It's a source of pain and frustration for many couples desperate to conceive, and often it is the woman's ability to fall pregnant that placed under scrutiny.
But this month of June – which is recognised as National Men's Health Month – delves into the lesser spoken about subject of male fertility.
This following reports by scientists who claim that sperm counts have halved over the past 50 years.
According to a study done by the University of Copenhagen, sperm counts in the 1940s were typically well above 100 million sperm cells per millilitre (ml), but researchers found that they have dropped to an average of about 60 million per ml.
The study involved a large cohort of almost 5 000 young men between the ages of 18 and 19, conducted over an extensive 15-year period.
Other studies found that close to 20% of young men between the ages of 18 and 25 now find themselves with sperm counts of less than 20 million per ml, which is technically defined as abnormal by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Male infertility is the reason up to 40% of South African couples fail to conceive, and a low sperm count is cited as a major contributing factor.
Although scientists are still not clear on what could be influencing this change in men’s reproductive status, they blame various environmental and lifestyle factors, including that of maternal-lifestyle factors in pregnancy over the past five decades, for the general decline in sperm production.
Among the strongest pieces of evidence in support of this notion emanates from studies done among cigarette smokers.
A man who smokes reduces his sperm count by 15%, however a man whose mother smoked during pregnancy, has a significantly lower sperm count of up to only 40%. Obesity has also been linked with reproductive problems and reduced sperm quality in men.
While male infertility can be frustrating, it is rewarding to know, that by making the appropriate lifestyle changes such as exercising, quitting smoking and eating right, could boost a man’s sperm count. Another natural remedy to assist men faced with these challenges may be rooibos.
Adele du Toit, spokesperson for the SA Rooibos Council, cited a study conducted by the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), which compared the effects of red rooibos, green rooibos, Chinese green tea, and commercial rooibos and green tea supplements on rat sperm, which found that sperm count and motility were significantly higher for rats on red and green rooibos with their high antioxidant content, than with any of the other groups.
“Another study, also conducted by CPUT on diabetic rats – a condition which is often associated with male reproductive concerns, such as low sperm count – again confirmed rooibos’ beneficial effect on sperm quality.
“Antioxidants prevent oxidative stress, which causes degenerative problems at a cellular level on a variety of tissues, from organs to sperm. Although both studies were conducted in rodents, rooibos could potentially have the same positive effect in men,” du Toit said.
Cardiovascular disease is also often a precursor to erectile dysfunction and other male reproductive challenges, which rooibos can also counter.
Du Toit referred to “quercetin”, another powerful antioxidant found in rooibos, which has been linked to the prevention of a wide variety of heart conditions. “It promotes HDL – good cholesterol and inhibits the LDL – bad cholesterol from adhering to the walls of arteries and blood vessels. This means added protection against various heart conditions, including arteriosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.
“The bottom line is that if you drink rooibos, you’re going to reap multiple health benefits and every man should consider it an important beverage that is vital for a healthy lifestyle.”
(Adapted from a press release)