According to Meggan Zunckel from the Infertility Association of South Africa, one in six couples in South Africa struggle with fertility.
Stats from Leon Swartz (2003) and IndexMundi (2017) prove that this is a growing trend, with the total number of children born per South African woman decreasing from 6 to 7 in the baby boomer era, to 2.47 in 2000, and 2.29 in 2017.
We look at the most common fertility concerns in SA.
Fertility in men
According to the Infertility Awareness Association of South Africa, men have an equal chance of suffering from infertility as women do; the most common issues being low sperm count and poor sperm health.
Dalene Barton-Schuster of Natural Fertility Info says that a sperm count of 20 million+ per millilitre is healthy. Poor sperm health, she explains, relates to sperm motility (movement/tail whip) and morphology (form/DNA). It can result from:
- Cancer and chemotherapy
- Damage to the reproductive organs
- Anti-sperm antibodies, where sperm is attacked by the immune system
- Poor lifestyle habits, like smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet, and stress
- Environmental factors like pollution
ALSO SEE: Lifestyle factors that can influence your fertility
Blocked vas deferens
Tim Taylor at innerbody.com says the vas deferens is “a tiny muscular tube in the male reproductive system that carries sperm to the ejaculatory duct”. Barton-Schuster elaborates that a blockage of this tube can result from a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or varicocele (varicose veins in the testes). The latter can be treated with surgery.
Treating male infertility
According to Hethir Rodriguez, founder and president of Natural Fertility Info, male infertility treatments include:
- Improving the diet and including nutrients like zinc, selenium, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin C, L-carnitine, and antioxidants
- Reducing exposure to hormones in meat and milk, as well as oestrogen-mimicking toxins in pesticides, plastics, and soy products
- Taking herbal supplements like American ginseng, ashwagandha root, horny goat weed, ginkgo biloba, goji berries, maca root, and saw palmetto berries.
Fertility in women
Rodriguez says that while men may only need a couple of tests to determine the cause of their infertility, women often need several. This is because there are many factors that could contribute to infertility in women. Some of the most common include:
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in the US, PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women. In fact, Stephanie Watson, a writer at healthline.com, says that up to 26.7% of women of childbearing age could have PCOS – and up to 70% of these may not even know about it.
PCOS isn’t a straightforward condition either, says Watson. It’s called a syndrome because it usually consists of at least two of the following symptoms:
- Ovarian cysts
- Excessive male hormones
- Irregular or skipped periods
This often presents with symptoms like:
- Weight gain
- Insulin resistance or diabetes
- Male-pattern hair growth or loss
Watson says the most common treatments include the contraceptive pill and diabetes medication, but natural treatments include:
- Weight loss
- Regular exercise
- Diet and herbal supplements (read more on this from Rodriguez (2008)
READ MORE ON PCOS HERE.
Other ovulation disorders
Barton-Schuster says that not ovulating is usually caused by a hormonal imbalance that can be aggravated by:
- Endocrine problems
- Diet, stress or poor lifestyle
- Obesity or low body weight
- Long-term use of hormonal medications, like the contraceptive pill
- Xenohormones (chemicals found in substances like plastic and soy that act like hormones in the body).
The Mayo Clinic explains that endometriosis is an “often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus – the endometrium – grows outside your uterus.” Just like the lining of the uterus, this tissue thickens and sheds with every menstrual cycle. But, with nowhere to go, it gets trapped and can develop scar tissue and adhesions.
Common symptoms include:
- Painful periods
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain with bowel movements or urination
- Excessive or unusual bleeding
- Other symptoms, like fatigue, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating or nausea.
Treatments range from pain medication to hormone-related drugs and surgery.
READ MORE ON ENDOMETRIOSIS HERE.
Blocked fallopian tubes
Barton-Schuster explains that the fallopian tubes are “the pathways in which the ova travel from the ovaries into the uterus,” and blockages affect as many as 25% of female infertility cases.
Rodriguez says blocked tubes can be caused by sexually transmitted diseases, endometriosis, a history of abdominal surgery, or a previous ectopic pregnancy. Fertility treatments include minimally invasive surgery to unblock the tubes, in-vitro fertilisation, or natural approaches like diet, herbal supplementation, and alternative therapies.
Fertility is a growing international concern. While some of the best medicine boils down to diet and exercise, the more complex cases should always be discussed with a medical professional.
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