How your current lifestyle is undermining your future fertility
Indulging in alcohol and cigarettes is quite normal by Kenyan socialising standards. In fact, if you fail to partake, you will be the recipient of endless ridicule. What you do not know is that the habit is capable of robbing you of your fertility.
“Youth are drinking heavily, smoking and watching pornography not knowing they are undermining their fertility. By the time they get to 28 years and want to have children, they notice the children are not coming,” says Moses Edwin, a trained fertility specialist and biochemist.
He describes male infertility as the inability of a man to make a woman pregnant within one or more year(s) of unprotected sex; while female infertility is the inability of a woman aged 28 and 30 years to conceive after trying for a period of one year or lack of conception without using protection for a period of six months.
“In the next few years, we shall have more and more men having erections and ejaculating, but failing to make women pregnant because of heavy drinking and smoking,” he says.
Edwin says that alcohol adversely impacts the spermatozoa process in men compromising the viability of sperm and in turn their fertility. Alcohol leads to reduced seminal quality, low testosterone levels, decrease in semen volume and sperm count
On the other hand, Cadmium and cotinine are two specific toxins found in tobacco smoke that can reduce sperm quality and egg production. Other impacts of smoking on fertility include increased sperm DNA damage and reduced fertilisation and development potential, culminating in lower pregnancy rates. Women who smoke are known to reach menopause early and it also increases female infertility. Smoking other substances can also negatively impact fertility.
The fertility specialist says infertility in men can be a result of various factors including, poor sperm motility (movement of the sperm), abnormal sperm shape, low sperm count, and erectile dysfunction (ED) among others.
Emergency pills abuse
He notes the emerging risks of infertility among women include the indiscriminate use of emergency pills. Such pills were developed to be taken during cases of emergency and should only be used twice a year contrary to their current long-term use.
“Abusing this contraceptive as it is happening every weekend among young adults affects a woman’s menses (menstruation), which could bring issues of fertility. If you need a contraceptive, my advice is that you get tested to find out what long-term method will suit you best,” says Edwin.
He also adds that when a person consumes a lot of pornography, they experience a dopamine surge, a phenomenon that produces unviable sperms.
The biochemist says that while young people are increasingly shelving childbearing to clinch other life goals, they should be mindful of their ticking biological clocks.
“Science says infertility rate in a woman increases with age. A woman who is approaching 30 might struggle to conceive more than one who is younger. The most suitable age for giving birth would be between 24 to 28 years,” he explains.
As men age, testosterone levels begin to decrease and hypogonadism (when your sex glands produce little or no sex hormones) results. However, if testosterone is used to treat hypogonadism, it can suppress spermatogenesis. Semen parameters also begin a steady decline as early as age 35; semen volume and motility both decrease and morphology may become increasingly abnormal. After the age of 40, men can have significantly more DNA damage in their sperm, as well as a decline in both motility and viability.
A woman is born with all the oocytes (a female germ cell involved in reproduction) she will ever have, and only 400–500 are actually ovulated. As the number of oocytes declines, a woman’s menstrual cycle shortens, infertility increases and menstrual irregularity begins six to seven years before menopause.
Edwin observes that women and men are presenting with early infertility at age 28 years unlike some years ago when this would happen at 30.
According to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey report (KDHS) released last month, the number of children a woman is bearing has dropped from 6.7 in 1989 to 3.3 in 2022. The number of childbirths was also highest between the age of 25- 35.
Number of options
Dr Sarita Sukhija, an In- Vitro Fertilisation (IVF ) and fertility expert at Myra IVF and Medical centre in Nairobi, says there are a number of options for those who wish to postpone childbirth and those unable to conceive naturally.
“There are so many options for those who want to defer pregnancy. Women can freeze their eggs until when they want to have children. The men can also keep their sperms in a bank until when they are ready to have children,” says Dr Sarita
She adds, “We are seeing women coming in very late for fertility services such as IVF. A woman in her 40s has a very low egg count and has diminished chances of giving birth.”
An IVF service at the facility costs Sh400,000 and requisite injections are Sh100,000 totalling Sh500,000 for one cycle. A successful IVF may require more than one cycle.
Freezing an egg will also set you back 15 per cent of the total cost of IVF (about Sh200,000,) and Sh10,000 per month or Sh100,000 per year for storage.
The sperm and eggs are stored under specially controlled conditions and can be preserved for many years.
The OB/GYN says that the steep cost of IVF is due to high taxation on consumables. She says the price is three times higher in the country than it is in her native country India.
IVF success rates are 30 to 35 per cent worldwide according to the doctor.