Men - If you're trying to conceive with your partner but not getting pregnant, it might be time to check your swimmers are fighting-fit and raise your sperm health with lifestyle and dietary changes.
Dr Frank Quinn, fertility specialist at IVFAustralia is spreading the word during Men's Health month about the importance of healthy sperm if you're trying to conceive, not only to increase your chances of achieving a pregnancy faster, but to help improve the health of your future child.
"We know men's lifestyle factors play a huge role in sperm quality, two recent studies suggest the impact of diet on sperm quality. One study looked at the impact of low-protein diets and a second study, suggests fast food eaten by overweight men affects testicular performance," said Dr Quinn.
"The best ways to boost your sperm health, don't smoke, exercise regularly, avoid alcohol and follow a healthy diet that is low in sugar and processed meat, with lots of fresh fruit, leafy green vegetables, antioxidants, citrus and berries.
"Keep to an optimal body weight, men who carry extra weight in the abdominal area and thighs can increase body temperature and this 'heat shock' can affect sperm quality.
"Avoid body building hormonal supplements such as testosterone, some can have irreversible damage to the testes. I probably see a guy a month who has a low sperm count due to testosterone.
"Fertility problems historically have been seen as a woman's problem, but men can have fertility issues too. In fact, male infertility is the second most common reason why a couple can't conceive; about one in 20 men have low numbers of sperm.
"Sperm studies over the last 50 years show sperm counts are diminishing. Several lay the blame on the increase of chemicals and plastics in the environment, with some studies showing they can alter the function of testosterones and endocrine function.
"Lifestyle factors have also been shown to influence the way DNA is packaged in the cell, and may go on to affect a child's genes, potentially causing the child to be susceptible to certain health conditions or have health issues at birth or later in life.
"Getting a semen analysis from your fertility specialist can help you understand your swimmers and with improved lifestyle changes, 40 – 50 percent of the time this will result in an improvement in sperm results three months later.
"It's easy to find out your sperm status but surprisingly a semen analysis is often overlooked, this non-invasive test really should be one of the first infertility investigations carried out if you and your partner are struggling to fall pregnant.
"When we do a sperm count we look at the volume of the ejaculate, the amount of sperm per millilitre (mL) of semen, the proportion of sperm that are active swimmers and what proportion are normal," said Dr Quinn.
Does size matter? A normal semen analysis will have about 40 million sperm in the ejaculate, a third of sperm which are good swimmers and are progressively moving forward, and five per cent normal shaped.
Dr Quinn said the good news is that the most common causes of male infertility are easily diagnosed, and most can also be treated.
Speak to your GP for a referral to IVFAustralia for a semen analysis.
Question: How do you hope to raise awareness of a man's role in fertility health?
Dr Frank Quinn: Men need to be aware of the medical and lifestyle factors which may impact on the quality of their sperm. For example men who have had a history of testicles not descending into the scrotum after birth or men having mumps infections after puberty may be at risk of sperm damage and would be advised to see their GP and arrange to have a semen analysis to check on their sperm production.
Lifestyle factors like smoking should be avoided at all costs. Alcohol in moderation and a diet high in vegetables and low in sugar and processed meat. Exercise is important to keep the weight off and help with sperm quality.
Question: How can a man have his sperm quality and fertility health tested?
Dr Frank Quinn: The simplest test we have is a semen analysis and this checks how many sperm there is per ml of ejaculate, the movement of the sperm and the proportion of sperm that are of a normal shape.
Whilst this test may uncover potential issues, if the test is normal it does not 100% mean the sperm is of good quality.
Question: How does diet impact sperm quality?
Dr Frank Quinn: Absolutely, a diet high in sugar and processed meat is not good for sperm. A poor diet increases the likelihood of weight gain and overweight men have been shown to have poorer sperm quality.
Question: How can males treat their sperm quality without having to resort to expensive IVF treatments?
Dr Frank Quinn: By adjusting their lifestyle factors and having a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases is the main advice.
Question: How does testosterone create irreversible damage to the testes?
Dr Frank Quinn: The concentration of testosterone in the testes is considerably higher than in the blood stream. When men take testosterone injections, creams etc., the brain acknowledges the testosterone and subsequently reduces its own production thereby reducing the level in the testes and thus potentially turning off sperm production.
Some men are lucky and if they stop taking testosterone medication their sperm production may return to normal, but this is not the case all the time and testosterone is best avoided.
Question: How can couples reduce the cost of IVF and other fertility treatments?
Dr Frank Quinn: Through healthy diet, regular exercise and safe sex methods can potentially reduce some (but not all) of the factors that can increase the risk of infertility.
Interview by Brooke Hunter