Can Functional Medicine help with Male Fertility?
Men’s Health Week 2021 concentrates on optimising wellbeing as life moves on after Covid-19. Men are being encouraged to adopt healthy lifestyle strategies to benefit both their mental and physical health.
This blog will look at one area of men’s health capable of causing huge mental anguish – poor fertility.
It’s believed male fertility issues are a factor in almost half of all couples who have trouble conceiving.
Millions of sperm are released with each ejaculation. Of these, only a few will make it anywhere near an egg. To stand any chance of fertilisation, as many sperm as possible need to be produced, and they must be resilient and mobile enough to swim and find an egg.
Worryingly, sperm counts have dropped worldwide in the last 40 years by almost 60%..
When thinking of male fertility, testosterone probably springs to mind, because low testosterone is connected with reduced sperm volume, diminished sex drive and erectile dysfunction.
However, men produce oestrogen too, and you might be surprised to learn a male produces as much oestrogen as does a women at the start of her monthly cycle.
Oestrogen and testosterone have a complex relationship and should be in balance with one another. Frequently though, oestrogen levels increase relative to testosterone. Too much oestrogen can block your body’s receptors to testosterone, meaning testosterone can’t do its job properly. High oestrogen can slow down sperm production too.
Too little testosterone affects your health in other ways, because you have receptors for testosterone all over your body. It’s involved in building muscle, making sure you have enough energy, and maintaining your mood and motivation.
So if you adopt measures to balance your hormones you won’t only help your fertility, but you’ll have a positive impact on your overall health and wellbeing, supporting your brain function, heart health and even helping you maintain a healthy weight.
To improve your chances of fathering a child, you need to support healthy sperm production, improve testosterone levels and reduce oestrogen if it’s too high. Your body sometimes steals testosterone to make oestrogen, so avoiding factors encouraging this conversion can be useful.
Excess oestrogen is expelled from your body by your liver and your bowel, so if either are struggling, then oestrogen can be recycled back into your bloodstream, boosting its levels. For example your liver might be working hard removing toxins and your bowel may be sluggish.
To help your body produce enough testosterone, make sure you’re having enough good quality sleep because most testosterone is produced while you’re asleep. Shift workers with disrupted sleep patterns were found to have lower sperm counts than men who work regular hours. Aim to sleep regular hours, make time for at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night, and don’t use gadgets with screens before bed.
Being sedentary or overweight not only encourages testosterone to be converted to oestrogen but can also mean testosterone becomes bound to a protein so it no longer affects your cells. This is particularly the case if you have fat lodging around your belly.
Ongoing stress prevents your body from producing testosterone, as reproduction is not a priority when your body thinks you’re in danger.
Sperm don’t like heat, the reason testicles are designed to hang outside your body. Sitting for long periods working from home with a laptop on your lap can effectively heat up your sperm, decreasing their resilience.
The modern world is awash with environmental chemicals capable of mimicking oestrogen and blocking testosterone receptors. These include plastics, detergents and even shower gels.
Pesticides are known to affect sperm count, so choose organic whenever possible.
A Western-type diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates is connected with lower sperm counts. Alcohol affects fertility too, not only making your liver work harder so it’s less efficient at detoxifying oestrogen, but also encouraging testosterone to be made into oestrogen.
Sperm need specific nutrients to grow. Zinc is vital for sperm production, while low vitamin D levels are associated with poor semen quality, less mobile sperm and low testosterone. Other important nutrients include vitamin E and selenium to protect the sperm’s DNA from damage, and co-enzyme Q10 to provide sperm with the energy they need to swim to an egg.
Would you like to find out why you have poor fertility?
Functional testing can examine your hormone levels, detect any nutrient deficiencies, assess your liver function and discover if toxins are affecting your hormone balance. Dietary, supplement and lifestyle strategies can then naturally balance your hormones, detoxify your body and ensure you produce happy and healthy sperm.
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