What is Male Infertility?
Men are often astounded to discover that they have reproduction problems which may be affecting their ability to father a child. Reproductive problems in men such as the poor quality or quantity of sperm being produced, hormone disorders, reproductive anatomy trauma, obstruction and sexual dysfunction can all prevent conception from taking place.
Infertility is defined as the inability to achieve a pregnancy (impregnating a woman) after one year of well-timed, unprotected intercourse. It is estimated that male infertility is involved in about 40% of the 2.6 million married couples in the United States who cannot conceive.
As many as one-half of these men experience irreversible infertility and cannot father children at all, while a small number of these cases are caused by a treatable medical condition. A combination of both male and female factors is responsible in about one-third of cases.
The signs and symptoms of male infertility are not always obvious. In most instances, intercourse, erections and ejaculation will usually happen without difficulty. The appearance and quantity of the ejaculated semen would also appear normal to the naked eye. Some signs of hormonal problems such as changes in hair growth or sexual function may indicate infertility.
Coping with male infertility is extremely difficult. Men often see infertility as a failure which brings about a number of negative emotions such as guilt, depression, anger, stress and frustration. Today, however there are various treatment options that can help infertile men become fathers.
Diagnosing Male Infertility
A couple who have had well-timed, unprotected intercourse for a year should consult their doctor for a fertility evaluation. In the case of men, a thorough physical examination will be performed. Certain tests such as semen testing will determine the number, movement and shape of the sperm in the ejaculate.
Blood tests will be able to check if hormone levels that control sperm production are normal or if there may be a genetic problem. In addition, urine is also tested to check for retrograde ejaculation in men who produce low volumes of ejaculate. A testicular biopsy may be performed to ascertain whether there is an obstruction in the testicular reproductive tract or a sperm production problem is present.
What Causes Male Infertility?
The most common causes of male infertility involve abnormal sperm production, the way in which sperm is delivered, lifestyle and health issues. These causes may include:
Abnormal sperm production - One of the most common causes of infertility in men is as a result of the sperm production process in testes. If the shape and structure of sperm is hampered, sperm may not be able to reach the egg.
Low sperm concentration - Low sperm concentration, known as sub-fertility, is defined as 10 million or less sperm per milliliter of semen. The count for normal sperm concentration is greater than or equal to 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen.
Blockage of sperm delivery - Obstructions that occur in the tubes leading sperm away from the testes to the penis can cause a total lack of sperm in the ejaculated semen.
Testicular Varicocele - A varicocele is a dilated or varicose vein and when it occurs in the scrotum it may prevent normal cooling of the testicle. This leads to reduced sperm count and motility
Undescended testicle or testes -
Undescended testicle or testes is the term used when one or both testicles fail to descend from the abdomen into the scrotum during fetal development. Because the testicles are exposed to the higher internal body temperature, compared with the temperature in the scrotum, sperm production may be affected.
Hormonal problems - If the pituitary gland, which is situated at the base of the brain, does not send the correct signals to stimulate the testes, low testosterone levels may be caused. Because of this sperm cannot be produced.
Sexual problems - Sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction, ejaculation difficulties, low libido or lack of sex drive can prevent a couple from conceiving.
Underlying medical conditions - An existing medical condition such as thyroid disease, diabetes or Cushings syndrome may also affect fertility.
Genetic defects - In the genetic defect Klinefelter's syndrome, a man has two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome instead of one X and one Y. This causes abnormal development of the testicles, resulting in low or absent sperm production.
Risk factors that affect male infertility - There are several risk factors that may affect male infertility - some of which can be avoided.
Age - A man’s fertility declines as he ages. It has been estimated that the amount of semen ejaculated and sperm motility begins to slowly decrease in men or from the age of 37 years.
Tobacco smoking - Smoking tobacco is believed to affect the quality of semen. Not only does smoking pose a health risk to the smoker but a larger number of birth defects have been found in the children of men who smoke.
Alcohol - Drinking large amounts of alcohol can have negative effects on the reproductive system. It is also detrimental to your liver and general health.
Recreational drugs - Drugs such as anabolic steroids, generally used by athletes, reduce sperm production by stopping the hormones made by the pituitary gland. Other drugs such as cocaine or heroine also affect sexual performance and health.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) - Sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and genital herpes can affect sperm production and damage the epididymis, preventing sperm from passing from the testes to ejaculate. If you have an STD, seek immediate treatment from your health practitioner. Practice safe sex and make sure that you are tested for STD’s before planning a family.
Tight underwear -
Research has suggested that tight underwear can decrease sperm counts. Wear loose boxer shorts to reduce the chances of heat stress on sperm production.
Hot baths, saunas and spas - Men should avoid hot baths, saunas and spas because the body temperature, especially around the testes, can reduce sperm production. Sperm require a cool environment to develop.
Help for Male Infertility
Research has shown that up to one-half of male infertility can be corrected. Treatment options depend on the severity and the cause of the infertility. There are a number of treatment options such as drug therapy, surgery and assisted reproductive therapy. While these treatments can be effective they are often costly and may also have some serious side effects.
For centuries, natural and holistic treatments have used been to treat infertility as well as overall male reproductive health. Treatments such as herbal and homeopathic remedies are gentle enough to use, without the harsh side effects of allopathic medicine.
Fertility-enhancing herbs such as Epimedium grandiflorum (Horny Goat Weed) promote male potency and libido, while also acting as a natural aphrodisiac and increasing sperm production. Centella Asiatica (Gotu Cola) has a wide range of beneficial effects such as ensuring an adequate supply of blood and nutrition to the male organs and also helping to strengthen erections and sexual desire. In addition, Tribulus terristis (Gokshura) is also an excellent tonic for the male reproductive system.
If sexual problems such as premature ejaculation, impotence or erectile dysfunction are causing infertility, drug therapy or certain behavioral approaches can help.
Medications may also improve sperm production, fight sperm antibodies, cure infections of the urinary tract, testes or prostate that compromise sperm as well as hormonal dysfunction. Surgical procedures are performed to treat reproductive tract obstruction and varicoceles.
The use of assisted reproductive therapy includes electroejaculation, sperm retrieval and washing, in vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT). Different methods may help to improve erectile dysfunction, obtain sperm, induce sperm production and inseminate an egg.
Nutrition is also very important. Eating healthily is essential so that the reproductive system can function properly. Certain nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of vitamins and minerals can inhibit sperm production, impair hormone function and cause the production of abnormal sperm. Exercise is equally important – helping to promote circulation and blood flow to the reproductive organs.