Eat, drink and be merry!
Though for couples facing infertility the advice is don’t drink, keep the eating to a minimum and try your best to be merry. Or more accurately, for couples facing infertility the advice to women is don’t drink & go on a diet. The advice to men is to carry on as normal. Eat, drink and be merry, Lads!
Just yet another example of the patriarchy in our healthcare system. It spans all areas of medicine but none mores than in reproductive medicine.
There are plenty of research papers and sections in medical textbooks that talk of the damage caused to sperm through alcohol consumption. It’s written down but evidently the information has not been descended from teacher to doctor to patient.
Indeed a new piece of research showed that one alcoholic drink a day reduces fertility success in men by 9%. (Metro News, 2022) By comparison, alcohol intake has been shown to have no affect to female fertility and IVF outcome, though does increase the chance of miscarriage if alcohol is consumed in pregnancy. Yet women are told not to drink for months prior to IVF, whilst men are advised that they need not change their lifestyle, even if there is known male factor infertility.
And don’t even get me started on obesity. An overweight woman will be denied NHS fertility treatment because her BMI doesn’t meet the necessary criteria, but an overweight man is always accepted. Even though we know that obesity is one of the main factors when it comes to male infertility. And again, no change in diet necessary.
The sad truth is that women can only incrementally improve their fertility with lifestyle advice, supplements, acupuncture, etc. Whilst men can radically improve theirs in just a few months.
In the United States, some of the world’s leading sperm banks have just a 1% acceptance rate. If he has smoked, drinks alcohol, is deficient in nutrients, is overweight, overheats the testes due to certain occupations, has ever had an STD, has too many couch potato habits (ahem World Cup), or has recently had a fever, he will not make the cut. And if he’s over 40 then it’s an instant no thank you; largely due to the amounts of DNA fragmentation that we know affects older sperm. (Swan, 2020)
So why are clinics here in the UK not gathering more information about the lifestyle habits of men? Even if a man has high levels of DNA fragmentation the conversation goes along the lines of, “We have ICSI for that!” What if you engaged in helping men improve their lifestyle so the woman doesn’t need to have IVF at all? So she doesn’t need to put unnecessary drugs in her body that we know predisposes her to invasive ovarian cancers.
“a few new relevant studies have provided additional findings with supporting evidence to suggest that infertility drugs may increase the risk of ovarian cancer slightly in subfertile women treated with infertility drugs when compared to the general population or to subfertile women not treated… However, few studies have been conducted, the number of cancers is very small, and information on the dose or type of fertility drugs used is insufficient.” (https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD008215.pub3/full) Of course there have been few studies conducted. Were there to be more resounding evidence I don’t think women would be so willing to take the drugs and the misogynistic medical world might need to have a rethink.
And if you think I’m being a little too bias in the other direction, ponder this… Male factor infertility is the only disease that is treated by giving the woman drugs (in the form of IVF).
There have been a few men I’ve met along the way who have been prepared to do whatever it takes. It’s a shame that I could count them on one hand. Personally I’m always thrilled to work with them as, with their help, we are often able to completely transform the sperm quality, resulting in some very happy families.
But I can’t blame men for their unwillingness to make changes. If I had a fertility consultant tell me it didn’t matter I don’t think I would bother either! But the resounding evidence shows that it does matter. Lifestyle changes can absolutely improve the sperm morphology, quantity, quality and DNA fragmentation. And not only that, but “men with high quality semen have a longer life expectancy and a decreased incidence of a wide range of diseases compared to their peers with infertility, according to a study of forty thousand Danish men who were followed for up to forty years.” (Swan, 2020)
So to honour the title of this article, if you want super sperm without two heads and five tails, if you want to shape up your sperm, then shake up your lifestyle. Your future you, your partner and your future children will thank you.
Ashley, 24 Oct 2022, Metro News Group (https://metro.co.uk/2022/10/24/one-alcoholic-drink-a-day-reduces-fertility-success-in-men-by-9-17622390/)
Swan, 2020, Countdown: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperilling the Future of the Human Race
Cochrane Library - Risk of ovarian cancer in women treated with ovarian stimulating drugs for infertility (https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD008215.pub3/full)
Verity Allen - BSc, BA, MBAcC, Lic Ac