IVF Traveler note: This is a guest post about something that I thought was interesting – I am not in any way compensated for this post, nor is this an endorsement. I always suggest talking to your doctor before using anything that might impact fertility.
How one man became obsessed by the science of “Manly Cooling”…and put himself back in control
By William Lee, Outreach Manager, Snowballs Underwear
It had been a painful year. There had been a silent miscarriage after two years of trying, and the best doctor that money could buy had said that their chances were now zero. Think about adoption. Think about overpopulation.
They ignored his advice and saw another doctor, and then another, until finally one gynecologist took the time to sit down and listen carefully. Almost immediately, he had a new plan. First, our friend should begin icing my balls. Huh? And then he should be tested for a varicocele. Again, huh?
But they went home that day thinking, Why not? They had tried just about everything else. And so they began to do some research. It turns out that elevated scrotal temperature is perhaps the number one cause of male infertility. How had they missed this? And 15-20% of all men have a varicocele, or enlarged vein in the scrotum, which brings more blood and raises scrotal temperatures.
It made sense, so he began to ice…
And their baby girl was born about a year later…
And you should really see her smile.
And yes, we continued to be obsessed by heat, which eventually led to the invention of Snowballs, a cooling underwear for conceiving men. First, however, we were still educating ourselves. In the mid-Sixties scientists became aware that scrotal cooling could improve male fertility, but no controlled tests were done until the mid-Eighties, when the advantages of cooling were first clinically shown. Now we know that the testes of men with fertility problems tend to be naturally warmer by an average of over one degree Celsius, which is significant in this delicate science. We also know that if we can lower scrotal temperature on a consistent basis, fertility will improve.
In the twenty first century, doctors can work miracles in laboratories. We’ve been in that lab ourselves, awestruck by the ingenuity of the specialists. But lab pregnancies are still just that: miracles. Even more to the point, they are very expensive miracles which fail to materialize as often than not.
We found that the most frustrating aspect of playing fertility roulette was the loss of control. There was something wrong, nobody was sure what, but the doctors were in charge now and they were telling us what to do (at great cost) in terminology we honestly hadn’t fully grasped. They were looking at us under microscopes and seeing things we would never see (and these were wonderful, competent doctors). It was like being at the mechanic: you probably have no idea what he’s doing under the hood, and ultimately he’s going to charge you whatever he likes. You’re not in control.
Then, when a last doctor mentioned scrotal cooling and varicoceles, we began to do research on something that actually made intuitive sense, and that’s when we began to get excited. We were no longer under the microscope all the time. We were men, and we fixed things.
And didn’t it make sense that if higher temperatures damaged sperm, then we could rig up a way to cool our…balls? Our friend was taking the vitamin supplements and limiting the booze, and surely that was all helping, but didn’t it make sense to directly treat the part of the body with the problem?
Of course it made sense. We would never replace our doctors, but science was on our side too, and most importantly: we felt as if we were back in control.
More and more, studies are showing the effectiveness of scrotal cooling, and here’s a brief overview:
• In a study by Mulcahy (1984), fifty men with reduced sperm motility applied ice packs to the scrotum at night. After treatment, both sperm density and sperm motility had at least doubled in 65 percent of the patients. Mulcahy JJ, ‘Scrotal hypothermia and the infertile man.’ Journal of Urology, 132/3 (1984), pp. 469-70
• Jung et al (2005) found a significant increase in both sperm concentration and total sperm count as a result of nocturnal scrotal cooling. For twelve weeks, twenty infertile men used a cooling technique every night, and significant change had taken place by eight weeks. Jung, A., Schill, W. -B., Schuppe, H. -C., ‘Improvement of semen quality by nocturnal scrotal cooling in oligozoospermic men with a history of testicular maldescent.’ International Journal of Andrology, vol. 28/2 (2005), pp. 93-98
• Zorgniotti and Sealfon (1988) measured scrotal temperatures in 300 sub fertile men and 30 control men. They found a statistically significant difference in temperature between the two groups (1.35 degrees Celsius), suggesting that ‘small intrinsic temperature increases may interfere with the ability of the testis to accommodate to environmental temperature stresses and so lead to abnormal semen and sub fertility.’ Zorgniotti, A. W., Sealfon, A. I., ‘Measurement of intrascrotal temperature in normal and subfertile men.’ Journals of Reproduction and Fertility, vol. 82 (1988), pp. 563-66
• Laven et al (1988) studied 56 men from infertile couples. The men were categorized into two groups named ‘cool workers/sleepers’ and ‘warm workers/sleepers’ according to whether or not there was evidence of extra scrotal insulation in their lifestyles. They found a greater number of good moving sperm in the ‘cool workers/sleepers’ group, both per ejaculation and per ml. Laven, J. S., Haverkorn, M. J., Bots, R.S., ‘Influence of occupation and living habits on semen quality in men (scrotal insulation and semen quality).’ Eur. J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol., vol. 29/2 (1988), pp. 137-41