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The Often-Forgotten Half of the Fertility Equation

by Dawn Combs

Publishers’ note: This is the second installment of a two-part series that explores struggles with, and potential solutions for, problems of conception. The first installment, entitled “My Infertility Story: One Woman’s Journey”, was published in the May 2014 issue.

One of the most surprising things I encountered when I began working on fertility issues with our doctors was the notion that my husband wasn’t very involved. There is a sense today that what men have to contribute is the same regardless of the individual, and this couldn’t be further from the truth.

male-fertilityThe typical sperm count and motility test found my husband to be “normal”, so our doctors focused on me. This is understandable in a medical model of fertility. When you chase the symptom rather than using a holistic view of the couple, tests can sideline one partner or the other. We have conditioned men to feel alienated from a woman’s fertility. We teach them as young boys that a woman’s cycle is a mystery. In the case of infertility, modern medicine often makes him an outsider to the process of making his very own child.

The truth is that men are just as responsible for the very possibility, and the healthy foundation, of their children. Two cells merge at the beginning of life and we have, for too long, valued the health of one over the other. We need to empower men to take an active role in the health of all of their body’s cells, especially those required for half of the equation to create a child. Whether his sperm count and motility are deemed “normal” or “abnormal”, there are foods and herbs that can be used to improve health. Except in rare structural issues, abnormal does not mean inadequate, but merely that the body is not fully healthy and there is work to be done.

Whole foods may be the first answer for couples when fertility is a struggle. Dietary changes that remove synthetic and non-food substances such as hydrogenated oils, unfermented soy, food dyes, chemicals and caffeine, as well as processed sugars and flours, are a start. Incorporating foods that support a healthy endocrine and reproductive system, such as grass-fed meat and dairy, proper fats, and properly prepared grains and greens, are next steps.

Long-standing deficiencies and diseases should be addressed. Is there unresolved back pain or ongoing cholesterol issues and headaches? Instead of sweeping these under the rug, realize that these are just as much an issue of reproduction as is the health of the sperm. Any deficiencies that are held in our cells will be the foundation upon which we build our children. Slowing down enough to develop optimal health before adding children to our family is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

There are many herbs to increase the health of the male reproductive system. I laugh every time a man at one of my seminars balks at drinking the tea I am serving because it includes red raspberry (Rubus idaeus) leaf. We readily recognize the herbs that have traditionally been used for women’s health. Few know, unfortunately, that these herbs are just as good for men. These herbs don’t have any inherent ability to endow the drinker with either feminine or masculine qualities. Red raspberry leaf was traditionally fed to stallions to improve their virility. I chuckle when I think about what my male students might be passing up.

I hear little about therapies available to men to improve sperm motility, quality and quantity. Too often, when the tests reveal a problem, couples feel they must give up. On the contrary, many herbs have been used in these cases for centuries. Adding herbs like ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), milky oats (Avena sativa) and fo ti (Polygonium multiflorum) while changing diet and lifestyle can have dramatic effects on fertility.

Dawn Combs has over 20 years of ethnobotanical experience, is a Certified Herbalist and has a B.A. in Botany and Humanities/Classics from OWU. Dawn is co-owner of Mockingbird Meadows, a local herbal health farm, where she consults with women and their partners on issues of hormonal balance, oversees the United Plant Savers (UpS) Botanical Sanctuary and operates the Eclectic Herbal Institute.

Read more about herbs that support male fertility in Dawn’s book, “Conceiving Healthy Babies, an Herbal Guide to Support Preconception, Pregnancy and Lactation,” due out September 9 from New Society Publishers and currently available for pre-sale on amazon.com.

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