Start talking about fertility, and it’s a safe bet that most people will assume you’re talking about women. Numbers are all over the map, but conservative estimates tell us roughly 10% of all US males trying to become dads are experiencing infertility, and the number is much higher if you are talking about fertility issues in general. In 2015, the global statistic for worldwide infertility estimated between 40 and 50 percent were related to male factor infertility. Clearly, the issue goes both ways. Yet even in 2019, it was considered newsworthy when the founder of an up-and-coming prenatal company launched a men’s line. According to the research, that actually makes perfect sense.
From a biological standpoint, everyone understands that design requires an egg and sperm. And when a couple experiences difficulty conceiving, doesn’t it make sense to look closely at fertility factors for both parties involved? But in the case of men specifically, the concept of fertility is intrinsically tied to virility, which is itself associated with masculinity. For some men, the mere suggestion of fertility issues is an attack on their very manhood. It’s dramatic and silly and inaccurate, yet it still persists.
But it’s more than male insecurity. Men are often marginalized in the reproductive medicine and fertility industry. Instead, the focus remains squarely on women. “Female fertility issues are headline news,” says Joni Hanson Davis, founder of Beli, a prenatal vitamin company. She’s right – doctors routinely discuss fertility with female patients, with specific advice on timelines and steps to be taken to get ‘baby ready.’ A woman’s lifestyle choices are scrutinized, with fertility diets, fertility smoothies, fertility acupuncture, fertility yoga, fertility trackers, and egg freezing information all just a click away.
“The fertility and reproductive health industry exceeded $ 21 billion in 2019, and those dollars were largely targeting women,” points out Joni Hanson Davis. “But the evidence is very clear that supporting male fertility can make an enormous impact.”
Addressing Male Infertility
Here’s what we know. Sperm health is truly just as important as the egg when the goal is a baby. You’ll recall that a full 50 percent of the genetic material comes from the sperm, and when it’s not up to snuff, the chances of a healthy conception or successful pregnancy drop dramatically. It’s been shown that the health of both parents during the preconception window can influence both the pregnancy and the long-term health of the baby, and you’ve probably seen the statistics from 2012 that just one man in four has what’s considered optimal sperm quality. How about the research showing that over the last 40 years, sperm quality has declined by 40 to 50 percentlargely due to lifestyle, diet, and environmental toxins?
The science has been there all along, but the reality of male fertility has a silver lining. “We know that the most common cause of sperm deficiencies is a nutrient shortage,” says Hanson Davis. And since men produce sperm daily – every second of every day – with a 72-day timeline from germline stem cell to sperm cell, that nutrient shortage can absolutely be addressed. Scientific studies have shown that specific nutrients, including L-carnitine, vitamins C and E, coenzyme Q10, N-acetylcysteine, and zinc, among others, can dramatically improve male fertilityby shoring up sperm deficiencies. One study looked at the combination of folate and zinc supplementation in men with optimal and low sperm counts over a 26-week period. Total sperm count increased by 74 percent.
For many men, improving sperm quality can be as simple as taking a high-quality prenatal vitamin formulated to support male fertility, along with some simple lifestyle changes. “Healthy reproductive function relies on a man’s overall health,” says Hanson Davis, which means all of the things that will improve your health are going to pay off baby-wise. That includes eating a more nutritious diet, cutting out bad habits like excessive drinking, smoking, or recreational drug use, getting adequate sleep, and minimizing stress as much as possible.
Women’s fertility is always going to be a hot topic. But when it comes to fertility, it’s just not a conversation that can be had without including men. Of course, there are no guarantees when you’re trying for a baby. You could do everything the “right” way and still grapple with unexplained infertility. But by considering potential issues that might be impacting not just the woman, but the man too, is a step in the right direction.