Two major modern trends: increasing male infertility and becoming older parents: all you need to know...
This article is a look at two rapidly increasing phenomena true to our modern lives: infertility is increasingly a male issue and secondly, we are typically waiting longer to have children, which like it or not affects women from a fertility perspective more than men. We look at the consequences and most importantly some of the things to be aware of/what you can do to put yourself in a better position.
When I was catching up with one of our lovely Better Babies expert advisors: Mahantesh Karoshi aka @gynaecologist_london he drew my attention to two very interesting things he has been seeing much more in his clinic over the last few years…
ONE: fertility. Previously seen predominantly as a ‘female issue’, its now over to the boys:
Mahantesh tells me that far from being always down to the woman, the balance has changed. On average these days when it comes to problems with fertility: 40% of the time it is on the male side, 20% the female side and the remainder is a combination of both. I dont know about you but that statistic surprised me.
TWO: biopanic! Over a relatively short period of time, the average age for a first time parents has shifted up dramatically - by as much as a decade. Its easy to see. On average, our parents were having kids in their early twenties, a lot of us are now in our thirties when we get down to it. In fact, in a chapter from Mahantesh’s own book, he cites the fact that between 1991 and 2001 the number of first births was up 40% for women aged 35-39 and a staggering 70% for women aged 40-44. That is quite a jump and unfortunately not without consequences…
We know society has changed a lot. Expectations, desire to ‘have it all’ plus the overall environment we live in have all undergone rapid shifts. Of course, as with everything, there are pluses and minuses to this . For example, its great to be a woman in this day and age from a career and opportunity perspective. However it brings another set of challenges and from the perspective of having healthy babies the above factors pose some very real challenges. Ultimately, all of this has an effect on the all important raw materials for baby making: egg count/quality and sperm count, motility and quality. Unfortunately the above points are not helpful for this.
The real question is: what can we do about it?
As always - with knowledge comes power…
For the boys: so as above, fertility is not just a female issue. In fact, recent studies have shown that on average sperm counts in the west have fallen by over half in just 40 years. It is not just count though, it relates to motility and quality also. The difference is for the men out there - below 55yrs old - it's not really an age thing….
So what is it? What can we do about it?
The article here has a lot more info and the science behind some of the factors . However, the heart of what the research is suggesting is a combination of too much oxidative stress. This in a nutshell is where our bodies face damage from too many waste products (oxidation) and not enough defence (antioxidants) on the other side to mop it up with - click here for much more - exacerbated by environmental, nutrition and lifestyle factors. These can range from the wrong type of exercise, heat exposure and hormonal imbalances (we’ve all seen the growing issue of ‘Moobs’ as estrogen seeps its way in to our systems...).
What can we do about it?
The good news is that sperm is pretty regenerative and because many of the issues are exacerbated by lifestyle and environmental factors, lifestyle change can have a real effect.
Click here for much more but in a nutshell it's about:
Reducing damaging exercise: too much cycling (yes - the research does suggest that this is an issue - click here for more) and extremes both in terms of intensity and too little/none at all which can induce physical stress and inflammation.
Hormonal imbalances: Mahantesh tells me that too much estrogen in our environment is causing a whole host of issues for fertility overall. Trouble is it can be in all sorts of hidden places: non-organic meat and dairy (which sadly these days thanks to modern farming techniques gets pumped with hormones) and phytoestrogens (like Soy). Click here for more.
Pesticides: are another big issue here. If you really want to understand the issue with too much exposure then check out the feminised frog study which came out of Berkeley California showing male frogs becoming feminised by exposure to Atrazine. Luckily Atrazine has been banned in Europe, but, it is not the only pesticide to exhibit hormone imbalancing effect. Click here for more.
Other EDC impact (endocrine disrupting) is too much BPA exposure: in plastic and another chemicals that plays havoc with estrogen in the body. Again click here for more. Quick tip: stop eating and drinking from plastic containers. Its better for the environment too and it has a real effect, particularly if done repeatedly over time or with heat exposure.
Stress: we all know we have too much of it but sadly it really does contribute to hormonal imbalance. Starting with too much Cortisol. I know the mental stress part is particularly hard to address but even taking a simple step to acknowledge and prioritising its reduction (in whatever way works for you) is a positive step.
Too much heat and radiation: the testicles are outside of the body for a reason - on average they need 2 degrees lower than body temperature. Very skinny jeans and Lycra - not helpful!
Increasing nature’s mop: one solution to too much oxidation (bad) = more antioxidants. Unfortunately the western diet tends to be lacking. However, supporting antioxidant levels specifically Glutathione (click here for much more) is crucial to fight off the nasties in our environment. In fact….
The science is pretty compelling when it comes to antioxidant effect on sperm. There have been many studies looking at the effect to protect/improve quality and motility. Click here for much more: what/where to find them but the quick take:
Sulfur rich foods (think cruciferous vegetables)
Zinc (although watch out with dosing of this micronutrient)
Celery juice (yes - I was surprised but the science actually suggests its good - click here for more)
Ok so that’s the boys - what about egg quality/reserves?
Unfortunately, for women, the fact that society is pushing the age of first time parenting up is not helpful. No matter what we do, and as a woman myself I wish it wasn’t the case, females are highly sensitive to the pressure of ageing when it comes to our fertility.
Age has a direct impact on:
Egg quality (propensity for chromosomal abnormality)
Egg quantity (which declines with age)
Implantation (ability for implantation to occur easily)
Miscarriage and pregnancy related complications
Rates of C-Section delivery (increased rate for older mothers).
Against this, of course as women we want to have our careers, to do it all, and also may struggle to find the right person. It's tough! This has induced what Mahantesh himself calls ‘Biopanic’ (click here to read the chapter from his book on this very subject).
Question is, what can we do about it?
Whilst we can’t change the process of ageing - however there are two things we can do:
Change the pace: the process of ageing can in part be accelerated or decelerated by our lifestyles, diets and environment. Awareness of this is crucial. The younger we are when we start taking care of ourselves the better. Its not rocket science either. Reducing physical stress on our bodies (oxidative stress and inflammation: click here for more), improving our body’s own defence mechanisms: antioxidants and the health of our gut (click on each for more) are solid strategies for keeping in top shape. On top of that it's pretty simple things. Moderate exercise, keeping a healthy BMI, eating whole/real foods, avoiding too much toxic exposure, stress (physical and mental) and keeping our hormones well balanced. All of this will put you in a great position. Ideally you would also get regular smear tests and get your AMH level checked.
What is your AMH level? In short the level of AMH (anti mullerian hormone) can help doctors estimate the number of follicles inside the ovaries and therefore the egg count. What to watch for: a typical level is 1.0-4.0 ng/ml. Below 1.0 ng/ml is considered low. It is important to get this checked every year or so as these levels can change particularly as we get older. Click here for all you need to know.
Egg freezing: of course this isn't the cheapest option, however, according to Mahantesh the technology has advanced a lot over time and it is now highly effective. Particularly if it is done pre-35. The good news is that the uterus doesnt age as fast as the ovaries so it is a sensible strategy if you want to buy yourself a bit of time.
That being said, sometimes we just have to call a spade a spade. The reality as much as we would like it to be different, for women it does get harder as you get older with greater risk of complications if you do get pregnant. Undoubtedly however keeping yourself in top shape with a healthy BMI can certainly shift the odds back in your favour.
So once again. It comes down to the same core points, or ‘the five things that really matter’. We cant change the inevitability of aging but we can change the pace and what we expose our bodies to. Awareness of the risks, avoidance of them and boosting the body’s own defences is all it takes to put yourself in a better position.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.