In the circle of life, the ability to reproduce oneself and nurture another life often carries a special meaning and purpose to one’s own existence. This is a fundamentally deep-seated desire in many men and women, and one that is often taken for granted by both sexes.
But as the talk about population growth increases, it is natural to ask oneself: will I have a problem? Are there any tell-tale signs that should make me suspect that all is not well? Here is a simple preliminary checklist that can help you assess both male and female fertility status.
1. Do I have any medical problems? Am I on any medications? If you are, then get a review with your physician and inform them you want medications that will not hinder your fertility. Certain cholesterol lowering drugs, for instance, can often lower your hormone levels, making it more difficult for you to become pregnant.
2. What’s my Body Mass Index? Being at an optimal BMI helps boost both male and female hormonal levels. Additionally, women at an optimal BMI will also make the resulting pregnancy easier to carry.
3. What’s my diet like? What’s my daily routine like? Do I sleep enough? Parents-to-be should consciously try to eat more lean meats, more vegetables, fit in some exercise and get adequate rest to reduce the amount of damage free radicals would do to one’s eggs or sperm.
4. Do I need supplements? Zinc, Coenzyme Q10 , Vitamin Bs, Folate and Omega 3 supplements are some basic supplements that you can add to your diet to help boost the chances of having healthier eggs and sperms.
In order for pregnancy to take place, both male and female partners in the relationship need to have healthy eggs and sperm. To this end, any potential father can opt for a sperm count, a simple test to show the actual number of active normal healthy sperm in his ejaculate. This test can be done at most clinics and hospitals, and can reveal if there are any problems with the sperm: such as if the sperm volume or density is too low, if the total sperm count is insufficient, if sperm viability and motility is too low and so on.
Of particular interest is sperm morphology, which measures the shape of the sperm. A man’s sperm morphology is considered to be normal if at least four per cent or more of the sperm have normal morphology. This is important as morphology is known to be a predictor of success in fertilising oocytes during in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
Depending on the parameters which show up on the tests, there is a large variety of possible treatment options. The simplest, however, would be to start on some nutritional supplements, change of lifestyle and adding some exercise to optimize personal health prior to the use of medications or surgery. However, it should be noted that it takes 70 days for a sperm to be assembled. As such, recent changes to diet or treatments may not result in immediate improvements.
On the female side of things, one’s ovulation cycle is of particular importance. Even when there are regular menses, this does not mean an ovulation has necessarily occurred. If you have a regular 28-day cycle, on day 12 to day 14, you should observe the discharge of clear, runny mucus from the vagina, indicating a spike in the estrogen corresponding to ovulation.
Around the time of ovulation , there is also a sudden peak of the woman’s Luteinising hormone. This can be detected by a simple urine test kit available over the counter at most pharmacies. This hormonal surge precedes ovulation by 36 hours and thus can be used by couples to optimise their chances of conception.
If you have longer or irregular cycles, a Basal Body Temperature Chart can also be used to determine if you are ovulatory or not. See your gynaecologist if you fail to obtain a satisfactory ovulation signal for a pelvic scan to determine when ovulation is going to occur or if you need medication to assist in ovulation.
Several scans may also be used by your gynaecologist in determining if there is a problem with your fertility. For instance, a pelvic ultrasound will help detect if there are any any abnormalities (e.g. fibroids, endometrial polyps, ovarian cysts) in the uterus, whereas a saline sonogram will help detect any irregularities in the uterine cavity as well as give an assessment of the patency of the fallopian tubes.
If either male or female has some form of deficiency, see a fertility doctor to draw up a plan to fertility. If necessary, the couple may also wish to consider engaging in Assisted Reproduction Techniques such as IVF (in vitro fertilization). Couples under 40 years of age seeking such treatment should be aware that the government have assistance plans that they may wish to apply for.
In most cases, however, simple things like improving one’s diet, getting enough rest and exercise and using nutritional supplements cannot be stressed enough. Remember: healthy adults have healthy eggs and sperms and, therefore, are more likely to have healthy babies!
|Dr Ann Tan, PBM|
|Obstetrician & Gynaecologist|
|MBBS (S'PORE), MRCOG (LONDON),|
|M MED (O&G) FAM (SINGAPORE)|