Let’s talk about men

There have been a number of reports in the media recently about a decline in male fertility so alarming that it “could make humans extinct”   after a study suggested that sperm counts seemed to have halved in the last forty years. The study found a decline in men in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, but it isn’t clear why this might be happening.

Other experts have suggested that there may be room for some scepticism about the findings from the research team led by Dr Hagai Levine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Although the research is said to be of high quality, some are concerned that it may be too early to be quite so pessimistic about the future, but it is clear that this is an issue which we should be concerned about and looking into more closely.

What often gets forgotten in the discussion about male fertility and sperm counts is the emotional impact for men of dealing with this – and you may be interested in this article with interviews from a number of men about how their experiences of infertility.

Fertility funding

The news of cuts to funding for fertility services has made depressing reading over recent days, with more and more areas cutting IVF in order to save money. As many people realise, cutting funds for IVF is a questionable way to save money in the longer term – you end up with dejected, unhappy people who are far more likely to need medical help for depression and related illnesses (we know from a Fertility Network UK survey that the majority of people with fertility problems have experienced depression and that more than 40% have had suicidal feelings as a result of their fertility problems).

People struggling to fund their own treatment often end up going overseas where IVF can appear cheaper, but where there are not always the same measures in place to reduce the numbers of multiple pregnancies, which is the biggest health risk from IVF.  It doesn’t need many sets of prematurely-born triplets conceived after multiple embryo transfers overseas to wipe out any savings from cutting IVF funding here in the UK.

What was more depressing was the reaction to the news about the cuts from some quarters – people with absolutely no understanding or knowledge about infertility who felt the need to try to grab centre stage by offering ill-informed opinions. We all know that not everyone agrees with the NHS funding IVF treatment, but most of those who think this way have the good grace to recognise that infertility is tough and that anyone experiencing it deserves some empathy. Not so one person writing in the Independent who suggested that fertility treatment “only serves to fulfil people’s whimsical obsession with baby-making”, that the NHS should not pay for people to become parents “if they fancy it” and that there is no justification for treatment “just because it will make some people feel more fulfilled in their life”. It was quite breath-taking to read such a glib and insensitive dismissal of a medical problem. Right back to biblical times, the huge impact of infertility has been understood with Rachel, who was unable to get pregnant, crying “Give me children, or else I die”. Infertility is recognised by the World Health Organisation as an illness, and NICE says that IVF is a clinically and cost-effective treatment.

I’m not adding a link to the article in the Independent, or addressing the poorly researched claims as to why we shouldn’t fund IVF one by one. Suffice to say that a few hours after the piece appeared, the person who wrote it tweeted “So I’m about to go on Newsnight. No big deal, right? RIGHT?!?!”… The tweet explained everything about the lack of empathy, understanding or any shred of human kindness in the piece. This article was never meant to be a thoughtful response to a social problem, but was all about trying to create the sort of stir that gets you noticed and on television. It’s just a shame that the media desire for controversy and debate means that ignorance often gets to masquerade as valid opinion.

The truth about “clean” eating

When you are trying to conceive, it’s inevitable that you want to do all you possibly can to maximise your chances of success and changing your diet seems a fairly easy way of doing something to help. More and more fertility patients are giving up all kinds of foods and focussing on “clean” eating in an attempt to improve outcomes of treatment or to boost their fertility. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is never going to be a bad thing and will, without any doubt, help your overall well-being and make you feel more positive. Giving up whole food groups in the pursuit of clean eating, however, may not have any merit.

This fascinating article by Bee Wilson in The Guardian picks apart the clean eating phenomenon and raises lots of interesting issues about why clean eating has become so popular – and why that probably isn’t such a good thing.

It seems that the answer is moderation and common sense – the story of the wellness blogger who began to lose her hair and whose periods stopped at the start of this piece is a clear enough message about the impact very restrictive diets can have on fertility.

I’ve met so many fertility patients who are on hugely restricted diets – and who are actually made quite miserable by their constant battles to keep on the straight and narrow with their eating plans. Fertility treatment is tough enough without making things even harder for yourself. You may end up feeling guilty if you break your own strict rules when in fact it really isn’t going to stop you getting pregnant if you eat something which doesn’t tick all your healthy eating boxes from time to time.

The most important thing is to be kind to yourself during fertility tests and treatment – that doesn’t mean living on a diet of chocolate and red wine, but it does mean remembering what a balanced diet means and following a sensible eating plan rather than something which is going to make you feel unhappy and which may not be providing you with all the nutrients you need.