GETTING pregnant is an easy process for some couples, but it can be a serious challenge for others.
Obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Anna-Kay Taylor Christmas says infertility is a widespread problem which affects up to 15 per cent of the reproductive age population, and is often due to a combination of factors.
“Many men don't like the thought of the problem lying with them, but for about one in five infertile couples the problem lies solely in the male partner. Male fertility generally relies on sperm quantity and quality, so if the number of sperm in a man's ejaculate is low, or if the sperm are of poor quality (abnormal shapes or movements), it will be difficult for him to cause pregnancy,” she said.
Further, Dr Taylor Christmas said sperm and testosterone are made in the testes (testicles) and it takes about 70 days for sperm to become mature and able to fertilise an egg.
She added that when released, the sperm will take two to 10 days to pass through the epididymis where they become more mobile and able to penetrate the egg.
“At orgasm, the sperm are ejected along with a small amount of fluid (from the prostate and seminal vesicles), forming semen. Any dysfunction along the different steps of semen production (sperm production or transport) can lead to impaired fertility. About two-thirds of infertile men have issues with sperm production in the testes, while one in five infertile men have problems with sperm transport,” she explained.
She added: “Blockages of the tubes carrying sperm from testes to penis can cause a complete absence of sperm in the ejaculate. A normal sperm count is between 120-350 million sperm per cubic centimetre. Low is considered less than 40 million. Other things that are reported on in the semen analysis test that is done include colour of semen, blood, white blood cells and bacteria in semen as well as the appearance and movement of the sperm.”
According to Dr Taylor Christmas, some of the factors that can negatively affect male fertility include:
•Varicocoele (dilated veins in the scrotum).
•Excessive oestrogen exposure.
•Infections of the male reproductive system.
•Mumps as a child.
•Endocrine (hormone/glandular) disorders affecting the brain, adrenals, thyroid, testes, leading to low testosterone production (including tumours, low functioning from birth, trauma).
•Sex chromosome (genetic) abnormalities.
•Malnutrition (especially protein deficiency).
So what can be done generally to boost fertility?
1. If you are having difficulty getting pregnant, the first step is to see a doctor who can ensure that the timing and frequency of your intercourse is sufficient to cause pregnancy. If that is the case, then a sperm test will be ordered to check for abnormalities.
2. If you suspect you have an infection, get it treated right away and always practise safe sex.
3. Control all chronic illnesses, especially diabetes, which can affect the ability to have and maintain an erection.
4. Stop smoking, as this also can affect sperm amount and quality.
5. Avoid environmental toxins, so check with your doctor if you work/live around chemicals, toxins or radiation, as these can affect sperm production.
6. Excess alcohol can affect the ability to achieve and maintain an erection, so avoid this as well.
7 Heat can reduce sperm production, so avoid exposing the testicles to excessive heat by wearing loose-fitting clothing and underwear, and avoiding long hot baths/Jacuzzis, or sitting for prolonged periods.
8. Check with your doctor about the medications you are taking, as some of them can affect sexual desire or cause impotence.
9. Avoid foods and chemicals that mimic the effects of oestrogen found in some soy products, certain plastics, pesticides and animal products.
10. Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy, balanced diet filled with fresh fruit and vegetables and antioxidants.
11. Avoid excessive exercise and steroid use, as these negatively affect fertility by decreasing sperm production.
12. Maintain an ideal body weight, as obesity and excess fat tissue can contribute to poor fertility.
13. Maintain good mental health, as stress, anxiety and depression can negatively affect libido and cause impotence.