Dublin - The internet is rife with talk of infertility. So frequent is the topic’s discussion on online forums that “trying to conceive” is reduced to the quickly typed TTC.
Parenting forums contain shared stories of trouble, tips on treatment and inspirational tales of couples who successfully procreated in the direst of circumstances.
But as you wade through the fertility chat rooms, it becomes apparent that the voices sharing are predominantly female. Fertility, it seems, is a woman’s problem.
Except, of course, that it’s not. About one in six couples face infertility problems. And in up to half those cases the problem is on the male side.
“In terms of my clients, about 40 percent of problems are contributed by a male factor,” says reproductive health expert Dr Declan Keane.
“There’s a tendency to focus on the female, but statistically it’s as likely that the problem could be on the male side.”
Problems range from low or non-existent sperm counts, DNA fragmentation – where the quality of the information in the sperm cell is poor – to sperm production or an abnormality on the male chromosome.
Depending on the problem, treatments range from simple changes in diet and lifestyle, designed to boost sperm counts and quality, to a raft of clinical procedures.
The most popular male fertility treatment is ICSI, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, where a single sperm is directed into an egg should the problem lie with a low count or poor mobility. The treatment costs around the same as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and has a high success rate, but does not have IVF’s high profile simply because male fertility is rarely talked about.
“In a lot of IVF clinics, 60 percent of the work is probably ICSI, but they call it IVF because people are more used to hearing that and know what it is,” says Dr David Walsh, medical director of a fertility clinic.
He explains: “Women are collegiate in fertility issues; they’ll discuss problems and treatments. Men are isolated. Women will talk about IVF, but not many guys will go to the pub and ask his friends, ‘Have you tried ICSI?’ “
But unfortunately male reluctance to discuss the problem could prolong the agony of trying to conceive.
Ian Claxton, who specialises in using complementary therapies such as acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine and nutrition, alongside conventional medicine, to aid couples trying to conceive, says: “I get plenty of couples coming in thinking they’ll have to spend thousands on IVF, when all they need to do is get the guy to change small things in his lifestyle.
“Diet, environment, stress, too much dairy, wearing briefs instead of boxers – these are all things that can affect sperm production.”
Men’s reticence over the issue also has a biological, not just cultural, factor. Women produce just one egg a month and have a finite supply, making them much more emotionally invested in the reproductive cycle than men, for whom sperm is in constant production.
“Men release 49 million sperm during ejaculation while women have just one egg,” says Walsh. “It’s not surprising they often display a greater level of control and interest in the process.”
But just because a woman’s biological clock ticks more loudly doesn’t mean that men don’t also have to worry about the effects of ageing on their fertility. Once men pass the age of 48, the genetic quality of their sperm deteriorates, making the odds of successful conception less likely.
Moreover, research suggests male infertility is on the rise. Claxton adds: “It’s really important more guys become aware of their fertility and the factors affecting it. Unless men start opening up and talking more, it’ll be a problem that’s harder to fix.” – Irish Independent
‘A healthy lifestyle has given me a chance to be a dad’
Thomas McCluskey, 30, was told he could not be a dad because his sperm count was zero. But thanks to a few changes in his diet, the security guard has seen a remarkable change in his fertility.
He says: “When I got the news that the only way we would have a baby was through a sperm donor, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.
“I was shocked and felt like I’d let my wife, Karen, down. I couldn’t believe someone was telling me I’d never be a dad.
“We’d been trying for years, but until that point, all the tests had focused on Karen.
“I’d had sperm analysis done where I’d been told my count was low, but I wasn’t told that it was a problem.
“But when I got tested a second time, the results showed there was nothing there. Karen’s eggs were fine – it was me who was the problem.
“We went to a fertility specialist to see if there was anything at all we could do and it was only then that we learned the importance of diet and lifestyle.
“I couldn’t believe no one had told me any of this before. We’d been living on frozen food and take-aways while getting no exercise – all terrible for sperm.
“I started exercising, cut back on alcohol and began eating more vegetables, especially garlic, sweetcorn, pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds, which are all supposed to be great for sperm production.
“In just a few months I dropped more than 20kg, but the best news was when I recently had a sperm analysis test done, it showed my sperm count had gone from nothing to 500 000.
“From being told I would never be a dad, I now feel confident that we’ve got to the root of the problem and will conceive through natural means.” – Irish Independent
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR YOUR CHANCES
* Exercise more. Research shows that excess fat inhibits sperm production. But steer clear of excessive cycling, which has been shown to have a bad effect on sperm.
* Ditch the booze. Alcohol has a negative impact on the body’s ability to absorb zinc, a vital mineral relating to male fertility.
* Smoking and taking recreational drugs can all lower the production of testosterone, needed to make sperm. Steroids fool the body into thinking it has enough testosterone so it stops making its own.
* Avoid tight underwear and anything else that raises the temperature of the testicles, such as keeping a laptop on your lap for prolonged periods. Studies show that raising the temperature even slightly can affect sperm production.
* Don’t eat processed food or take on too much caffeine.”It’s simple science,” says fertility expert Declan Keane. “What you put into your body is the building blocks for producing sperm.”
* Lower dairy and meat consumption because of its potential oestrogen content. Buy organic to avoid foods sprayed with pesticides and herbicides that can reduce sperm production.
* The jury is still out on the effect of electromagnetic waves from cellphones, but some fertility experts suggest the precaution of not carrying cellphones in the front pockets of trousers. - The Star