When searching online for information about PCOS and fertility, it takes only a few seconds to learn that having PCOS will likely impact your fertility. As a result, if you and your partner are actively trying to conceive (or planning to start in the New Year), it would not be surprising to hear that any discussions between you and your partner and your health care provider about potential “fertility issues” have been focused on managing your PCOS as a way to improve your chances of achieving pregnancy.
This “woman-focused” problem solving occurs in most, if not all, fertility circles, not just when PCOS is present. Unfortunately, infertility is still most often considered to be a woman’s problem. At the first suspicion of fertility issues, all parties involved – women, men, and doctors – tend to be too quick to point the finger at the female partner, despite the fact that commonly reported statistics say that the male partner is equally likely to have fertility issues. It is estimated that 30% of infertility cases are due to the female partner, 30% to the male, and the other 40% attributable to both partners or fall into the “unexplained infertility” category.
At Fairhaven Health, we hear every day from women who are struggling to conceive about the medications they have taken, exams they have endured, and expensive tests that are on the horizon for them. One of the first questions we ask is: Does your partner have good sperm health? Unfortunately, the answer is too often, “I don’t know.” The fact of the matter is there are a number of ways that male fertility can go wrong, and focusing only on assessing and improving the reproductive health of the female partner is not helpful for couples in the long run. It happens all too often that couples realize the male partner has fertility issues only after they have been trying to get pregnant for 6 to 12 months. Getting the male partner involved early on in the trying-to-conceive process can spare couples a tremendous amount of emotional pain and financial resources. Just like it takes two to tango, it takes two to make a baby. If you and your partner are planning to embark on a journey to parenthood in 2015, be sure to talk with him about how he can participate in turning your shared dreams of parenting into a reality.
Start with a semen analysis
Heading to the clinic to have a semen analysis performed is not high on the “Things I Really Want to Do” list for most men. But, uncovering any sperm health issues immediately is a huge help for couples. A comprehensive semen analysis will measure sperm count, sperm motility, and sperm morphology (size and shape of sperm), determine semen volume, and detect the presence of white blood cells in the semen. If any of these parameters come back outside of the “normal” range, it can spell trouble for conception. Better to find this out sooner rather than later, right? Especially considering that sperm health can be improved with dietary and lifestyle changes.
Break the bad habits
Smoking cigarettes, drinking too much alcohol, and using recreational drugs all have a negative impact on sperm health and male fertility. Starting a family might be just the motivation your partner needs to kick these health-detracting habits.
Lose the excess pounds
Any lifestyle change that you make to promote your overall health will have the added benefit of improving your fertility – this is as true for your partner as it is for you. If your partner is carrying around some extra weight, this is a great time to make the dietary changes necessary to lose those unwanted pounds. A moderate exercise plan will also help with weight maintenance. It is important for men to remember, however, that extreme exercise (for example, body building and elite endurance training) may have a detrimental effect on fertility. When it comes to trying to conceive, moderate exercise is best.
It is estimated that 80% of all cases of male infertility are caused by oxidative stress, a physiological condition that develops when the body’s systems for neutralizing toxins are overwhelmed. Oxidative stress causes cellular damage, and, unfortunately, sperm cells are especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of oxidative stress, which leads to low sperm count and poor sperm motility. Research indicates that supplementing the diet with antioxidant nutrients (for example, CoQ10, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, n-acetyl cysteine) can help support the body’s antioxidants systems and help prevent oxidative damage.
In addition to antioxidants, there are several other nutrients that are beneficial for male fertility. L-carnitine is a vitamin-like compound that helps promote sperm motility by helping sperm cells produce energy. Vitamin B12 (as methylcobalamin) has been shown to increase sperm motility and sperm count. Zinc has been shown to have a positive effect on sperm formation, sperm motility and testosterone metabolism. *
Reduce exposure to environmental toxins
Toxic chemicals are everywhere – in our air, our water, our food, and in our soaps, shampoos, and cleaning supplies – and, unfortunately, chronic exposure to environmental toxins contributes to oxidative stress, and is responsible for decreasing fertility in both men and women. But, while it is virtually impossible to avoid environmental toxins completely, encouraging your partner (and yourself) to “Go Green” in as many ways as possible can help promote fertility. Here are several simple strategies for decreasing exposure to fertility-damaging toxins:
- Eat organic foods and wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating
- Use non-toxic cleaning supplies and personal products
- Drink filtered water
- Avoid plastic food packaging and water bottles that contain bisphenol-A (BPA)
Most people agree that parenting is a shared journey, but far too often women bear all of the responsibility for the getting pregnant part of this journey. Trying to conceive can be stressful, especially if you are going into it knowing that you might have some fertility issues to overcome. Talk to your partner about how you can work together, each doing your own part, to improve your chances of making a baby in 2015.
*Fairhaven Health offers a comprehensive line of male fertility supplements, including FertilAid for Men, Count Boost and Motility Boost, that include the fertility-enhancing nutrients discussed above.
Suzanne Munson earned a MS degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University and is Director of Product Development at Fairhaven Health. Fairhaven Health is a leading provider of natural products for fertility, pregnancy and nursing.
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