Both male infertility and female infertility has been rising in India with numbers rising to 10% in 2016 from 4-6% in 1981. There are approximately 30 million couples who have problems related to infertility. Thanks to our lifestyle changes, toxicity in food and an increase in the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. These infertility numbers are, however, lower than USA, Australia, New Zealand and France.
Around 40% of the cases of infertility are due to male infertility, 40% due to female infertility and 20% due to both. Unlike the popular notion where women were blamed for a childless marriage, it turns out that both men and women are equally in need to get checked and treated for infertility.
Understanding Male Infertility: Fresher Course 101
Sperms take an approximate 70 days to produce and their production depends on the hormones that are released by the male body. Sperms are produced in testicles and stored in tube cells that consist of sperm nurse cells and sperm stem cells. The tubes are surrounded by Leydig cells. Hormones control Leydig cells which in turn regulates nurse cells and stem cells. After sperm is produced (with proper motility, chromosomal function, special proteins etc.), it passes through various glands such as prostate, seminal vesicles etc., mix with fluids that are produced by those glands, before coming out in the ejaculation. A teaspoon of ejaculate can have approximately 150 million sperm.
Factors discussed below can affect one or more functions that contributes to sperm production and hence lead to male infertility.
What is infertility?
Infertility is when a couple is not able to conceive a child after trying for 1 year without being on any form of birth control.
Even though infertility is on rise the best part is that around 80% of the cases can be treated by simple medication and only 20% require intensive treatments like IVF, surrogacy etc. There are very rare cases of permanent infertility in India.
Drugs and Male Infertility:
Drugs such as narcotics, marijuana etc. can decrease sperm production and produce abnormally shaped sperms.
Alcohol and Male Infertility:
Light to moderate drinking doesn’t have any effect on both male and female infertility. However, higher alcohol intake (more than 14 mixed drinks/week) can interfere with hormones and can cause testosterone to eject from the body quickly. It also increases estrogen levels in men.
Smoking and Male Infertility:
Smoking has a very negative effect on sperm motility and production of sperm. It has also been proven that children of parents who smoke are at a higher chance to develop a habit of smoking in early adolescence.
How to reverse the effects of alcohol, smoking, and drugs on male infertility?
Quitting can reverse most of the effects that any addiction has done on most of your bodily functions. Your doctor might prescribe you some medication which might help you in your struggle of quitting.
Hot temperature & Tight Underwear:
Those tightie whities might kill your sperm count. It’s true that you need just one sperm to penetrate the egg but to increase your chances having a bunch of healthy soldiers is really important. Keeping your scrotum at least 2℃ less than the temperature of the normal body temperature is really important for the sperm production process.
Overweight BMI and unhealthy lifestyle:
Obese couples take 50% more time to conceive. A high amount of fat cells can throw your hormone levels out of balance. Fat cells contain aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen. If you are thinking what the hell is estrogen doing in a male body, then you should know that estrogen in a male body helps in spermatogenesis – a process that involves cellular growth and production. Any extra estrogen and less testosterone will, however, impact your hormone levels and sperm production.
BMI is calculated by weight/(height)2. Weight is in kg and height in cm. If it lies between 18.5-24.9, then you have a healthy BMI. HIIT and strength training are the best fat burning exercises that show effects much more quickly than other exercises.
A varicocele is swelling in the testicle which can hold back sperm production. More than 10 million cases of Varicocele is diagnosed each year. Sometimes symptoms like swelling or an enlarged vein in scrotum might show but varicocele doesn’t always show visible symptoms. Your doctor will examine your scrotum for any signs of Varicocele.
Varicocele is easily diagnosable and sometimes require no treatment. Treatment depends on how chronic it is and how much is it affecting your sexual life and fertility.
Research has proven that men who exercise moderately(1 hour of exercise, 3 times a week) have better sperm results than those who do intense workouts with no break at all. Therefore, it’s better to perform less strenuous workouts 5-6 times a week rather than working out extremely daily especially if you are trying to conceive.
Anabolic Steroids (a synthetic variation of male sex hormone testosterone) which are frequently taken by bodybuilders and athletes to build and maintain muscles can cause testicles to shrink and sperm production to decrease. These steroids can be prescribed by healthcare providers in case of delayed puberty or treat diseases that cause muscle loss such as cancer, AIDS etc.
But their use is significantly abused these days. One of the most common reasons is to give a better athletic performance. Testing is now done in almost all high-level competitions including Olympics to discourage the use of steroids. Steroids are also used to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat. This drives people to use them and achieve their dream mental body image of themselves much faster. Last and the most important factor that prompts the use of steroids is sexual and physical abuse. Any abuse can increase chances of using steroids by 25% in men and by 50% in women. The victims believe that steroids will help them look strong and unattractive to the attackers.
Anabolic Steroids have the same effect on the brain as drugs, releasing feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine, which can have negative effects in short term and long term. Withdrawal of steroids can also trigger depression and extreme fatigue.
Thankfully the effects that steroids have on sperm production and testicles can be reversed. It generally takes a duration of 6-12 months for the body to balance out the hormone levels after you stop using steroids. Your doctor might also include behavioral therapy along with medication so as to track down and withdraw any depression and suicidal thoughts. In case the body is unable to get the sperm production up, a microsurgeon will detect any sperm that’s present in your body and will fertilize it with the egg.
Malnutrition and Deficiency:
There are various studies that have proven a link between nutrition deficiency and sperm production like zinc can cause a decrease in sperm quality, Vitamin B12 causes low sperm motility. In fact, Semen is only one percent sperm; the rest is composed of over 200 separate proteins, as well as vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, calcium, chlorine, citric acid, fructose, lactic acid, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, vitamin B12, and zinc.Therefore, getting your blood test done should be the first and foremost step that you need to take if you have a problem in conceiving.
Here is a detailed article published on My Toothless which explains the link between nutrition and infertility for both men and women: HOW SOME *EASY* HEALTH MOVES CAN CHANGE YOUR FERTILITY GAME *FOREVER*
Stress can have major implications on sperm quality, semen quality and normal morphology of normal sperm. Stress can have a major effect on the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fat and also trigger oxidative stress, none of which is good for your little soldiers. Exercising and meditation can reduce the effects of stress on the body. Other ways of managing the stress include accepting the things how they are and taking action, connecting with people, building close relationships, setting your priorities and working towards the solution.
Excessive exposure to environmental hazards and toxins:
Pesticides and hormones present in the food can mimic hormones present in the body and hence disrupt their balance. As mentioned above, hormones are vital for controlling sperm production and any disbalance can hamper the process. Eating organic and avoiding chemicals can help in fertility issues that you are dealing with.
Some medications can also lead to male infertility like there is a group of medicines called Calcium Channel Blocker which is used to treat high blood pressure that can influence the ability of sperm to fertilize the egg.
Similarly some antifungal infection medicines, cancer medications, ulcer drugs etc. can also lead to some from of male infertility.
Having a detailed talk with your healthcare provider about your medical conditions and problems can help resolve your infertility in no time. Getting help for infertility is OKAY! Don’t blame yourself. Sometimes you can do everything right but it just doesn’t work out. But there is a pathway carved for everyone and you too.