Thursday, December 3, 2009

my husband's sperm saga -- a cautionary tale

When we were ready to start trying to conceive a year and a half ago, my gynecologist ordered up a sperm test for my husband. The results were terrible -- poor number, morphology, and motility.

So she sent him to a well-known urologist who specializes in dealing with these issues. He said that my husband had variocecles, which are like varicose veins of the scrotum. Often people have surgery for them, but due to my age and the recovery time needed from the surgery, he didn't recommend it. He recommended that he take some fertility vitamins, and sent him on his way.

Having read in The Infertility Cure that there were Chinese medicine ways to deal with variocecles, and overall good clinical proof that Chinese herbs and acupuncture could help sperm quality, I told him to pick an acupuncturist and try that route. He went to one that I had previously gone to, a Chinese doctor who has excellent qualifications that appealed to him. Unfortunately, he experienced the same assembly-line and impersonal care that I had had from that same doctor, and his sperm didn't improve. So he switched to another acupuncturist, again a specialist in fertility issues. She gave him herbs and some antioxidants, but even with regular treatments his sperm were not getting better.

By this time 8 months had passed and his sperm were still abysmal. I switched to a new gynecologist, who saw his numbers and sent him to yet another famous urologist, who several hundred dollars later said the same thing, you have a variocecle, and no other helpful advice whatsoever.

However, something told me that it wasn't just the variocecle. I persuaded him to go to the Bioset practioner I see. First she thought he needed more B12, and put him on B12 supplements and patches. Evidently often that makes a big and significant improvement in sperm quite quickly. When it didn't, she decided to look further. She did a urine test from Metametrix, which showed significant oxidative stress. He was taking a lot of antioxidants, do what could that be from? So she did a urine heavy metals test that showed levels of mercury off the chart! And high lead too. A quick internet check confirmed that mercury and lead are deadly for sperm.

So he got his mercury fillings removed, and started detoxing. However, he never felt comfortable with the Bioset, my practitioner could not explain it enough for him (he's a PhD computer scientist, just a little analytical...), and he didn't want to see her regularly to be assisted through the detox. At the end of the summer he told me flat out that he didn't trust this practitioner and her machine (even though she was the only one who was able to give any insight into the true cause of his problem and had made the effort to actually investigate rather than just do the standard thing like the acupuncturists and urologists he had seen). I told him fine, you don't have to see her but you need to find someone you are comfortable with who can deal with the heavy metal issues and what turned up on the Metametrix. He said he wanted to see a physician, not an acupuncturist or chiropractor.

So I got a bunch of referrals to specialists in what is called integrative medicine -- doctors who also look at holistic aspects, rare in the balkanized world of medicine today. He looked into but rejected most of them for one reason or another (he is the fussiest person on earth!). One he wanted to see is not accepting new patients. Another time he talked to a doctor and found he was not quite the right fit, but it sounded like someone else in his office was, so he left a message for her but she didn't return it. Etc. etc. so despite my constantly bugging him about it he didn't prioritize it and months passed and he still hadn't gone to a new doctor.

Meanwhile around October I had him do another urine heavy metals test from the Bioset practioner that showed that his levels had gone down a lot but were still elevated. Also, it showed the creatinine level abnormally high. The Bioset practioner said that's because he detoxed too fast and without sufficient attention to "drainage" and that he had taxed his kidneys. "Typical of what happens in an unsupervised detox" she said -- from her point of view, how could she help him if he refused to come in for follow-up and adjustments to his supplement regimen. She advised stopping any detox (except for mud baths, which take the metal out through your skin not your kidneys) for the time being. But even after I said "look, with these results you really need to see a doctor now, to figure out how to support your kidneys and restart your detox" he didn't make it a prioirity.

Finally a month ago, about at my wit's end for how to get him to do something constructive and personalized to his situation, I remembered something I had read about in The Fertility Diet
-- a group in the U.K. called Foresight that does hair analysis for people who want to conceive, and recommends supplementation based on it. They have excellent results of when people follow their program they are able to conceive. When I first read about it this spring, my husband was seeing the Bioset practioner so I felt that he was being treated, and as for me I certainly am getting plenty of treatment, so I didn't think it was something we needed to do. However, with my husband refusing to do anything else, I thought this would be a good idea as it would get a recommendation based on his data --- which I think makes sense, and which he likes as a scientist.

So we sent our hair off to the U.K. and just got the results. Not surprisingly, his are terrible. His heavy metals (cadmium, lead, and mercury) are really high, and his zinc is really low. The zinc was a bit of a surprise though because he's been taking the fertility vitamins recommended by first the urologist and then by our fertility clinic, which have a lot of zinc. However, further reading on the internet yesterday showed that evidently cadmium interferes with zinc absorption. So all the cadmium in his body -- his score for that was particularly bad -- must be interfering with him getting zinc. And other reading shows that just a slight zinc deficiency dooms sperm, so with his huge zinc deficiency and all those metals, I don't think that we can expect his sperm to be any better this time.

Fortunatly, we are using ICSC which takes sperm from the top 1-2%, but in my mind if all the sperm are terrible that means that the top 1-2% of terrible are still not good. So I am feeling sad and angry about it.

As for me, I am also feeling frustrated that after three years of detoxing, no alcohol for 2, drinking filtered water and using only cleaning products purchased at Whole Foods, and eating lots of organic and little wheat, and taking all number of pills, how is it that I still have so much heavy metal?!!! Ugh!

Just before I starting writing this post, I sent an email to my acupuncturist with similar sentiments, and she replied the following just now (great timing!):

I appreciate the depression you describe. I also suggest a few things regarding the hair test. I might ask the company how many of these results come out in extremely high range. One of the reason i discontinued these tests at the clinic is that I found labs reporting extremely dire results in ALL cases. And my take home conclusion was that as people age, they all collect toxicity, the imprint of which is left in the hair, even if the substantial aspect of it has been flushed from the actual body. Sometimes patients who have done the most detox work actually have higher levels recorded here, as the sloughing process is registered in the hair as well, and so I feel this can be a confusing data point. Additionally, rather than a dire finding, I feel this reminds us that your system is a sensitive one, that you deserve and require long-term support to your detoxification pathways, and that post-cycle and going forward, we can work most thoughtfully to nourish you there.

That does make me feel better. I am so glad to have such a great acupuncturist (found after trying many) who is so thoughtful and supportive.

Anyway, a positive thing has come out of this. I looked at the list of supplements that Foresight recommended. They are their own brand name items, and it's not practical to order them from the U.K. So I wrote down all the ingredients, and referenced it to the ingredients in what my husband and I are currently taking. That was a couple hours of analysis!

For my husband, it meant a big trip to the vitamin section. He needed to add a broad spectrum multivitamin, up his zinc and vitamin C, and add vitamin K and garlic and some probiotics and other things. He now has a collection of pill bottles to rival mine. He is willing to take these because they are recommended in a scientific process. Also after I got very upset with him yesterday about all of this, he promised to get back on the search for a doctor.

For me, since I was taking a lot already, it didn't mean adding too many things, but there were some recommendations for me:

Also, on the Bioset my practioner treated me for some of the other vitamins to help increase my absorption.

This whole oddysey, between my fibroids and my husband's sperm, is so indicative of the state of healthcare today. The western doctors all they can think about is cutting things out. The alternative people it depends a lot on who you deal with and some of them can be just as narrow as the western ones. Interestingly, a friend of mine wrote a book along the same lines, about her dealing with constant serious headache, called All in My Head: An Epic Quest to Cure an Unrelenting, Totally Unreasonable, and Only Slightly Enlightening Headache. I highly recommend it.

Finally, on what I hope is a hopeful note, I passed some tissue yesterday along with a restarting of my period after 24 hours when I thought it was done. Three of them, about an inch land a half long each, so strange looking I picked one up out of the toilet to examine it. Consistency of liver, kind of gelatinous but very dense. Could it be part of my fibroids coming out? I asked my acupuncturist and she said the following (note: I was on birth control pills as part of the process for the stimulation and egg retrieval I'm doing next week)

These clots do sound like the passing of tissue and i wouldn't rule out the flushing of aspects of the fibroid as a cause. That said, it may be that the withdrawl of the birth control pills led to a period of more substance and in your system this is the reflection of that. Again, hard to gauge with multiple variables contributing, but my fingers crossed that it was a nourishing move out to purify the lining of this month.

So who knows. Cross your fingers for us! We continue to soldier on.


Ginae said...

that's wonderful news! i am keeping my fingers crossed for you that it was fibroid tissue that came out! i have heard that it comes out through urine, BM's and clots when on your period.

Fibroid Shrinker said...

Thank you! I would need to pass a lot more tissue (10x the amount that came out) for it to mean my fibroids were gone, but any step of progress helps. Let's hope that's what it is!