New research emerging from the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) is putting male fertility and infertility into the spotlight.
Historically, when thinking about conception, a woman's ability or inability to conceive has been at the forefront of discussions, research and knowledge.
However, emerging data suggests men are responsible for anywhere from 40 to 50 per cent of infertility issues.
"I think women have, I suppose, carried the burden of infertility historically," Dr Geoffrey De Iuliis, who is currently working on male infertility research at HMRI, told 9Honey Parenting.
"And what we're now understanding is that, and it logically makes sense, in fact, males are responsible for around 50 per cent of all human infertility cases. So it's not a female-only problem."
De Iuliis says the gap between female and male fertility knowledge means male infertility understanding and therapy is severely delayed. Research being conducted at institutes such as HMRI hopes to bridge this gap.?
Reproductive scientists are now focusing on the sperm cell to try and understand male infertility and its causes.?
"One of the interesting things about the sperm cell is that it's an incredibly unique human cell. There's no other human cell that's like it," De Iuliis said.
"So we can't draw on the centuries of biology research that's been completed. It's the smallest human cell, but it also can become quite vulnerable to external factors."
HMRI research has begun to identify a number of exposure models that could impact male infertility. These can include stress, heat and even underwear choice.?
"I suppose what we're learning is that, twofold, these environmental stresses are very sensitively picked up by the male reproductive tract and by sperm cells, and we can learn a lot about how the environment is affecting our health," De Iuliis said.
However, these environmental factors may be affecting more than just infertility, he explained, citing some groundbreaking research being conducted by HMRI.
"So what we're finding is that the sperm cell and the male reproductive system are like a canary in the coal mine for male health. There's really incontrovertible data that suggests that if a man has fertility issues this will predict poor health as that man gets older."
De Iuliis also spoke about the links between men's health and fertility at the time of conception. It has been long established a woman's health is paramount during conception and pregnancy, but new research suggests that a man's health is just as important.
"Men have a lot to play in fertility as well, the term we use is periconception. The health of the male at the time of conception is critical," De Iuliis said.
"So, you know, that's another point that we'd like to make is that men potentially haven't thought about or are unaware of, but their overall health at the time of conception is a really critical driver of fertility and also the trajectory of the offspring that's produced."
The reproductive specialist did note men often get away with being less health-conscious during conception than women due to the cyclical nature of sperm production, meaning exterior environmental factors that can affect a man's health will also affect sperm production and quality. However, sperm quality can bounce back after about 10 weeks.
De Iuliis hopes the research he is working on will take the burden of fertility off women and that we can start to see fertility and reproduction issues and prevention as a joint responsibility.
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