This one’s for you, gentlemen! Male factor infertility is responsible for 30% of cases of infertility in Canada, and contributes to 50% of all cases. Given these statistics I am genuinely surprised by how often I see only the female half of a couple for care in my holistic fertility practice.
Sperm health is just as important as ovarian health when it comes to making a healthy baby. My dudes … your partner is about to grow a baby for 9 months, give birth, then (hopefully) breastfeed for 6 – 18 months, the least you can do is go for a few lab tests to make sure that you’re providing optimally healthy sperm to the process. These cheap & easy blood tests tell us a ton of information about how healthy your sperm are. Bring this list to your naturopathic doctor, family doctor or fertility clinic for a thorough evaluation of your seminal health, especially if you and your partner have been handed a diagnosis of ‘unexplained infertility’ (which simply means your doctor has not done enough investigative work into the root cause of your fertility struggles):
RBC folate levels
Studies show that men with low amounts of folate present in their red blood cells typically have higher levels of sperm with DNA damage. Sperm are extremely susceptible to damage from things like radiation, heat and chemicals so blood tests like this one are helpful when assessing overall sperm health. Low RBC folate levels can be easily corrected by supplementing with methyl-folate or by eating more dark leafy greens which provide a ton of dietary folate.
Testosterone levels are declining rapidly in today’s modern man; in the 1980’s the average middle-aged male had testosterone levels around 500 while studies from the 2000’s show an average level of <400. Scientists believe that this dramatic drop in male hormones is likely due to the increase in endocrine disrupting chemicals in the environment along with elevated stress levels, increased obesity rates (fat cells make more estrogen) and deceased muscle mass. Frequent cannabis use, zinc deficiencies, regular alcohol consumption, testicular trauma and autoimmune diseases can all further contribute to low testosterone levels. Low testosterone is a serious problem when it comes to baby making because this ‘male’ hormone is essential for sperm production, libido and erectile function. Testosterone levels can be improved by weight lifting (minimum 3x / weekly), eating more zinc-rich foods like pumpkin seeds and oysters, and engaging in regular intercourse (minimum twice weekly – not only when your partner is ovulating).
Tip when testing your T: testosterone is created through the night so make sure you’re testing first thing in the morning for the most accurate reflection of overall testosterone levels.
Did you know that sperm actually have their own vitamin D receptors? There is a positive association between adequate serum levels of vitamin D (minimum 75nmol/L) and improved sperm motility and overall fertility. It’s important to work with your doctor for blood work and to determine your ideal vitamin D prescription since vitamin D is fat-soluble and can be stored in your body if you take too much. Vitamin D in any dose over 1,000IU is considered a drug, and should only be prescribed and administered by a GP, ND or NP in Ontario.
A recent study took a group of infertile men (defined by suboptimal semen parameters) and treated them with vitamin B12. The majority of men in this study became fertile after treatment and were able to successfully impregnate their partners. North American reference ranges for B12 are notoriously low (Japan’s reference range starts where ours maxes out!) so check with your naturopath or functional medicine practitioner to make sure your levels are optimal for fertility.
Insulin + Fasting blood glucose
These two blood tests will help your doctor determine how well your body produces and utilizes insulin; the hormone responsible for balancing your blood sugar levels. High levels of insulin, and insulin resistance can decrease testicular production of sperm and is a common cause of male infertility. Hyperinsulinemia also reduces the amount of luteinizing hormone released from the pituitary gland in your brain, which in turn decreases overall testosterone production. Poor blood sugar regulation can be easily corrected in most cases with some strategic diet changes along with frequent weight training.
Sex hormone binding globulin
Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) transports testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and estrogen in their biologically inactive forms. If your SHBG levels are too high it will bind testosterone in your body, making it inactive and thereby inhibiting sperm production. Low SHBG, conversely, allows for higher circulating estrogen levels in men which will also inhibit testosterone production. This is an especially important blood test for men with ‘normal’ serum testosterone levels that are experiencing low libido, erectile dysfunction and low energy. Low SHBG levels can be treated by increasing protein in the diet while removing sugar and dairy. You can also try adding flax seeds to your daily protein smoothie or oatmeal since studies show that the lignans found in flax seeds help to increase SHBG synthesis in the liver. If your SHBG levels are too high add more fibre to the diet, or consider a boron supplement: one study showed that taking 10 mg of boron can lower SHBG within only 6 hours of taking it. This same study showed a 28% percent increase in free testosterone levels when supplementing with boron.
*Note: online services provided by Dr. Sarah to those of you living outside of Ontario are delivered as a Certified Functional Medicine practitioner consult and not as an Naturopathic doctor appointment & as such they will not be eligible for reimbursement through private insurance.
This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Naturopathic doctor or primary care physician. Do not use the information in this document for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. Always speak with your Naturopathic doctor before taking any medication or nutritional or herbal or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read online.