HealthZette

New Understanding of Male Infertility

More evidence of lifestyle, environmental links, and how to combat them

Infertility can be a scary diagnosis when you’re a couple trying to have a baby. So imagine you’re a man who also happens to be the co-founder of a clinic that specializes in male infertility — and you and your wife are struggling with this issue.

Meet Dr. Sijo Parekattil.

“We had what we call unexplained infertility,” he said. “We did lots of different testing. Everything seemed pretty normal. I think my wife had a low number of eggs and my sperm counts were like borderline normal, but low normal,” he told LifeZette.

Parekattil, co-director of the PUR Clinic at South Lake Hospital in Clermont, Florida, and his wife are NOT alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that “infertility is not always a woman’s problem. Both men and women contribute to infertility.”

In general, infertility is defined as the inability to become pregnant after one year of unprotected sex.

Dr. David Adamson, CEO of Advanced Reproductive Care Inc. Fertility in Saratoga, California, said “generally accepted numbers are that about 7 to 10 percent of couples have infertility at any given time, and that about 1 in 6 experience difficulty getting pregnant at some time in their life. About 40 percent of infertility is female and 25 percent combined, so about two-thirds of infertility is associated with a female factor.”

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For Parekattil and his wife, “it was tough, you know, when you’re going through the process. You look around and everyone else seems to have a baby and you can’t have one, so it’s kind of tough.”

The results of a study published in December in the journal Physiological Reviews further support environmental and lifestyle links to male infertility. Numerous other studies have dug into the issue in recent years. Many conclude environmental factors are at play.

Dr. Niels E. Skakkebaek, a professor at the University Department of Growth and Reproduction, Rigshopitalet and EDMaRC, in Copenhagen, Denmark, is the study’s lead researcher.

“We found several aspects of male reproductive health have deteriorated: Testicular cancer is increasing all over the world … During the same time, we have been witnessing a sharp decline in fertility rates,” he explained

Other fertility specialists concur and see these types of issues in their own practices.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Causes of Male Infertility” source=”http://www.mayoclinic.org”]Abnormal sperm production or function|Problems with the delivery of sperm|Overexposure to certain chemicals and toxins|Damage related to cancer and its treatment[/lz_bulleted_list]

“There’s absolutely environmental risk factors. I mean, there’s the occupational risk factors. If you work in the radiation industry — (with) CAT scans and X-rays all day — and you don’t protect (yourself), then your sperm quality is going to go down,” Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, co-director of the PUR Clinic in Clermont, Florida, told LifeZette. “There are certain dyes and chemicals that can put you at risk as well. Smoking, whether it’s marijuana or cigarettes, has a direct link to (lower) fertility levels.”

Adamson agreed the problem is difficult.

“As a society, we need to begin protecting the planet from climate change, but also from all the toxicants we are making and putting into our environment. New research and technologies to limit the use of toxicants by replacing them with other compounds are needed. Stricter regulations would help,” he said.

While there are ways to minimize the effects of environmental components, personal responsibility and taking better care of oneself also play a role.

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Overexposure to certain chemicals and toxins, such as pesticides, radiation, tobacco smoke, alcohol, marijuana and steroids (including testosterone) are listed by the Mayo Clinic as known causes of male infertility. In addition, frequent exposure to heat, such as in saunas or hot tubs, can impair sperm production.

“Each of us has to start somewhere to try to help solve this problem. We also can be public with our elected officials about the need for guidelines and regulations to begin to reduce the use of toxicants … Men and women should (also) attempt to use compounds and products that are as natural as possible,” Adamson explained,

For Brahmbhatt, the ultimate bottom line is this: “My goal as your infertility specialist is to not make you have a baby — it’s to make you parents. So let’s go over all the options. Those options include adoption, they include donor sperm, donor eggs, they include assistive reproduction, and they include natural birth.”

One of these options worked for Dr. Parekattil and his wife – they chose to do in vitro fertilization (IVF). Now, they have two boys – ages 11 and 9. He tells LifeZette, “It’s just an unbelievable feeling of gratitude and happiness – it doesn’t hit any closer to the heart. We were ecstatic! So it’s made me the eternal optimist now.”