Fertility Begins with Good Soil

Barren soil
The soil is the thing… for good health and fertility (Courtesy: Unsplash)

You may remember the movie Raising Arizona, the hyperactive Coen Brothers comedy in which Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter, an unlikely and infertile couple (petty thief and policewoman), steal a baby to start their family. According to Cage, “Her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.” This earthy analogy surfaced again recently at a workshop of holistic and Eastern medicine providers where I spoke.

Providers of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine value and prioritize mind-body balance and holistic wellness. Listening to their care philosophy and fertility successes, their secret sauce became clear: optimal fertility is achieved when the whole individual is in good, balanced health. Yes, good soil is needed to optimally grow the plant. And the same is true for fertility.

Sperm Mirrors Health

Although an ancient belief in Eastern medicine, the idea that optimal fertility is achieved with ideal overall health is a relatively new notion in Western medicine. It first occurred to me about 15 years ago when I realized that genetics could explain some, but not most cases of male infertility. Something else must be going on. Later, we published that poor semen quality can be a “biomarker” of health issues like cancer, and this has been widened to include other diseases. Now, when I evaluate male infertility in the setting of abnormal semen quality, I ask “What is going on with this individual’s health that could explain the infertility?” Yes, the soil or the body that envelops the reproductive organs, matters. And it matters a lot! Funny too how Western medicine has taught me the value of holistic Eastern medicine.

Health Affects Sperm

But there’s more to this story than a simple tally of sperm numbers. The performance characteristics of sperm, its ability to create good embryos, are also determined by overall health and wellness. Witness the effects of smoking a pack of cigarettes daily on sperm DNA fragmentation and embryo development. Indeed, good health or “soil” quality is linked not only to medical disease and illness, but also to diet and lifestyle choices. No doubt about it, what you decide to ingest or inhale affects both your body’s health and the health of your sperm.

Since the deep science of the inner workings of sperm has come to light, the increasingly larger role that sperm play in causing infertility and miscarriages has been revealed in spades. No doubt about it, sperm matter. And the “soil” in which sperm are grown matters too! In the words of the English botanist Sir Albert Howard: “Fertility of the soil is the future of civilization.”