World fertility is declining, it is an undisputed fact. According to a meta-analysis of over 70 studies it has become a major world concern that over the last 50 years, male sperm count has been declining by a whopping 1% each year. From 1973 to 2011 sperm count has dropped over 59%. A frightening statistic, and coupled with that, a similarly increasing rate of erectile dysfunction and miscarriage has had a massive effect of birth rates the world over.
This is not confined to developed countries either, the same rate of decline has been measured in African, Asia, Europe and the Americas over the past 50 years and it’s literally putting humanity in a very precarious position as we grapple with increased life expectancy and simply not enough people being born to look after a rapidly aging population.
Economics and demographics aside, what we can do and the causes have been extensively researched by a team headed by Shanna Swann PHD who is a reproductive epidemiologist in the US.
After ruling out the most obvious effects on sperm count such as smoking, obesity, binge drinking and stress; it shows that the most deleterious effects are coming from two major groups of chemicals known as hormone disrupting chemicals that have saturated our lives over the last 50 years. These are called phthalates and phenols and are known hormone disrupters.
Phthalates are chemicals that are added to plastics to make them soft and pliable. You will know the smell, think shower curtains, plastic tubing, pool liners, raincoats and soft plastic bottles. They are also in perfume, some cosmetics, laundry powder and those smelly tress you put in the car to make it smell ‘nice’. These chemicals directly affect the developing foetus primarily in the first trimester and block testosterone in baby boys and effect testosterone levels. This can be severe enough to induce miscarriage or create birth defects in male babies such as un-descended testes and reduced sperm production later in life.
The other is BPA phenols that are chemicals that harden plastics such as those used in food cans, pizza boxes, pesticides, water repellent and Teflon coatings. These hormone disrupting chemicals increase oestrogen levels so combined it means bad news for men.
Thankfully phthalates are able to be flushed from the body in 4 hours, so if you are looking at having a baby get these chemicals out of your life as much as possible.
In East Asian Medicine your reproductive and core strength is known as ‘Jing’ and is a combination of your inherited strength from you parents such as genetic inheritance as well as well as what the mother is exposed to while you are in utero, also known as gestational Qi. After birth and during the first 30 years of life your Jing is at its strongest and can be strengthened with diet, herbal tonics and living a balanced life.
Overwork, stress and lack of sleep plunder the Jing. This is your essence and takes time and effort to nourish. Even exercise need to reflect your personal needs. A hard physical worker is better to do gentle exercise rather than come home after a long day and run or pump weights. This may strengthen the muscles but diminish Jing. Better to do yoga, Tai Chi, walk the dog, be in nature (eg gardening) and let your body be replenished by calm activities.
Eat organically, look at labels on canned foods to ensure they are BPA free, use natural products that do not use artificial fragrances and cook foods from fresh ingredients. Avoid chemical perfumes and never use chemical toilet/room fresheners.
Taking Co-enzyme Q10, royal jelly and guys, wear loose jocks and pants (there is a good reason why the testes hang low).
So often when it comes to fertility the pressure is on the woman when evidence shows that it really takes two to create life, so it’s vital to assess the sperm count so, if need be, herbal supplementation and a natural lifestyle can increase your chances of making that special little one in your life.
Until next time, stay well
Dr Angela Palmer