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 Naturopathic Medicine: Coping with Male Infertility  
 
Lauri Aesoph M. ND ©
Most people take it for granted that they'll have children one day. In fact, most people are so confident they can conceive, they use birth control until they're ready for parenthood. Yet 10 to 15 percent of all couples are infertile; half the time it's due fully or partly to the man.

If you think you or your partner is infertile, first have a physical exam done by your doctor. A semen analysis or "sperm count" is also useful. This test will tell you a number of things including the movement, number and shape of your sperm. You'll also learn your total semen volume, thickness and how well it liquifies. Armed with this knowledge, sort through the following lifestyle and nutritional options that might solve help your problem.

Causes
Just as women's health care is called gynecology (gyne means woman in Greek), andrology (andro means man) refers to the study and care of male reproduction and infertility. Unfortunately for men, until 20 years ago male infertility was relegated to urology or urinary complaints. Finally in 1976 the American Society of Andrology was formed, spotlighting male health concerns.

Male infertility encompasses four main areas: sperm production and maturation, speed (motility), ejaculation, and deposition of semen into the vagina. The normal ejaculation releases 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of semen containing anywhere from 40 to 500 million sperm. If illness, injury or congenital malformations interfere with a man's reproductive tract, from the testes that produce sperm and testosterone to the epididymis that stores the maturing sperm, infertility is possible.

If impotence is the problem, drugs, chronic illness, prostatitis or diabetes may be responsible. Infection of a man's reproductive system, including mumps or sexually transmitted diseases, can impair sperm production. Even a high fever can temporarily halt sperm. Other conditions to watch for are hydrocele (a small sac of fluid in the scrotum), varicocele (like a varicose vein, but in the genital area), undescended testicles and failure to ejaculate normally.

Recently, E. Carlsen and his associates evaluated 61 studies from 1938 to 1991 and reported that sperm counts have dropped by half during this time while semen volume is 20 percent less (British Medical Journal, 1992, volume 305). Carlsen says such a dramatic decline is likely due to lifestyle or environmental factors such as pollutants and toxic chemical exposure.

Since publishing this information, Carlsen has been challenged by Geary Olsen, PhD (Fertility and Sterility, 1995, vol 63). While Olsen may have a valid point, it's interesting to note that he and several of his co-authors work for Dow Chemical, while others, with the exception of one, are employed by Shell Oil.

Other studies also point to the adverse effects of toxic substances on male fertility. R.K. Dikshit from B.J. Medical College in India discovered that industrial employees working long hours in poorly ventilated, hot, chemically infested conditions were twice as likely to have sperm counts lower than 20 million/ml than office workers (Infertility, 1987, vol 10). Organic farmers had higher sperm density compared to other workers in a study done by Annette Abell of the University Hospital of Aarhus in Denmark (The Lancet, 1994, vol 343).

Richard Sharpe, PhD from the Centre for Reproductive Biology in England says in utero exposure to estrogen (other than the mother's) might explain declining sperm counts and other male disorders like testicular cancer. DES (diethylstilbestrol), a synthetic estrogen given to women to prevent miscarriage and famous for causing vaginal cancer and other problems in daughters of women who took the drug during pregnancy, is also linked to diminished sperm counts in sons. Estrogen or estrogen-like compounds are also found in soy products, dairy, and dioxin and other chemicals (The Lancet, 1993, vol 341).

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