Fertility Journey – Part 3 (Not So Traditional Chinese Medicine)

“First of all,” Dr. Chang of Southern California Reproductive Center said to us a few months ago, “We’ll need to improve hubby’s sperm quality.”

We sat in a luxurious office in Beverly Hills. This is where the wealthy and powerful come to make babies and I’ll be honest, I was intimidated. The lobby was like a fashion show, full of beautiful, well-dressed women of all sizes of skinny eying any new addition to the waiting circle like she was a cart of free handbags. The stares went beyond outfit and jewelry assessment, however. They were obvious attempts to determine the most important questions: “What is wrong with this woman’s fertility profile? How is she any different from me?”

Despite the glances from these perfectly polished ladies, ages ranging from 25 to 45, there was a silent solidarity. We were all in this together. We were here because we wanted a baby. We were here because we hadn’t been able to make one on our own. Any judgments passed would cycle back to that truth. No one was better or worse than anyone else.

“How do we do improve his sperm?” I asked the lovely Dr. Chang, who sat behind a monstrous wooden desk, morning light streaming in from a wall-sized window. Dr. Chang’s office was almost as large as our bedroom. Yeah. Books on pregnancy and prenatal nutrition sat on side tables and lined shelves. Pictures of babies, smiling happy success stories, were everywhere.

“There are many, many ways to do that,” Dr. Chang said smiling, “Some of which, will also apply to you wifey.” This stunning Chinese woman with flawless skin and Tori Burch pumps, higher than I’d ever seen a doctor wear, was about to begin her treatise on Sperm and Fertility Health 101.

1. Proxceed. Though she gave us a list of sperm specific supplements we could buy including Vitamin C and L-Carnitine, she highly recommended a supplement called Proxceed. She said it would dramatically improve hubby’s stuff, but that the process would take time. We’d see some improvement after the first month, then three months, but major improvement would come after six. Six months! It would take half a year to rejuvenate the little swimmers? Dr. Chang explained that sperm take 71 days to regenerate. This was especially disappointing because when I visited Amazon to locate this Proxceed business, I discovered that the sperm juice doesn’t come cheap. While individual boxes were available for around $40 a pop, I took heed to Dr. Chang’s advice. Real improvement would take time, so I ordered a 6-month supply.

2.Little to no alcohol. For working adults in a metropolitan city, I am convinced that drinking is as much a part of life as breathing is, only much more fun. You drink margaritas at beach birthday parties. You drink bottled beer, draft beer, imported beer while watching games. You drink Bloody Marys and Mimosas at brunch on Sundays. You drink Martinis or mixed drinks at subdued work happy hours. You have a glass of wine or three with dinner, never astounded when you’ve polished off a whole bottle.  We may sound like alcoholics, but the truth was, until 3-months ago, we drank. A lot. Few weekends were escaped without some semblance of a hangover, some worse than others. If the man of the house needed to quit, I would too. After all, how could self-induced headaches, dehydration, and day after nausea, the kind where even drinking water makes you gag, be good for anybody? At 30 and 31 respectively, it was time to stop partying like college kids.

So why exactly was alcohol that bad, aside from the obvious?

Drinking for me:

A 2009 Daily Mail article claims that “Giving up alcohol and caffeine [for women] is as good as IVF.” Whoa there, Daily Mail. Really? I read on.”Dr. Derbyshire said the odds of conceiving fall from 60 per cent in women who have one to five alcoholic drinks a week to 30 per cent for those consuming more than ten.”

Then there was the Danish study of 430 couples that found a decrease in pregnancy rates for those consuming just 1 to 5 drinks per week. Because this research was from 1998, I googled on.
I found a startling article on Pubmed titled Alcohol’s Effects on Female Reproductive Function that said the following:
“Mild–to–moderate alcohol use affects female reproductive function at several stages of life. It has been shown to have a detrimental effect on puberty, to disrupt normal menstrual cycling and reproductive function, and to alter hormonal levels in postmenopausal women. In addition, alcohol use can have implications for bone health.”
While fertility and conception were not directly mentioned in this study, I made a connection. If mild-to-moderate alcohol use could disrupt the menstrual cycle then it could disrupt any number of factors necessary for conception (which include a healthy cycle). Overall, I decided to take Dr. Chang’s advice, little to no drinking could help us both.

Drinking for him:

Research on how alcohol’s affects sperm quality come in a mixed bag. Some say not so bad, but most recommend that men who are trying to conceive starkly reduce their alcohol intake.

One study, which evaluated the effect of alcoholic consumption on IVF success, said that for every additional drink the man consumed, the risk of conception not leading to a live birth increased by 2 to 8 times. This was true for beer drinking as well. Since it was looking more and more likely that we’d need IVF, this just further corroborated Dr. Chang’s advice.

“Are you sure he has to quit drinking?” I asked her, seeing the look on hubby’s face in the chair next to me. He looked like someone had just told him his childhood dog had been run over by a car. Whiskey and/or Scotch, up to a few glasses a night at least four evenings a week, had been quit the obedient pet. It didn’t snarl or bite  at Mr. Business Man, it just helped him forget the troubles of loan closings and interest rates. Luckily, hubby never got out of control, or neglected his responsibilities as the result of drinking, but regardless it would have to go.

“Absolutely sure,” she said, “I’m going to be the mean Chinese mom here and say it loud and clear. No drinking!” It was easier for her to impose an all or nothing rule, she explained later.

3. No bike rides, hot tubs, or tight shorts. Basically anything that heats up the testicles or applies pressure can damage sperm quality. We’d been hot tubing it up AND going for long bike rides all in the same day. Luckily, however, the tight shorts weren’t a problem. My hubby’s more of a boxer kind of guy. But of course we’d miss our long treks to the beach along the Los Angeles river bike trail. I had faith that soon enough we’d be back at it, hopefully towing a kid behind in one of those awesome stroller things.

4. Exercise. Because Scotch and Whiskey would no longer be in the picture, Dr. Change agreed with me that exercise would be the most ideal from of stress release. But she cautioned hubby not to over do it, a recommendation that many online sources corroborate. Livestrong says that, “Medium intensity is the key when you’re trying to conceive. If you approach it like training for the Olympics, you’ll make the problem worse. Pick an exercise like brisk walking, jogging, swimming or running and do it for 30 minutes, three to five days out of the week.”

5. Diet. While my husband has a fairly diverse palette, his tastes usually gravitate to burgers, steaks, and mashed potatoes. It’s rare to see him order a salad when we’re eating out. It’s like an act of God to see him eating fruit. But, of course, this was another thing we’d have to change. “Eat lots of fruits and veggies,” Dr. Chang instructed. I had told him all this before, and he’d certainly improved since we got married, but there was still work to be done. I have since learned that the key is ranch dressing. It makes every salad better as far as the Hubster is concerned. 

6. No smoking. Just about everyone on planet earth, except for maybe some remote places in Africa and South America and mountainous China, knows that smoking with kill you. What we didn’t realize is that its poison reaches far beyond the cardiovascular system.

Smoking for me:

When Dr. Chang was counting my egg follicles (8 on the left and 11 to 12 on the right) she was astounded that I had so many. Why the surprise? I had admitted to her that for about three years I smoked cigarettes, then for many after I smoked socially. She made me promise I’d never let my daughter do the same. “Absolutely horrible for your fertility,” she said.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) in their fertility fact sheet says:

“Components in cigarette smoke have been shown to
interfere with the ability of cells in the ovary to make
estrogen and to cause a woman’s eggs (oocytes) to be
more prone to genetic abnormalities.”

My follicle counts and hormones actually looked pretty normal (a very positive thing in helping determine IVF success rates) despite the Newport Lights of my youth. She surmised that my healthy eating habits and lifelong commitment to exercise, combine with genetics, had helped offset the damage that smoking caused.

Smoking for him:

Dr. Chang was clear on the subject of smoking. “No more cigars,” she said, “Sorry.” While the ASRM puts forth this startling, but pretty well-known, statistic:

“Men who smoke cigarettes have a lower sperm count and
motility and increased abnormalities in sperm shape and
function.”

THE RESULTS

About a month ago, we decided it was time to test his sperm again. He’d been drinking Proxceed twice a day for about 35-days along with the other lifestyle changes mentioned above. I am THRILLED to announce that his motility and morphology improved from 5% healthy sperm overall to 20%! He’s just 10% away from the normal range. Woohoo! We also found out that his counts are some of the highest that Dr. Chang has ever seen! We hope that by the time we either start trying again or proceed with IVF in January, that the additional months of the magic juice, combined with healthy living, will make us that much more fertile.

Not drinking was hard at first (much harder for hubby) because most social situations involved our hard partying friends and old habits die-hard. We were forced to gravitate toward mellow Sunday dinners, rather than Saturday nights of bar hoping. But since then we’ve both enjoyed better sleep, better skin, and less fat around the middle. I’m enjoying eating my calories, rather than drinking them (baked apples are my favorite!). All the while I’ve been my husband’s exercise and healthy eating coach (he still loves his burgers though). And of course hot tubs and bike rides are a thing of the past.

Whether it’s the Proxceed, the sobriety, the exercise, or all three, I’m pleased that Dr. Chang’s advice has already gotten us results. Though there’s no baby (yet), we’re both feeling happier and healthier than ever.

 

 

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