The rate of infertility is increasing and is nearly as common in men as it is in women in the United States. About 9% of American men and 10% of American women under the age of 44 report infertility problems (CDC, 2013 and Office on Women’s Health, 2019). Despite men accounting for nearly half of all fertility problems, it is commonly regarded as a “woman’s issue” leaving men feeling helpless and without purpose in the fertility process. Men who are sidelined during a couple’s fertility journey can have feelings of anxiety, shame and guilt that can impact relationships, performance at work, and mental wellbeing.
Infertility not only causes stress, it can also put a financial strain on a relationship:
- The average couple goes through two in vitro fertilization cycles, bringing the total cost of IVF (including procedures and medications) between $40,000 and $60,000 (SingleCare, 2020);
- An estimated 85% of IVF costs are often paid out of pocket (Fertility and Sterility, 2011);
- Infertility is one of the primary reasons for divorce among couples (International Journal of Reproductive Biomedicine, 2020); and
- Up to 60% of infertile individuals reported psychiatric symptoms with significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression than their fertile counterparts (Clinical Therapeutics, 2014).
Most couples will jump right to IVF if they don’t have luck conceiving in the first 3-6 months of trying to have a baby. Unfortunately by doing this, couples are skipping over a cost-effective and less-stressful option. Like many aspects of our health, male and female fertility can be supported by improving lifestyle choices, such as minimizing environmental exposures, and using targeted nutritional support. So given that the stakes are so high for couples trying to start a family, I was driven to make a change and as a result, FullWell was born out of that need to get evidence based nutrition and information to families and health practitioners.
An extensive body of research has identified a clear connection between the role of paternal health and post-fertilization development through the long-term health status of a baby. Therefore improving male fertility plays a critical role. Some actions men can take to help improve the overall health of their sperm and to mitigate oxidative stress, prevent inflammation and support healthy metabolism include:
- Eating a diet high in antioxidants (including selenium and vitamins E and C) and omega-3 fatty acids;
- Exercising regularly;
- Getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep daily;
- Supplementing daily (including choline, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B12, magnesium, and folate);
- Avoiding cigarette smoke, limiting alcohol, and reducing exposure to chemicals.
It is true that sperm health can be affected by factors that are out of our control, but nutrition also plays a huge role. If men focus on flooding their body with the right levels of these nutrients, they can make a positive impact on conception, pregnancy health and the baby’s long-term health.
Through my career I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the biggest barriers to fertility is ignoring the man’s role, which does not begin and end at fertilization, but rather is pivotal preconception (the 3-6 month window before pregnancy), because it influences the health of the pregnancy and the baby’s long-term health via many mechanisms including epigenetics. Each of us plays an active role in the fertility journey. Remember, it takes two and together we can make healthier babies.