Dear Mr. Dad: A few years ago, you wrote a column about male infertility. I remember being surprised, since I'd always thought women were the only ones who had fertility problems. But now, after several years of being unable to conceive, I just found out that, just like the man who'd written to you back then, that the issue is mine. And, like him, I'm shattered. I'm thrashing around, looking for anything I can do to undo whatever the problems are and to feel like a man again. Is there anything I should do -- or stop doing -- that can help?
A: Yes, there is hope. But you need to start be being a little nicer to yourself. As you discovered, fertility issues most definitely affect men and women equally: About 40 percent of fertility problems are the woman's, 40 percent are the man's, and the remaining 20 percent are simply unexplained. My guess is that part of the misconception (so to speak) that fertility is a women's issue has to do with the fact that most fertility doctors are OB/GYNs.
Infertile women are often anxious, stressed, depressed, and feel like failures as women and partners. For men, there's a lot of macho tied up in being able to get a woman pregnant. Many new dads I've interviewed say they experienced a sense of virility and pride when the pregnancy test came back positive. It was like a confirmation that everything was in working order -- which comes as quite a relief to some. Men who can't impregnate their partner have many of the same feelings that women -- and you -- do.
As far as vitamins and supplements, there are plenty of scams out there, so stay away from the internet and be very careful. That said, some studies have linked Vitamin C, B Vitamins (especially B-12), and Zinc with increased sperm counts. But check with the fertility doctor before you start popping any pills.
As far as behavior to stop or start, here are a few suggestions:
-- Quit smoking, eliminate alcohol and caffeine, and eat as clean a diet as you can. Foods with a lot of chemicals (bacon, for example) or pesticides may reduce sperm counts, so eating organic may help.
-- Workout -- but don't go overboard. Exercise is as close to a panacea as we have in the world, improving just about every area of our life. But a recent study found that exercising to the point of exhaustion may actually reduce sperm count (plus, even if it had no effect, it might make you too tired to have sex, which would produce the same result).
-- Keep cool. Sperm perform better in colder temperatures, which is why the testicles are located outside the body. That may explain why a disproportionate number of babies are born in August and September -- roughly nine months after the coldest time of the year. Switching from tighty-whities to boxers may help. Briefs can lead to overheating, decreased circulation, and a drop in sperm count. Stay out of the sauna, too. You may also want to get cloth seat covers for your car and run the air conditioner on hot days. One fascinating study found that long-distance truckers (who spend a lot of time with their testicles up against a hot seat) have lower-than-average sperm counts and fertility rates.
-- Wear a kilt. Men who do, have better quality sperm and are more fertile, according to a study published in the Scottish Medical Journal (where else would a study on kilts be done?)
-- Practice a lot. As men get older, the quality of their sperm goes down and the possibility of damaged DNA goes up. Saving it up for a few days might seem like a good idea, but men who ejaculate seven days in a row actually have less DNA damage than men who go several days without sex.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to email@example.com.)
(c)2019 Armin Brott
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