Male Anorexia and Infertility
When the subject of eating disorders comes up, it seems most natural to connect it to women. However, of the approximately eight million people in the US with eating disorders, nearly one million of them are men.
Anorexia Nervosa and Men
Anorexia nervosa, one of three major eating disorders, is a serious illness with a wide range of damaging effects upon the body and the mind. Its root causes are very similar in both men and women with body image being the primary focus for both sexes. With the cultural pressure upon men for the ideal body, the incidences of male anorexia are on the rise. Body shape and size as well as physical appearance are strong contributors to eating disorders in males. Certain sports increase the risk for men to engage in disordered eating. Body builders, wrestlers, dancers, swimmers, runners, rowers, gymnasts and jockeys are all at risk because of the weight restrictions associated with their specific sport.
Personalities and Problems
More studies are being done to investigate eating disorders in men. From research that has already been completed, it was found that men with eating disorders tend to have more passive-aggressive personality styles and have also been the brunt of peer negativity in their growing-up years. Research also indicates that anorexic males tend to have personalities that are more avoidant and dependent. They tend not to conform to the cultural expectations for masculinity in terms of being competitive, muscular or strong, physically aggressive, independent or athletically competitive (Kearney-Cooke & Steichen-Asch, 1990).
Top Symptoms of Anorexia in Men
Characterized by excessive weight loss and self-starvation, anorexia is a devastating problem that can result in death. Some of the symptoms of anorexia in males include:
· Compulsive exercise
· Preoccupation with body shape, size, muscle mass
· Food rituals
· Refusal to maintain body weight either at or above normal weight
· Denial of being underweight
· Denial of seriousness of low body weight
· Fear of being fat
· Lying about eating
· Difficulty eating around people
· Depression, isolation, loneliness
· Unrealistic standards - being a perfectionist
· Low self-esteem
· Need for control
· Fatigue and muscle weakness
· Low blood pressure and body temperature
· Difficulty expressing feelings
· Thinning hair
As with women with eating disorders, men with eating disorders are at increased risk for depression, anxiety disorders and alcohol and substance abuse.
One of the most important differences between male anorexia and female anorexia is that men are much slower or less likely to seek help for emotional problems in general and eating disorders in particular. The fact that eating disorders are considered by many men to be a "female problem" increases the reluctance to get help.
How a Man's Fertility is Affected
When a man's body weight is extremely low, his ability to produce sperm is reduced significantly. Libido issues present as a lack of interest in sex or anxiety surrounding sexual activity. When the disorder is treated and the body is restored to a normal weight and is once again healthy, then the sperm count is positively affected as well.
A low sperm count (oligospermia) means that the semen contains fewer sperm than normal, with less than 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen. When the sperm count is low the odds of fertilizing an egg that would result in pregnancy is drastically reduced. There are often significant abnormalities in sperm morphology and motility (shape and movement) in cases of low sperm count. In cases where sperm count is very low, treatments to boost fertility are available. When anorexia is the problem, treatment is very important in order to restore fertility. If it isn't restored, then in vitro fertilization, ICSI, IUI or other types of assisted reproduction therapies may be necessary to conceive a pregnancy.