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FertilityFor YouMale Fertility

Back to Basics: Understanding Men’s Reproductive Health

By June 3, 2021No Comments
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Global estimates from a survey conducted in 2010 show that infertility is a still common issue affecting 48.5 million couples worldwide[1]. And that figure is rising.

As many as one in four Irish couples now experience difficulty conceiving, even when they have had regular, unprotected sexual intercourse for 12 months or longer.

And guess what? In up to half of these couples, male infertility plays at least a partial role.

What are the symptoms of male infertility?

The most obvious (in every sense of the word) sign of male infertility is, of course, the inability to conceive a child. And in most cases, there may even be no other apparent signs or symptoms.

In some instances, however, an underlying problem such as an inherited disorder, hormonal imbalance, dilated veins around the testicle or a condition that blocks the passage of sperm causes signs and symptoms such as:-

Problems with sexual function — e.g.: difficulty with ejaculation or small volumes of fluid ejaculated, reduced sexual desire, or difficulty maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction)
Pain, swelling or a lump in the testicle area
Recurrent respiratory infections
Inability to smell
Abnormal breast growth (gynecomastia)
Decreased facial or body hair or other signs of a chromosomal or hormonal abnormality
Lower than normal sperm count (fewer than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen, or a total sperm count of less than 39 million per ejaculate)

When should men see their doctor to discuss their fertility?

It is recommended that men consult with their GP if they have been unable to conceive a child after 12 months of regular, unprotected intercourse. Medical practitioners advise that men should meet with their consultant sooner should they have any of the following:-

Erection or ejaculation problems, low sex drive, or other problems with sexual function
Pain, discomfort or swelling in the testicle area
Any history of testicle, prostate or sexual problems
A groin, testicle, penis or scrotum surgery
A partner over age 35

What causes male infertility?

Male infertility can be caused by low sperm production, abnormal sperm function — which may be due to undescended testicles, genetic defects, health problems such as diabetes, or infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, mumps or HIV — or blockages that prevent the delivery of sperm.

Illnesses, injuries, chronic health problems, obesity, lifestyle choices (smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, etc.) and other factors, such as age, may contribute to male infertility.

Male fertility is a complex process. But any man’s fertility is wholly dependent on the quality and quantity of his sperm.

In short, a man must produce healthy sperm. If the number of sperm in a man’s semen (sperm count) is low, it decreases the odds that one of his sperm will fertilise his partner’s egg. A low sperm count is fewer than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen or fewer than 39 million per ejaculate.

In addition to being of the requisite quality, sperm must be functional and able to move. If the movement (motility) or function of a man’s sperm is abnormal, the sperm may not be able to reach or penetrate his partner’s egg.

 

Medical causes of male infertility

Problems with male fertility can be caused by a number of health issues and medical treatments.

Varicocele

A varicocele is a swelling of the veins that drain the testicle, which results in reduced sperm quality and quantity. Although the exact reason that varicoceles cause infertility remains unknown (it is believed that it may be related to abnormal blood flow), varicoceles is the

most common reversible cause of male infertility.

Low sperm count

Problems with sperm count can affect as many as four men in ten. A man’s sperm count is considered low if he has less than 15 million sperm in a millilitre (ml) of semen.

A host of factors can cause a man’s sperm count to be low (also known as oligozoospermia), or for the quality of his sperm to be less than ideal. These include:-

Undescended testes
Infections of the testes
Enlarged veins in the testes (see above)
Tumours of the testes
STIs such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia
Previous infections (mumps, for instance, can cause a drop in sperm count)
Excessive alcohol consumption
Smoking
Obesity
Certain prescribed medications
Genetic disorders
Hormonal problems such as hypogonadism
Reduced male hormone production

Ejaculation issues

Retrograde ejaculation occurs when semen enters the bladder during orgasm instead of emerging out the tip of the penis.

Various health conditions can cause retrograde ejaculation, including diabetes, spinal injuries, medications, and surgery of the bladder, prostate or urethra.

Chromosome defects

Inherited disorders such as Klinefelter’s syndrome — in which a male is born with two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome (instead of one X and one Y) — cause abnormal development of the male reproductive organs. Other genetic syndromes associated with infertility include cystic fibrosis and Kallmann’s syndrome.

Problems with sexual intercourse

Problems in the bedroom are more common than you might imagine, and these have obvious repercussions on fertility. These can include trouble achieving or maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction), premature ejaculation, painful intercourse, anatomical abnormalities such as having a urethral opening beneath the penis (hypospadias), or psychological or relationship problems that interfere with sex.

Certain medications

Testosterone replacement therapy, long-term anabolic steroid use, cancer medications (chemotherapy) and certain other medications can impair sperm production and decrease male fertility.

Prior surgeries

Certain surgeries may prevent you from having sperm in your ejaculate, including vasectomy, scrotal or testicular surgeries, prostate surgeries, and large abdominal surgeries performed for testicular and rectal cancers, among others. 

Environmental causes

Overexposure to certain environmental elements such as heat, toxins and chemicals can reduce sperm production or sperm function.

Overheating the testicles

Elevated temperatures may impair sperm production and function. Although studies are limited and are inconclusive, frequent use of saunas or hot tubs may temporarily impair sperm count.

And while there remains debate as to whether keeping your laptop on your lap appreciably impacts sperm health, experts agree that heat is generally bad for testicles, so it’s advisable that men who are already struggling with fertility might want to work at their desks, or reduce/minimise the amount of time they place a computer on their lap.

Health, lifestyle and other causes of male infertility

Other common causes of male infertility include drug use, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, stress, exposure to toxins, over-heating the testicles and obesity. The latter can impair fertility in several ways, including directly impacting sperm themselves, as well as by causing hormone changes that reduce male fertility.

Can infertility be prevented?

The bad news? Male infertility isn’t always preventable. The good news? It often is – and can frequently be reversed with some key lifestyle changes.

If you’re looking to boost your fertility, it is always recommended that you don’t smoke, limit or abstain from alcohol, maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy, balanced diet, manage stress levels and avoid exposure to pesticides, heavy metals and other toxins.

[1] World Health Organization. Global prevalence of infertility, infecundity and childlessness. Available from: http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/infertility/burden/en/ Retrieved August 6, 2018.

 

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Amy Martin

Marketing Director

Amy is a high achieving individual with a number of marketing awards under her belt, including Young Digital Business Person of the Year 2019. She is a big believer in digital marketing and an expert in executing personalised targeted campaigns. Amy strives to learn from data and campaigns that show return on investment.

Robert Gordon

Managing Director, Gordons Chemists

 

Robert Gordon, director at Gordons Chemist's. Gordons Chemists is a chain of more than 60 pharmacies, located in NI and Scotland. Gordons Chemists is Northern Ireland's largest independent pharmacy chain.

Dr. Debbie Collins

MBBchBAO MRCGP

 

Dr. Debbie Collins MBBchBAO MRCGP, a practicing GP and partner in Belfast. She has a passion for patient education and advocacy. Her special interests are Women's Health and Fertility

Sarah Trimble

Nutritional Therapist

 

Sarah Trimble - a nutritional therapist with a passion for good food instead of fad diets. Sarah has a particular Interest in using the power of nutrition to support hormonal imbalances and reproductive health.

Barbara Scott

Director, Seren Natural Fertility
Chair, Association of Reproductive Reflexologists

 

Barbara Scott is Chair of The Association of Reproductive Reflexologists, founder of Seren Natural Fertility and author of Reflexology for Fertility. In 2017, she was awarded ‘Complementary Therapist of the Year’ by the Federation of Holistic Therapists and has been nominated for several awards within the field of complementary therapy. In 2019 she was awarded the Innovation in Reflexology Award by the Association of Reflexologists.

Barbara speaks and lectures globally on her integrative approach to supporting couples having difficulties conceiving. She has spoken at many of the Fertility Shows and Fertility Fest. Alongside her own busy clinics, she also trains practitioners in providing this integrative, approach to fertility and reproductive healthcare and well-being. The ARR (Association of Reproductive Reflexologists) has trained practitioners globally, from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, and most areas of the UK.

Her expertise and passion is in advocating a patient-centred and integrative approach to supporting both men and women on their journey to parenthood.

Cindy Charles

Fertility coach and Founder of Fertilelife

 

Cindy Charles- Fertility coach and Founder of Fertilelife. Cindy is a committed advocate of social and personal development. Her own life experiences inspired her fertility support services. Cindy has worked with the Fertility Network UK, and has had the privilege to work as a resident Fertility Coach for the London Women's Clinic on Harley Street. Cindy believes in the importance of nurturing our own fertility.

Dr. Lyuda Shkrobot

MD, MSc Gynecologist, Fertility specialist at unq.life fertility clinic

 

Dr Lyuda has a special interest in reproductive immunology. Dr Shkrobot assisted in establishing the first European Donor Egg programme at Sims, coordinating and liaising with Intersono Clinic in Ukraine Advisors. She is passionate about patient-centred, results-driven care.

Jill Martin

Business Development Director

 

Jill Martin is a trained nurse and highly experienced pharmaceutical professional. Most of her business acumen and skills were developed by the world class training she received at Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK). Hard work and focus have resulted in a varied and successful career working in several different disease areas. As part of the Diabetes team at GSK, an opportunity arose to develop and support education programmes that were rolled out to the NHS across the UK, which resulted in improvement of Strategy and Patient Care. Jill feels that education is the key to understanding and has made it a personal goal to self-improve and support learning for others especially within the healthcare arena. The last 10 years have been devoted to trying to impart the importance of Fertility Health early in the life cycle of us all, rather than when infertility issues arise. She is delighted to have joined Nua Fertility on their mission to support people and communities to understand the importance of gut health on our fertility well-being.
 

Share a little about yourself—the things we wouldn’t learn from simply reading your professional bio.

The most important thing to me in life are family and friends, it breaks my heart when people are broken and I know that I am always trying to find solutions to problems. I love being outside rather than sitting at a desk and would rather lift the phone and have a chat with someone rather than email or message. I find people interesting and will often be that annoying person who starts a conversation on a train or plane.
 

What was your journey to parenthood like?

I feel very blessed to have had my family naturally, although not without some challenges. Following a miscarriage and thyroid issues conception wasn’t as easy as I would have hoped. My personal experience made me appreciate how important it is to value ways to improve your fertility health. This set me on my own journey to find out more, by surrounding myself with a network of experts in this area who I am continually learning from. When possible I take every opportunity to share best practice or send information to others that I know who are also seeking to understand more.
 

What is your ideal way to relax and unwind?

Juggling home life and working full time with a lot of travel, for most of my adult life made me find a way to relax that may seem strange. I love getting my trainers on and going for a long walk or run, even in the rain! Sometimes I will listen to a podcast and other times just be mindful of my surroundings. I find this a great way to clear my head, think about priorities and take time out for myself.
 

If there was just one thing you could impart on women on their journey to parenthood, what would it be.

From an early age I loved to make jigsaws, little did I know that this skill would help me later in life to understand the complexity of fertility and the miracle of life. Everyone is unique, every situation is different, like a jigsaw there are lots of pieces that need to be put together to become complete. Explore all options, chat to experts don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Aoibheann Murphy

Chief Financial Officer

 

Having trained with PWC, Aoibheann qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1997. She subsequently spent eight years working in industry, gaining invaluable experience in many areas In 2005 Aoibheann became MD of Pangur Consulting, providing professional expertise to a broad client base. She is looking forward to the new challenge of Nua Fertility.
 

Share a little about yourself—the things we wouldn’t learn from simply reading your professional bio.

 

What was your journey to parenthood like?

Right craic!
 

Do you prefer podcasts or books? And of the one that you prefer, what is a show or title that you recommend?

I love sport…any sport…and the outdoors. Living in the Barrow valley I get to enjoy swimming and kayaking in the Barrow and exploring the Blackstairs mountains. Since I hung up my soccer boots (the body just couldn’t take it anymore!), I’ve been cycling with my lovely friends in Mount Leinster Wheelers and was chuffed to have completed the Ironman 70.3 triathlon event in Dublin in 2019!
I’m an avid reader…books beat podcasts hands down!...although recently I’ve dabbled with audio books through the library app Borrow Box. “A Little Life” left its mark on me. A harrowing story, definitely not for the faint hearted.
 

If there was just one thing you could impart on women on their journey to parenthood, what would it be?

Don’t be consumed by the roles in your life – parent, partner, employee etc. Parenthood, be it getting there or going through it, will have its tough times. Cherishing yourself as an individual and making time for yourself can help you through those times….it’s good to be a bit selfish!!

Mark Mullins

Director of Sales

 

What was your journey to parenthood like?

To be honest it was very difficult. At the beginning we thought that when we decided that we wanted to start a family Deborah would fall pregnant shortly afterwards like many of her friends. As time went by, we started to suspect something was wrong. After initial tests we found out that I had a low sperm count which meant that we would have to go down the assisted pregnancy route. This took me several months to get my head around as I blamed myself for this. All I wanted was my wife to be able to go through the pregnancy journey. We couldn’t wait to become parents. There were many long and painful nights where I thought this would never happen for us. After several failed attempts we decided to look at further ways of improving our chances. This led us to look at fertility supplements, our diet, exercise. I will never forget when that morning during our Two Week Wait when Deborah woke me up at 5 a.m. to show me those two lines, we had both been yearning for! We are blessed to now have our beautiful daughter.
 

On challenging days, what kept you going? Where did you find inspiration?

My wife was my inspiration. She kept me going through those challenging months and years. She was there to help me deal with everything. The guilt I felt when I saw her having to go through everything.
 

What is your ideal was to relax and unwind?

My latest passion is cooking on my BBQ. I find it so peaceful and I just switch off. It just gives me a bit of alone time which everyone needs.
 

If there was just one thing you could impart on men as they begin trying to become parents, what would it be?

I would highly recommend communicating with friends and family. A problem shared is a problem halved. Failing that there are some really good private Facebook groups for men suffering from infertility. I found this great support through the good and especially the bad times.