IVF for male infertility may feel like the obvious—perhaps only—option. If you or your partner have been diagnosed with male factor infertility, you know the drill.
- First there was the excitement of trying to have a baby.
- Then came the waiting.
- Then the anxiety.
- Finally, the awkward doctor’s appointments, where you’re asked to do things that you’d prefer to keep at home.
But none of that compares to the little slip of paper telling you that your man parts aren’t performing to baby-making standards.
Diagnosis: Male Factor Infertility.
So what happens next?
Your partner receives treatment.
At least, for many men, this is how it goes. The man has a problem with sperm quality, and then their medical team immediately pivots to treating his partner via IVF.
There’s a problem here.
Guys, your reproductive parts aren’t just for making babies. In fact, your sperm and semen give us a window into the world of your health. We need to take them seriously.
The awkwardness problem
There is a real stigma surrounding male infertility. Feelings of shame and insufficiency may cause you to shy away from paying attention to your reproductive parts. You get the diagnosis, and you don’t want to investigate further.
I mean, really, who wants to do another semen analysis?
This is one reason why medical attention and treatment so often shifts to IVF for male infertility. But this approach leaves your health in the dust—sidelined as you go forth with tunnel vision into your plan for pregnancy.
Did you stop to ask if your infertility diagnosis is a symptom of an actual health problem? This diagnosis is about more than the inability to make a baby.
Men and women both need to learn what male fertility means for a man’s quality of life, beyond fatherhood.
What causes male factor infertility?
Male infertility is a complex issue. Feelings of embarrassment cause limited sample sizes and unreported cases. That makes it a difficult issue to study in labs.
The causes are still under careful study, but there are some consistent trends:
- Environmental factors
Genetics have a strong influence on sperm count and motility. Sperm abnormalities are important because they account for 25% of male infertility cases.
There are at least 2,000 genes involved in the production of mature sperm. That means there is a lot to study! Even slight genetic changes can result in infertility.
There is good news. Genes do not control everything. Your lifestyle choices can change your genetic expression for the better. This is where prevention is a man’s best friend.
The most detrimental lifestyle choices to a man’s fertility are:
- Poor diet
How is male factor infertility diagnosed?
Twelve months of unprotected sex and no baby will lead to a diagnosis of infertility. To determine whether it is due to male or female infertility, usually the fertility specialist will examine a sample of the man’s semen. In severe male factor infertility, genetic testing is common to rule out certain conditions.
How is male factor infertility treated?
Up to 30% of couples’ infertility issues result from male infertility alone. Many doctors might recommend IVF as the only logical treatment option for male factor infertility.
This leaves the underlying issues which cause male factor infertility unchecked.
Many couples could avoid expensive IVF treatments by taking a natural approach. Treating the root cause of male infertility could make all the difference.
And if you still end up going forward with IVF after trying all of the steps below? Great, you’re much more likely to succeed!
6 steps to improve your male reproductive (and total) health:
If you have been diagnosed with male factor infertility, here are some simple steps you can take now to improve your fertility and overall health.
1. Eat a smart fertility-friendly diet.
A diet for fertility requires variety and moderation.
Men’s fertility friends:
- Healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin D
- Fruits and veggies
Fish oil is an excellent source of omega 3’s. A study in 2020 showed that fish oil helps to improve semen volume, concentration, and sperm count. It even helped to improve the sperm themselves. It is most effective after taking it for sixty days.
The omega-3 fatty acids are what makes fish oil so helpful for men with fertility issues. You can also get omega-3s from seaweed, algae, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, and beans.
Zinc and folate are also excellent in combination. Together, they can increase sperm count and concentration.
A man’s fertility enemies include:
- Unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats and trans fatty acids
- High calorie diets
- Lots of red and processed meats
- Too much soy
- Processed foods
Soy is in many processed foods, but it is also in some health foods such as tempeh and tofu. These foods are dense protein sources, but they also encourage estrogen in men.
You need a small amount of estrogen in their bodies, but too much will harm your sperm. Synthetic soy is even more harmful. Avoid synthetic soy.
As always, choose fresh foods over those with plastic packaging and canned goods. Packaging can hold hormone disruptors, and processed foods do not nourish your body to create healthy sperm. They may also include chemicals and other hormone disruptors.
There isn’t one magical food which will fix fertility. You will need to keep a balanced diet over time to see real change.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
Obesity can cause infertility because it affects your hormonal balance. Hormonal imbalances can damage your sperm quality.
What’s interesting is that your body weight doesn’t just impact your own fertility. If your partner does get pregnant, your body weight may impact your child’s future fertility.
Baby boys have stem cells which are essential for sperm production in their later years. A 2017 study showed that a father’s obesity alters his son’s reproductive stem cells. Science calls this “epigenetic reprogramming.”
If your weight is out of control and you’re serious about having a baby, now is a good time to talk with a functional medicine expert. With help, you can work towards a healthier weight.
3. Reduce your oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals in your body. This results from bad habits like tobacco use, too much alcohol, and obesity. If you want to see your partner get pregnant, get healthy and quit the tobacco and alcohol.
Interestingly, studies show that most infertile men have some form of oxidative stress. To combat this, antioxidant therapy is a common recommendation for male factor infertility. Studies show that men taking antioxidants in supplement form had better sperm function and DNA integrity. Some of the most helpful antioxidants for male factor infertility are vitamins C and E.
4. Reduce unhealthy sources of caffeine.
Studies on coffee are inconsistent. Some suggest that coffee consumption lengthens the conception process. Others show there is no effect. This may be a case of overconsumption vs. moderation. Point being: more research is needed.
Studies on caffeine in soda and energy drinks do show a connection to male fertility. These beverages have negative impacts on semen volume, count, and concentration. They also contain many harmful synthetic flavorings and tons of sugar.
In other words… Cut out caffeinated sodas and energy drinks if you’re having trouble making a baby. You can make your choice regarding coffee, but don’t drink it in excess.
5. Mitigate unhealthy environmental factors.
Toxic chemicals and air pollution are harmful to men’s fertility. There are practical steps men can take to avoid environmental toxins. Buy an in-home air filter. Avoid inhaling home improvement fumes and household cleaners.
6. Make even small lifestyle changes to prevent overheating your man parts.
Not all lifestyle changes that make a difference are huge. Here are a few pointers for better self-care in the men’s health department.
- Avoid overheating the testicles. Saunas and hot tubs are fun. But when you’re trying to make a baby, you don’t want to overheat the little swimmers.
- Sitting for too long also causes overheating. If you work a desk job, make sure to take frequent walks or stretch breaks.
- Tight clothes cause restriction of the scrotum. Aside from being uncomfortable, this also damages sperm production.
A note on prostate cancer
There is increasing medical attention to the connection between male fertility and cancer.
The connection is not 100% clear yet. But, infertile men have twice the likelihood of developing testicular and prostate cancer.
That’s why you can’t ignore a male factor infertility diagnosis! It’s not just about making babies; it’s about men’s health.
In some cases infertility may be the result of prostate cancer. For men with an infertility diagnosis, further evaluation may be worthwhile, to rule out other diagnoses.
Take care of men’s health while planning for a baby
It’s time to get rid of this “either-or” myth, where we focus on making a baby or on treating the underlying health conditions. Male infertility means something isn’t working right.
Thankfully, functional medicine is all about finding the underlying problem, rather than treating a single complaint. That’s what you need right now. Don’t jump straight to IVF for male infertility. Paying attention to male fertility could help protect you from other medical complications.
Men and women both deserve to live healthy, fulfilling lives. That includes working towards holding that baby in your arms that you long for, but it doesn’t mean sacrificing anybody’s health. You can work towards health and a baby.