Relationships are a two-way street, and the most successful ones depend on both partners putting in equal effort. So when it comes to starting a family, it makes sense that neither partner bears the burden alone when infertility problems arise.
Medical professionals generally use the term infertility to describe couples who have tried unsuccessfully to conceive a child for more than a year or six months for women over the age of 35.
Women can be infertile, but so can men, says Andrew Sun, MD, urologist on the medical staff at Methodist Dallas Medical Center.
“Men are the reason for a couple’s infertility half of the time,” Dr. Sun says. “Unfortunately, the burden and blame of infertility have fallen upon women historically.”
The ideal way to treat infertility is for both partners to get tested at the same time, Dr. Sun says.
He recommends that men consult with a fellowship-trained male fertility specialist, who will run a semen analysis and hormone panel. For anyone reluctant to visit a doctor, some tests can be submitted from the comfort of home.
“Sperm quality is like a ‘check engine’ light for your body,” Dr. Sun says. “Finding that the sperm is unhealthy is often a sign that the body is unhealthy.” – Dr. Andrew Sun
“Sperm quality is like a ‘check engine’ light for your body,” Dr. Sun says. “Finding that the sperm is unhealthy is often a sign that the body is unhealthy.”
– Dr. Andrew Sun
Testing for male infertility requires a few simple tests, which can often be submitted from home.
HOW TO KEEP SPERM HEALTHY
There are things men can do to improve their chances of parenthood and contribute to their overall health.
Dr. Sun provided a few recommendations:
- Lose weight – “Excess weight messes with proper sperm production and hormone functioning,” he says.
- Eat healthy – Fast food and processed foods contain higher levels of chemical byproducts that can alter sperm health and hormone levels. A proper diet includes an assortment of fruits and vegetables, along with healthy plant-based fats, lean protein, and a low to moderate amount of caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.
- Exercise regularly – Exercising increases beneficial hormones, normalizes weight, and reduces stress levels, which can contribute to fertility problems.
- Stop smoking – Tobacco use decreases the quality of sperm. It can damage sperm DNA, its shape, and its ability to fertilize an egg.
- Correct hormonal imbalances – Studies suggest that overall testosterone levels have been declining for decades, which is why seeing a specialist may be important.
- Avoid hot tubs and saunas – Semen is sensitive to heat, and subjecting your body to prolonged high temperatures is not good for your sperm health. “That’s like boiling the sperm,” Dr. Sun explains.
“Making the body healthy makes the sperm healthy,” Dr. Sun says. “All lifestyle changes should be done now so you can live a longer, healthier life and be a better dad for your family.”
Exercise and a good diet can help men maintain a healthy sperm count.
INFERTILITY IS NOTHING NEW
Health information is abundant in today’s digital age, but so is misinformation. That’s especially true for a hot-button topic like infertility.
Dr. Sun recommends patients ignore alarmist media articles about a widespread decline in male fertility.
“We’re not all going to become sterile,” he says, pointing to methodology problems in commonly cited studies. “There’s no real hard data showing infertility cases are increasing.”
It’s possible that the decline in sperm quality reported in these studies can be attributed to increasingly unhealthy lifestyles — eating poorly and becoming more sedentary, Dr. Sun says.
He also notes that infertility has always been relatively common, affecting 10% to 15% of couples. Of course, that doesn’t make it any easier for couples who struggle to conceive, Dr. Sun acknowledges.
That’s why it’s so important when times are tough to lean on each other and share the burden — and its solution — equally.
“This difficult time requires a lot of support from both partners,” he says. “This is very much a shared journey just like parenthood will be. You’re going to have to support each other for many years to raise a kid together — now is the time to start being very supportive.”