Explaining Male Fertility
Did you know that 50% of miscarriages are due to the health of the sperm? This is a direct reflection on the health of the male. This is one of many interesting fertility facts…. It’s not always the woman’s ‘fault’! Making a healthy baby doesn’t always just happen; there are hundreds and thousands of biochemical reactions that need to take place for a healthy conception to occur.
What is needed for healthy sperm?
Male and female genitalia have many distinguishing features, but one of the most obvious differences is that the penis and testes are external to the body, and the ovaries and uterus are internal structures. There is a specific reason for this; the penis needs to be able to become erect for intercourse and the testes need to be kept cooler than body temperature to ensure that the sperm survive. The uterus obviously needs to be protected to enable the incubation of the foetus. It is important to remember this as we discuss the features of sperm health, as they are exposed to their external environment more so than the female reproductive organs.
I am going to discuss the important factors necessary for male fertility when it comes to making babies:
- The number of viable sperm (count)
- The shape of the sperm (morphology)
- The speed of the sperm (motility)
- The erectile function of the penis
- Stress and the effect cortisol has on male fertility
When I start explaining these 5 areas to my patients, they understand why it is important to pay as much attention to the health of the man, as it is to the health of the woman. Healthy sperm doesn’t just happen naturally, it takes three months for the sperm to develop into the sperm cells we see in the image above. The diet and lifestyle you are leading now, will effect the ejaculated sperm in three months time. So if you had a month of high alcohol consumption, highly refined sugar diet, lack of water and exercise, then your sperm is going to be sub-optimal to that if you were leading a healthier lifestyle.
Normal Male Hormone Activity
One of the daily tasks of a man’s body is to produce testosterone. Testosterone, as we know is a hormone important for spermatogenesis (sperm production) and begins to take effect in the body at puberty, and gradually decreases as we get older.
Testosterone production is controlled by the hypothalamus and the anterior pituitary gland. These two hormone secreting glands are situated in the brain.They release the following 3 hormones:
- GnRH – gonadotropin releasing hormone stimulates the anterior pituitary gland to release FSH and LH.
- FSH – follicle stimulating hormone stimulates the production of sperm.
- LH – luteinizing hormone stimulates the production of testosterone.
Then what happens is FSH and testosterone stimulate the production of sperm in the testes. And do you know what you need to make all of these hormones? Cholesterol! [Aside]: This is a prime example of why low fat diets are not good for you, they actually inhibit your body from producing necessary hormones needed for healthy fertility.
So one of the dietary measures you can take to ensure your sperm count is viable for reproduction is to maintain a balance of animal fats in the diet including:
- Grass fed organic red meat
- Free range organic chicken
- Wild caught deep sea fish (1-2 times per week) like sardines, mackerel, and salmon
- Organic eggs (one of the best fertility friendly foods you can eat)
- Organ meats (lambs brains, chicken livers, sweetbreads (thymus gland or pancreas)
- Cultured organic butter
Focusing on a diet containing animal fats will increase your body’s ability to synthesise sex hormones needed to improve your sperm count. These foods should be consumed in a balanced diet with plenty of fresh vegetables, fermented foods, and fruit daily.
Problems With Male Hormones
One of the problems I am seeing more and more in clinic with my male fertility patients is excess oestrogen.
How does this happen you may ask? There is a process called aromatisation which can cause testosterone to convert to oestrogen. This does occur naturally to a certain extent as men age, but we are seeing it more commonly in men aged 30-40 years old.
What effect does excess oestrogen have on sperm health? It encourages many oestrogen dominant features such as increased fat tissue synthesis (including breast tissue enlargement in men, and in some cases links to breast cancer have been found with elevated oestrogen levels in the blood), low sperm count (due to the testosterone being inactive), low libido and erectile dysfunction.
How can you make sure you normalise your aromatise activity? Studies have shown 4 key factors to help reduce aromatase activity:
- Weight loss – aromatisation occurs in adipocytes (fat cells), exercise and a whole foods/ paleo style diet will help to lose fat mass and maintain a healthy weight.
- Address inflammation – using turmeric and fish oil will help to minimise inflammatory mediators in the blood.
- Adress zinc deficiency – ask your naturopath to test your zinc levels.
- Address gut dysbiosis – stool analysis is a great way to identify the balance of commensal and pathogenic bacteria. Your naturopath will have access to labs which can screen your stools for your bacteria balance, and then help to correct it with a diet rich in fermented foods and probiotic therapy.
So now you know a bit about the importance of testosterone and its involvement in male fertility make sure you follow the next blog post to see the effects stress has on testosterone production and erectile dysfunction.