Causes Of Infertility Issues

People often assume that infertility is a woman’s problem, but that’s not always the case. In fact, the man is either the sole cause or a contributing factor in roughly 40 percent of couples’ struggles to conceive, according to the American Association for Reproductive Medicine.

Man and woman holding hands and worried |

Unfortunately, the misguided belief that women are the sole cause of infertility has definite emotional and financial consequences. Before doctors even suggest taking a look at the male partner, women endure a litany of exams and tests at a tremendous cost. It can be discouraging for couples to exhaust their financial and emotional resources on fertility exams for the woman, only to find out months later that she is perfectly healthy and they now need to start assessing the fertility of her partner.

We talk daily to many people who are struggling to conceive (the majority of whom are women), and most will express concern — and even obsess — over their cycles, age, ovarian reserve, etc. One of the first questions we ask is, “Has your partner been tested?” Unfortunately, the answer is too often “no.”

Male fertility issues

The biggest cause of male fertility issues is suboptimal sperm health. Sperm health is most often assessed by looking at three parameters — sperm count (the number of cells in a millimeter of semen), motility (the forward, swimming motion of the sperm), and morphology (the size and shape of the sperm, which allows it to fuse with an egg). If one or more of these three measurements falls outside of normal ranges, it can be an indication that conception will be difficult. A comprehensive analysis for men will evaluate count, motility and morphology and determine semen volume and pH. It will also look for the presence of white blood cells (indicating infection) and fructose (fuel for sperm cells). A fertility specialist can also investigate further if a factor falls outside of normal ranges.

There are many causes for poor sperm health. Low sperm count could be caused by testicular failure, hormone deficiencies or imbalances, a blockage in the duct system that carries sperm or varicocele, an abnormal enlargement of the veins in the scrotum.

Another key contributor to poor sperm health is oxidative stress, when unstable oxygen molecules in the body (called free radicals) overwhelm the number of antioxidants that normally neutralize them. This leads to oxidative stress and cellular damage. Sperm cells, unfortunately, have even less antioxidant mechanisms in the body to keep free radicals at bay and are especially vulnerable to damage from free radicals due to the high amounts of fat contained in their cell membranes. Stress, poor diet and exposure to environmental toxins create oxidative stress, which can lead to reduced sperm count, poor sperm motility and even DNA damage. In fact, researchers believe that as much as 80 percent of male infertility cases can be attributed to oxidative stress.

Lifestyle changes for men and women

There is good news. Lifestyle changes can help improve both male and female fertility, and certain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids can help as well.

For starters, avoid cigarettes and tobacco products, and only drink alcohol moderately. If you are overweight, lose weight through moderate calorie restriction and increased exercise. Also increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, and supplement your diet with key antioxidant nutrients, such as CoQ10, vitamin E, vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, and grapeseed extract. (Supplements for specific fertility issues are available as well.) In addition, reduce your exposure to environmental toxins. Only use cosmetics, cookware, and household products that are free of endocrine disruptors, such as BPA, parabens and phthalates.

Timing is everything

One of the major obstacles to conception is actually quite simple to overcome — the lack of fertility awareness. In fact, an Australian study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing reported that only 13 percent of women seeking fertility treatment could correctly identify their fertile days (the four or five days before — including the day of — ovulation, when pregnancy can be achieved) each cycle. The study concluded that many medical professionals were recommending invasive treatments over basic infertility education or natural supplementation. While prescription medications and invasive treatments are certainly necessary in many cases, many couples are pushed down this path prematurely.

When it comes to fertility, timing is everything. A couple can decrease the time to conception by knowing when the woman ovulates and by having intercourse in the few days before, and on the day of ovulation. There are many ways to predict ovulation — charting basal body temperature (BBT), watching for cervical mucus changes, using urine-based ovulation prediction kits (OPKs) or using an electronic fertility monitor. New tools are making it easier and more convenient to track all these fertility indicators in one place, such as OvaGraph.

It can be easy to blame yourself when getting pregnant is difficult, but this isn’t the answer. The journey to conception requires both your and your partner’s full dedication. That means that understanding the reproductive health of both the man and the woman is essential. It comes down to gathering all the information you can about both your and your partner’s body, and then using that information to determine your best chance for adding a new member to your family.

About the author:

Ethan Lynette is partner for Fairhaven Health, a company that manufactures products that help couples conceive naturally and provides support to women throughout pregnancy and nursing. Fairhaven believes it’s crucial to get to know its customers well and provide support and education to couples desiring to start a family.

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