Infertility In Men
Food & Lifestyle Tips Towards Better Health Introducing Chinese Medicine and Fertility Concepts
Chinese Medicine uses a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, viewing illness or disease as a disharmony in the body’s natural balance. To help you participate in your own healing or balancing process I have written this brochure to explain some of the basic terms Chinese Medicine practitioners use to describe health, the way the body functions and how they relate to increasing your chances to conceive a healthy child.
Vitamins & Supplements Vitamin supplements are useful where deficiencies occur. However, some vitamins and mineral supplements can cause toxicity in high doses, so it is wise to speak to a health care professional before going on a regime of vitamins.
Important Vitamins & Supplements
To Increase Sperm Count
Vitamin C: Is an anti-oxidant. It helps reduce agglutination problems and increase sperm count. It is an especially important vitamin supplement for smokers.
Zinc: helps increase sperm count. However be wary of copper deficiency with long term use.
Vitamin B-12 and folate: are important vitamins, especially in men who smoke or have a diet high in refined foods.
Co-enzyme Q-10: Helps increase sperm count and motility by acting as an anti-oxidant.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFA): Found in fresh water fish and flax seed oil among some sources. Flax seed oil is a great source of the good fatty acids you need for fertility (ALA), especially if you also have dry scaly skin, dry hair and varicose veins. A good Omega 3 fish oil is sufficient, however look for one that is good quality lead/mercury/heavy metal free as large ocean fish can absorb lots of metals and toxins in their flesh. If it also has Omega 6 added, don’t get it as we already get far enough from cooking oils etc and too much omega 6 can potentiate inflammatory processes.
N-Acetyl Carnitine: Good for people under stress. Also assists in memory function, fat metabolism and energy.
Tribulus: Again, not all supplements are created equal so it is always good to go for good quality. There are plenty of cheap rip-off imitations of tribulus and most are aimed at body building etc. It took me a while to come around to recommending this supplement however for some men it will be beneficial. Recent research has shown that this has proven to be a very useful herb for sperm morphology, particularly enhancing sperm acrosomes and their penetration ability.
Environment, Toxins & Chemicals There is a great deal of modern research that supports the declining sperm count in young males with the increase in use and exposure to toxic chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides and pollutants and heat. Certain chemicals found in plastics can mimic natural human chemicals causing imbalances and links have been made to infertility in men and women. Other pollutants include dental amalgams, which can be antagonistic to zinc, lead found in paint, dry cleaning chemicals and petrol fumes. Due to the prevalent use of fertilizers, pesticides and hormones in common agricultural practice it is better to eat organic fruit, veggies and meat. Basic recommendations are: get non-mercury tooth fillings, avoid pesticide exposure, use BPA free plastics and avoid microwaving food in plastic containers.
Drugs & Alcohol Alcohol in Chinese medical terms causes heat, which raises the body temperature and leads to less functional sperm. Studies with animals have shown that an intoxicating level of alcohol in the blood reduces fertility by around 50% over a 24-hour period. A glass or 2 a day isn’t really going to hurt unless you are hot and sweaty at night in bed which is a good indicator to cut down.
THC in marijuana has been shown to drastically reduce the production of sperm and interferes with the binding of the sperm to an egg.
Smoking has been shown in studies to reduce the ability of conception by 16-20% in males.
Coffee has a stimulating and heating effect on the body and can also be unproductive to the fertile process.
Certain drugs such as pain-killers can have an adverse effect on fertility so it is best to check with your GP while trying to conceive.
Water is always a point of contention. Chlorine can lead to a deficiency of vitamin E in large quantities, and the debate on the need for fluoride continues, as many European countries ban and cease to use it. Town water can also contain trace levels of toxins, unwanted minerals and heavy metals, including high levels of copper from rusty pipes that can lead to a deficiency of Zinc, essential in sperm development. A good quality water purifier is a simple solution.
What are they and why do I need them?
To make it simple, think of an avocado. When you cut it and leave it out exposed to oxygen it goes brown. This is a form of oxidisation, when cells are exposed to oxygen or pollution they ‘oxidise’ and disintegrate. If you put lemon juice on the avocado, it will last a little longer and not go brown, so the lemon acts as an ‘anti-oxidant’. So when we eat junk food, don’t exercise and are exposed to fumes everyday, cells in our body oxidise quicker.
Here are some foods with the highest ‘anti-oxidant’ rating:
- Small red bean (dried), 1/2 cup 11. Strawberry, 1 cup
- Wild blueberry, 1 cup 12. Red delicious apple, 1
- Red kidney bean (dried), 1/2 cup 13. Granny Smith apple, 1
- Pinto bean, 1/2 cup 14. Pecan, 1 ounce
- Blueberry (cultivated), 1 cup 15. Sweet cherry, 1 cup
- Cranberry, 1 cup (whole) 16. Black plum, 1
- Artichoke (cooked hearts), 1 cup 17. Russet potato, 1 cooked
- Blackberry, 1 cup 18. Black bean (dried), 1/2 cup
- Prune, 1/2 cup 19. Plum, 1
- Raspberry, 1 cup 20. Gala apple, 1
In Short Contributing Factors to Male Infertility:
- Stress : Stress lowers adrenal levels and natural corticosteroids (CS). This sets off a chain of events decreasing Vitamin B5 and 6, Vitamin c, Magnesium and Zinc. This Decrease in natural CS leads to an increase of histamine thus a greater incidence of inflammation and heat in the testes.
- Over heating of the testes (work exposure, hot baths/saunas, tight underwear, hot body constitution, varicocele) effects sperm quality.
- Genetic factors such as cystic fibrosis and Klinefelters.
- Nutritional deficiencies and poor diet.
- Environmental toxins: phthalates, hydrocarbons, pesticides.
- Heavy Metal Toxicity: Lead, cadmium, arsenic, etc.
- Substance Abuse: Cocaine, Marijuana, etc.
- Radiation exposure.
- Varicocele: A varicose vein in the scrotum. It is a fairly common problem in infertile males and is definitely worth getting checked out by your GP, IVF Specialist or Urologist.
- Estrogen analogues: This means things in a mans diet that are chemically very close in structure to estrogens (female hormones). BPA plastics is one and possibly too much soy in the diet. This includes soy protein fillers in some foods as well as soy milk/powder/tofu etc.
Many people also ask about appropriate timing for intercourse and frequency. If you already have a very low sperm count, daily ejaculations may decrease your count even further. I recommend ejaculation every 3-4 days and more often when your partner is ovulating.
Recent research shows that ejaculation everyday for a week increases sperm motility and morphology however may drop count by over 50%. If your sperm count is good and morphology/motility is the problem, more ejaculation can be beneficial in the short term. In this situation ejaculation every 2-3 days and daily during your partner’s ovulation period is recommended. In all situations it is better to at least ejaculate once in a week, as free radical damage to sperm accumulates after this period. This is just a general guideline because people ask, however, sex is meant to be fun and loving; not mechanical and strained. If anything female orgasm is probably the most important factor in terms of timing etc as there are internal physiological mechanisms that help sperm passage in the cervix when orgasm occurs.
Ways To Improve My Health:
- Stress less: Take time out to relax and meditate or walk in the park with fresh air.
- Eat more healthy and fresh food on a regular basis, especially leafy greens.
- Reduce or stop smoking.
- Stop recreational drug use.
- Reduce alcohol intake, especially around days trying to conceive.
- Wear loose fitting boxer shorts.
- Avoid or reduce chemical exposure in the workplace.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Drink more water, purified is probably best, and cut down on the coffee (coffee does not hydrate, it dehydrates as it is a diuretic).
- Increase your essential fatty acids (EFA’s): flax oil, fish
- Munch on pumpkin seeds: good source of zinc and EFA
- Don’t eat crap!Poor diet is strongly linked to infertility; it may even be your sole problem. So cut down on pastries, refined foods, high sugar foods and take-away junk food. You’ll feel better, have more energy, loose weight and increase your chances of having a baby.
But what do I do now?
Look at your diet. Do you have loose stools and bloating? Try to find the foods that cause the problem and eliminate them. In Chinese medicine, each organ in the body rests and becomes active at different times of the day. The organs important to fertility need to be rested at night especially between 11pm and 7am. It’s not always practical but shift work and late nights are eventually detrimental to your general health and fertility chances. Try to stress less, take up yoga or meditation. Talk to your GP if you suspect you may have a varicocele and get an ultrasound.
Cool down your testicles. That means shorter hot showers, no baths, loose fitting boxers, not wearing underwear at night, using cooler bedding. If you have been diagnosed with a varicocele, recent studies support that cooling the testicles twice a day with an ice pack can greatly improve sperm count and morphology. Take the herbs prescribed to balance your body. Acupuncture is a great way to balance the body and reduce stress. And finally, please don’t put pressure on each other! Trying to conceive can be such a difficult time for couples, but please don’t forget to take time out to relax.