Dear Dr G,

I understand the theme for the month of July is prevention, and with that in mind I am hoping that you can answer some questions about measures to preserve my fertility.

My wife and I are both in our early 30s and have been waiting for a suitable year to have a child.

I know it sounds a bit silly, as our feng shui master tells us the Snake, Goat or Rooster years are favorable for our zodiac signs to have children.

I don’t expect you to agree with my beliefs, but I do hope you can help.

As these zodiac years are still at least five to seven years away, I hope to put Dr G on the spot on the question of preserving our fertility.

We often hear about women being unable to bear a child, but is male infertility common?

I understand you have previously mentioned the quality of sperm in male populations is declining. Why is that happening?

Is sperm quality linked to diet, exercise, stress and lifestyle?

Can you let me know what are the things to improve on and to avoid?

I really hope you can give me some tips to help me make every sperm count.

Look forward to your answers.

Yours truly,

Counting Christopher

Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive despite regular unprotected sexual intercourse for more than a year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates one in six couples has problems with fertility.

The number of infertile couples naturally increases when childbearing years are deferred, therefore such problems are believed to worsen as a trend of delaying having children is observed around the world.

The single most important factor determining fertility in a couple is a woman’s age, hence infertility was always perceived to be a “woman’s problem”.

Healthy sperm is always considered by many men to be a God-given right; therefore, men do not really shoulder the “blame” when a couple is faced with the inability to conceive a child.

Scientific studies have found that up to 20% of men intending to become fathers have poor-quality sperm.

This constitutes almost a quarter of all aetiologies of infertility. I may not necessarily believe in the zodiac alignment, but I doubt this is purely due to bad feng shui.

Two famous studies in Europe identified significant declines in sperm samples with no real causes determined.

A Danish study found the number of sperm cells per millilitre had halved since World War II.

This was echoed in a French study, which highlighted further deterioration in the number of gametes in 26,600 Frenchmen between 1989 and 2005, from a average of 74 million to 50 million per millilitre of ejaculate.

Although, many theories have been postulated, the exact reasons behind the rapid declines is largely unknown.

Many scientific men’s health publications had proposed the “Oestrogen Hypothesis”, which suggests that chemicals in our food chains as having adverse effects on our fertility.

The culprits implicated are diethyhexyl phthalate (DEHP), used to make new plastic more pliable, and polychlorinated biphenyl 153 (PCB153), found in plastics and electronic equipment.

Recent studies also revealed the deleterious effects of microplastics exposure on male reproductive health.

Keeping the scrotal sac cool is also vital in optimal spermatogenesis. A three-year study by the University of California established the ideal temperature for production and maturation of sperms as precisely 34.5℃.

As a result, men who prefer to relax in steam rooms and saunas, or regularly immerse themselves in hot baths, impede their sperm production at least fivefold.

Although tight jeans and underpants may just slightly bring the testicular temperature closer to core body temperature, an impairment of spermatogenesis is still observed.

Other lifestyle effects on spermatogenesis includes the usage of mobile phones and recreational activities such as cycling.

One Spanish study discovered prolonged biking could severely affect the morphology of sperm.

This study reported cyclists of an average age of 33 years who cycled around 300km a week had more deformities among their gametes.

Men with mobile phones in their pockets and who use laptops close to the groin should also think about the impact of modern technology on the “family jewels”.

A 2011 study indicated that samples from men who extensively used laptops on WiFi networks were more sluggish, with demonstrable DNA damage.

As for alcohol, researchers at Manchester and Sheffield discovered it might not have as detrimental an impact on fertility as previously thought.

However, a healthy lifestyle with avoidance of vaping, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are key for fertility enhancement.

Plenty of sleep, avoiding stress, regular exercuse, adequate fluid consumption and a balanced diet are a bonus towards ensuring that sperm production is not compromised.

An analysis of 12 different studies on the impact of food on sperm concluded the consumption of lycopene-rich red fruit such as strawberries, cherries and tomatoes was noted to dramatically improve sperm count and motility.

A study by Sao Paolo University also concluded that drinking coffee could improve motility, although, three cups or more may induce mutation in sperm cells.

As the tide is against men’s fertility, a tremendous effort is noted to help men preserve our fertility and make every sperm count!

The French playwright and poet better known by his stage name Moliere once said: “A wise man is superior to any insults which can be put upon him, and the best reply to unseemly behaviour is patience and moderation.”

Men who defer fatherhood often put Dr G on the spot hoping to preserve their fertility in later years.

His view is: “Be wiser and avoid unseemly behaviour and insult which can be put upon the sac – moderation and patience are the only ways to make sure every sperm counts!”

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