By: Heidi Toy
Infertility is a pressing and perplexing issue for many couples. The inability to conceive often causes unhappiness and stress during what should be a joyous time, leading couples to seek various forms of testing and treatments. What many of these treatment providers don’t tell couples is twofold. The first is that they are likely only treating symptoms as opposed to underlying conditions, which drastically affects success rates. The second is that, according to the National Infertility Association, 30 percent of infertility issues are related to male factor lifestyle problems, which often remain unaddressed.
Last year, we published an article about how stress affects a mother’s fertility issues. Stress levels impact both DHEA and cortisol levels, which in turn have an effect on a mother’s estrogen and progesterone levels. These levels dictate reproductive health, and being anxious about getting pregnant, or anything else, isn’t going to help matters. But here’s where it gets even more interesting. Many fertility issues can be attributed to the father’s health, stress-level, and overall well-being.
In recent years, the father’s impact on future generations has been more closely studied through a factor called epigenetics. Contrary to the normal DNA testing we hear so much about, epigenetics refers to the chemical reactions that create changes in genetic expression without actual changes in DNA sequencing. In plain English, a person could pass on genetic material while still influencing and passing on experiences to a child. In fact, a study just published by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center claims that fathers are contributing much more to the health and well-being of their children than previously thought.
The potential father who eats a healthy diet and stays away from drugs and alcohol is not only increasing the chances of fertility, but also greatly benefit in the health of his future child. Sperm quality and lifestyle choices have been linked in several studies. For example, sperm quality has been linked to nutrition, nicotine use, age, and caffeine consumption. Of course, a father would also like to set a good example for his children, but it goes much deeper than this. What he probably hasn’t been told is that the behaviors of his father and even his grandfather could have an effect on his future children. While this may sound like it’s all out of your hands and predetermined, this is far from the truth. In fact, epigenetics itself tells us that you’re still in the driver’s seat to a degree.
Epigenetics describes how genes are turned on or off through the use of compounds that attach to DNA. The psychological dimensions of epigenetics could play a role in fertility issues, particularly on the father’s side. It’s been found that emotional stress can interfere with certain hormones that are involved in sperm production. If the brain fails to release enough gonadotrophic-releasing hormone (GnRH), a disruption in this hormone can lead to a lack of testosterone and diminished sperm production. Eliminating stress and other underlying issues from the father’s life can bring GnRH and testosterone back to normal levels and increase the chances of a successful pregnancy.
If you are struggling to get pregnant, you are right to question any so-called expert who recommends treating symptoms as opposed to identifying underlying issues. The best way to achieve success is through proper testing and correcting the cause. Many of these causes are not only affecting your fertility but are also likely holding you back from leading a healthy life, which will impact the health and well-being of your future children. Fixing the “why” is always the best and healthiest solution.
Heidi Toy is a Functional Nutritional Therapist, and the owner of “Educated Nutrition,” located in Altoona, WI. Her focus is helping people heal holistically, with an emphasis on digestion, weight loss, depression, female hormone issues, and fatigue.