Around 7% of men worldwide are thought to be affected by infertility. Yet complications in family-building efforts are often misconstrued as resulting from female reproductive issues.
Because of this, men (or those with a male reproductive system) can find themselves ignored and dismissed when seeking advice for their fertility struggles.
In fact, around 30% of infertility cases are connected with male factor infertility issues but recent studies suggest only a quarter of physicians routinely refer men to the urologist before requesting a sperm test.
At Fertility Help Hub, we know that having open conversations about male infertility and educating people about the facts of male reproductive issues helps individuals feel empowered to advocate for their own health.
With this in mind, we’ve got the low-down on what can cause male infertility and what you can do about it.
Words by Katherine Compton and Holly Pigache
Male Infertility – Semen and Sperm
Male infertility is a health issue whereby men (or those with a male reproductive system) have poor sperm quality, low sperm production (count) – or no sperm at all – or blockages preventing sperm delivery.
Some instances there is an identifiable cause for male infertility yet for others, male factor infertility is unexplained. Problems with sperm or semen quality or production, or other issues with the male reproductive organs can determine whether an egg is fertilised and if a pregnancy carries to full-term.
Causes of Male Infertility
Chromosome defects – disorders such as Klinefelter’s syndrome (whereby a man is born with an additional X chromosome to his regular XY chromosomes) cause the male reproductive organs to develop abnormally.
Erectile dysfunction – fertilisation of an egg is unlikely if a man cannot ejaculate during sex and penetrative sex can be a challenge if an erection cannot be maintained.
Hormones – hormone imbalances can prevent the proper function of the reproductive system and quality of sperm.
Medication and drugs – some medications can impact male fertility, such as those for cancer treatment (like chemotherapy), Crohn’s disease, arthritis… If you’re concerned medication may affect your fertility, read the medicine leaflet and speak with your doctor. Illegal drugs like cocaine and marijuana can also reduce sperm quality.
Obstruction – the tubes which sperm travel through can become blocked and sperm cannot be released during ejaculation. This can occur in the event of recurrent infection or from surgery (unintentional damage or intentional blockages such as via a vasectomy).
Retrograde ejaculation – this is where semen is redirected to the bladder during orgasm rather than out of the penis (semen exits the bladder upon the next urination). This can be a result of various medical conditions.
Varicoceles – a common, reversible cause of male infertility. This is a build up of varicose veins inside the scrotum and has been linked to a reduction in sperm quality and quantity.
Specific sperm issues
Quality – If the motility (movement) of sperm is abnormal, the sperm may not be able to reach or penetrate the egg. If the sperm is a-typical in shape or growth (its ‘morphology’), the sperm quality may be low.
Damaged DNA/DNA fragmentation – either the sperm is not being produced properly, the environment for sperm production is inadequate or the body is not efficiently destroying the defective sperm cells, there may be a surplus of damaged sperm. DNA fragmentation can interfere with conception and whether a pregnancy is viable or carried to term.
Quantity – sperm count: If the number of sperm in semen is low, it’s less likely that one sperm will fertilise the egg. If the male reproductive organs developed regularly during puberty, at least one testicle functions as it should and the body produces testosterone (and other hormones) to initiate and continue sperm production.
No sperm – azoospermia is a condition where semen is produced without containing any sperm. If living sperm are present in the testes, invasive treatment includes extracting sperm directly from the testicles.
What To Do Next
If you believe you’re affected by any of the above, you may decide that sperm testing and analysis would be a good next step. But before you get tested, research which tests are more rigorous and cover all areas of male infertility.
Legacyis a digital fertility clinic that offers in-depth at-home sperm testing.
This convenient solution to home testing is the only sperm testing kit for men that covers the key five factors of sperm health, including DNA fragmentation. Legacy offers a complimentary appointment to discuss your results with a male fertility specialist as well as a detailed report of your sperm health. A personalised treatment plan is provided, as well as the option to freeze sperm for future use.
Lifestyle changes can also improve male fertility, such as:
Diet: Including more healthy fats such as fish, avocados and olive oil or trying to be more plant-based.
Exercise: Taking moderate, daily exercise rather than ‘overdoing’ it at the gym. Avoid cycling as it can harm the testicles. Instead, try yoga, walking, swimming or pilates. Consult your fertility specialist if you’re unsure.
Stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake: Always included in a health checklist and for good reason.
Try male fertility supplements or a male prenatal: taking supplements helps you to know you’re getting the right nutrients to support sperm health.
Beliis the first supplement brand to consider how men benefit from supplements. These patented male supplements can increase your chances of conceiving – naturally or through assisted conception.
Beli men uses thoroughly researched, science backed and tested ingredients to improve specific target areas of male infertility.
Knowing what causes male infertility and the treatment options available should help you better understand your struggles with fertility and, ultimately, lead to more empowered actions in your family-building efforts.