Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I are having trouble conceiving. After putting us through months of testing, the fertility doctor we’re seeing says that the problem is on my end. I’m devastated. I just assumed that women were the ones who had fertility problems, and I feel like a complete failure, as if I’m not a man anymore. What can I do? Are there vitamins or supplements I can take or behaviors I can do (or stop doing)?
The first thing to do is lighten up on yourself. A lot of people think of fertility issues as affecting only women, but they’re wrong. The truth is that about 40 percent of fertility problems are the woman’s, 40 percent are the man’s, and the remaining 20 percent are simply unexplained.
Infertile women are often anxious, stressed, depressed, and feel like failures as women and partners. For men, there’s a lot of macho tied up in being able to get a woman pregnant. Many new dads I’ve interviewed say they experienced a sense of virility and pride when the pregnancy test came back positive. It was like a confirmation that everything was in working order – which comes as quite a relief to some. Men who can’t impregnate their partner have many of the same feelings that women – and you – do.
As far as vitamins and supplements, there are plenty of scams out there, so stay away from the Internet and be very careful. That said, some studies have linked Vitamin C, B Vitamins (especially B-12), and Zinc with increased sperm counts. But check with the fertility doctor before you start popping any pills.
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As far as behavior to stop or start, here are a few suggestions:
Quit smoking, eliminate alcohol and caffeine, and eat as clean a diet as you can. Foods with a lot of chemicals (bacon, for example) or pesticides may reduce sperm counts, so eating organic may help.
Work out – but don’t go overboard. Exercise is as close to a panacea as we have in the world, improving just about every area of our life. But a recent study found that exercising to the point of exhaustion may actually reducing sperm count.
Keep cool. Sperm perform better in colder temperatures, which is why the testicles are located outside the body. That may explain why a disproportionate number of babies are born in August and September – roughly nine months after the coldest time of the year. Switching to boxers may help. Briefs can lead to overheating, decreased circulation, and a drop in sperm count. Stay out of the sauna, too. You may also want to get cloth seat covers for your car and run the air conditioner on hot days. One fascinating study found that long-distance truckers (who spend a lot of time with their testicles up against a hot seat) have lower-than-average sperm counts and fertility rates.
Wear a kilt. Men who do have better quality sperm and are more fertile, according to a study published in the Scottish Medical Journal (where else would a study on kilts be done?)
Practice a lot. As men get older, the quality of their sperm goes down and the possibility of damaged DNA goes up. Saving it up for a few days might seem like a good idea, but men who ejaculate seven days in a row actually have less DNA damage than men who go several days without sex.
Armin Brott is the author of “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be.”