help, fertility is my passion, I love helping couples to understand the obstacles to their fertility and to support them to make the changes they need to make to conceive the baby of their dreams!