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Hormones and Hombres

October 25, 2018
Katie Visco

Pregnancy is like what it’s made out to be, in movies and shows it’s so easy to get pregnant. Well in the real world it's not! In this article, we’ll show you a few possible reasons to why it’s so difficult to get pregnant.

Male Infertility Could be Tied to Air Pollution

polution

We’ve heard about all the dangers of not going green: a planet that becomes one giant landfill, more people with asthma due to poor air quality, and sea levels high enough to drown out all of New York City. For the past few decades, the lingering threat of global warming from the excess of greenhouse gases in the environment has caused a frenzy from activists in hope of saving the Earth. A new study suggests that air pollution isn’t just killing our planet, though; air pollution could be hurting male fertility. With the United States’ fertility already on the decline, this could be a vital piece of the puzzle in figuring out why. Here’s a quick rundown of what we know:

Study Finds Link Between Air Pollution and Male Fertility

CFCs, Smog, and Contaminants… Oh, My!

A new study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggests that air pollution could have adverse effects on sperm quality in men. The study at the Chinese University of Hong Kong says that the threat of pollutants in the air is not only harmful to our lungs and the future of our planets but introduces a threat to the ability for men to procreate. Worst of all – they suggest that contaminated air can be found in almost every region of the world with human inhabitation. They suggest that the effects of pollutants are relatively low from a clinical point of view, but regarding the health of nations, we could have a serious problem on our hands in the future.

What Does Sperm Quality Refer To?

Healthy Sperm is Vital in Male Fertility

With this study suggesting that air pollutants can be harmful to male fertility, what exactly does this mean? In short – healthy sperm must be properly shaped, be able to move properly, and there must be enough sperm to fertilize an egg successfully. Men who are generally healthy (have a healthy BMI, exercise frequently, and eat a balanced diet) tend to have higher quality sperm. Since air pollution has clear ties to health issues in humans, it should not be much of a surprise that male fertility could be at risk as well. With about 10% of couples in Western countries already facing infertility, we should be trying to preserve fertility as much as possible.

How Can I Do My Part in Reducing my Carbon Footprint?

Going green for you and your family is easier than you think

Here are three simple tips to decrease your carbon emissions yourself:

1. Use Public Transportation – Cars are a huge source of air pollutants. If you live in an area where it’s possible to take a bus or train to work, utilizing public transit can be a great way to reduce your own carbon emissions.

2. Watch Your Diet – When it comes to fruits and vegetables, shop for locally-sourced produce as much as possible. There are less production and transportation costs and emission involved. If you’re really committed to reducing your carbon footprint: cut out red meat.

3. Be Energy-Smart – Although transitioning to geothermal or solar energy can be expensive (although sometimes, it doesn’t have to be!), it’s easy to be mindful of supporting companies and manufacturers who do their part in saving the planet.

Although the treats of air pollution on male fertility may be minimal, taking steps towards a healthier planet can make a healthier you. Give it a shot and do your part; your planet and future baby will thank you. Of course, there are many possible reasons for male infertility here's another one, low sperm count.

guy getting ready to run

We have all seen the flashing pop-up ads, promising that testosterone supplements will solve all our problems (spoiler alert: it won’t).  Once and for all, does boosting testosterone levels through treatments and supplements actually increase male fertility?

NOPE!

In fact, too much testosterone can shut down sperm production and lead to harmful side effects such as:

  • Mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Increased risk of heart attacks and strokes

Unless blood tests and symptoms prove that higher testosterone levels are necessary, boosting testosterone is not a wise choice.

What’s Going On

guy's side view

The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that controls male fertility.  The hypothalamus produces gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), a chemical that sends a message to your pituitary gland to produce two different fertility hormones: the luteinizing hormone (LH) and the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).  FSH causes the creation of sperm cells, while LH lets the testes know it is time to produce testosterone. When you take testosterone supplements, your hypothalamus thinks its job is done and slows down production of GnRH. This leads to decreased sperm production.

But if you have low testosterone levels, don’t give up hope!  Check out our tips on how to naturally boost your fertility.

  • Keep Your Genital Area Cool: Heat near the genital area can decrease your sperm count.  Avoid saunas and hot baths, and keep your laptop off your lap.
  • Lose Weight: Maintaining a healthy BMI weight can be crucial to your success in conceiving.  Obese men have lower testosterone levels, as their fat converts testosterone to estrogen.  Losing weight may boost your testosterone levels and increase your fertility.
  • Get Vitamin D: According to a 2015 study, men who have low levels of Vitamin D are more likely to have lower levels of testosterone.  While sunlight is a good source of Vitamin D, prolonged exposure can increase your risk of cancer. Other good sources of Vitamin D include mushrooms, fatty fish, and fortified foods, like grain products or skim milk.
  • Avoid Drugs and Alcohol: Recreational drugs, such as marijuana, have been linked to low testosterone in men.  Other drugs, like steroids and narcotics, can decrease sperm production. Alcohol can impair the secretion of LH and FSH hormones.
  • Quit Smoking: This should go without saying, but smoking can have a negative effect on your health.  Specifically, it has been linked to lower reproductive hormone levels.
  • Exercise Frequently: Not only is exercise helpful in reducing stress and losing weight, but it can also boost your testosterone levels.

While taking testosterone supplements isn’t a safe or effective way of treating low-T levels, there are plenty of natural options to boost your levels.  Through a combination of healthy lifestyle choices, you can increase your testosterone and your fertility.

Hormone Test Is Not Enough to Gauge Fertility In Women

Fertility experts say that an at-home blood test that measures a hormone related to the number of eggs in the ovaries does not give all information necessary to determine fertility.

guy kissing wife

In a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers based in North Carolina reported that their study of 750 women ages 30-44 found that low levels of the antimullerian hormone (AMH) in blood samples didn’t necessarily mean they would have more difficulty conceiving compared to women with normal levels. None of the women had fertility issues beforehand.

The samples were taken over six menstrual cycles during which women were trying to become pregnant. Even after 12 months, the researchers found that low AMH didn’t affect rates of pregnancy. AMH tests are available through fertility programs and can be purchased for about $100 online.

Health professionals often order AMH tests to try to help women become pregnant, but these tests are best interpreted by a doctor. A high level of AMH is related to the number of follicles that can produce eggs, so it’s used as a measure of what is called a woman’s ovarian reserve. It is important to fertility and it decreases with age. Since there are so many factors that go into fertility, this one thing isn't the complete picture as to what is going on.

Difficulty conceiving is a concern for many women — about 6 percent of married women 15-44 years old in the United States don’t get results after a year of trying, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If a woman finds out her AMH level is high, it might give her false assurance that she will have no problem conceiving. There may be other fertility factors involved, but the woman might delay seeking help.

On the other hand, a lower egg count doesn’t mean the woman can’t get pregnant. When a woman is over 35 and hasn’t conceived after six months of trying, they are advised to seek an evaluation. Pregnancy can become very difficult in your 40s because fertility starts to decline exponentially. After 43, pregnancy rates go close to zero. However, women in their mid to late 40s can use eggs from a young donor or their own eggs, frozen when they were younger.

In addition to the AMH test, a fertility evaluation includes checking fallopian tubes to make sure they are open and can carry the egg to the uterus. Other things can also affect fertility, such as thyroid issues.

doctor pointing at computer

A recent study published in the Journal of Endocrine Society found the chance of successful pregnancy in women with childhood-onset combined pituitary hormone deficiencies was increased when they were treated with adequate hormone replacement before ovarian stimulation.  So what does this mean? Let’s break it down.

What is hypopituitarism?

Hypopituitarism is a rare disorder in which the pituitary gland doesn’t produce one or more of its hormones or doesn’t produce enough of them.  The pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain and produces hormones that influence nearly every part of the body’s functions, including reproduction, growth, and blood pressure.

Hypopituitarism is usually caused by a tumor of the pituitary gland, but it can also be the result of inherited disorders.  

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of pubic hair
  • Anemia
  • Infertility
  • Decreased facial or body hair in men
  • Facial puffiness
  • Hot flashes
  • Inability to produce milk in breastfeeding women
  • Irregular periods

Consult your doctor if you experience these symptoms.  Immediate medical care is required if you are also experiencing severe headaches, visual disturbances, or confusion in addition to these symptoms, as such signs could indicate bleeding of the pituitary gland.

What did we learn from this study?

In the study published by the Journal of Endocrine Society, five women with childhood-onset pituitary hormones deficiencies were evaluated.  The women’s ages ranged from 25 to 37 years. The women were all given growth hormones before ovarian stimulation treatment.  This was done through a regimen of oral estradiol valerate plus levonorgestrel replaced conjugated estrogen tablets, in addition to medroxyprogesterone acetate and oral contraceptive pills (with seven day intervals between cycles).

All of the women became pregnant. All of the births were singleton births, except for one set of identical twins.  Three of the births were done through cesarean section, while the other two were vaginal deliveries. All of the babies were healthy, with only one infant being small for gestational age.  None of the infants showed any signs of hypopituitarism.

What does this mean for women with hypopituitarism who want to conceive?

Women with hypopituitarism require a multidisciplinary team for management of their condition and fertility induction both before and during pregnancy.  Still, with appropriate hormonal replacement, healthy pregnancy can occur, resulting in a happy and healthy infant. While this is a very recent study, it demonstrates the ability of women with hypopituitarism to have successful pregnancies.  Talk to your physician about your options and before long, you might be on the road to parenthood!

women lined up

Hormones and male fertility are just as important as your own struggles with pregnancy. Getting pregnant is tough for everyone involved. This complicated problem has many facets only a few of which we’ve tackled here. If you want any help or advice make sure we’re your first stop, we’ll be happy to help and support.

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