Male fertility is one thing Sara Naab knows a lot about. She is the Cofounder and Marketing and Quality Director at Sandstone Diagnostics, the makers of Trak. Trak is an innovative men’s reproductive health tool that allows couples to monitor and improve sperm quality from the comfort and privacy of home. Sara and her team have become one of the go-to sources for information on trying to conceive with male factor infertility with their website Don’t Cook Your Balls.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Sara recently — read the full interview below.
Can you tell us about Sandstone Diagnostics?
Sandstone Diagnostics was founded when my husband and his colleague invented a powerful, portable blood test while working at Sandia National Lab. I was energized by the possibility of bringing high precision medical tests into the home, giving people incredible feedback and insight into their health. We launched Sandstone in the Spring of 2012 with the dream of changing the way people approach their health.
Sandstone’s mission is to empower consumers to measure, monitor, and improve their health with simple tools that provide actionable data-driven feedback.
What is your role at Sandstone Diagnostics?
My primary role at Sandstone is to be the advocate for the consumer. I support usability aspects of product development and do much of the medical/health-related research to develop our educational materials and personalized feedback systems. Additionally, I spend a lot of time on social media listening to people who have health concerns, to make sure that we can really bring authentic solutions to empower them to move their health forward.
What is Trak?
For couples trying to conceive, Trak is the definitive data-driven tool to measure, monitor, and improve men’s reproductive health from the comfort and privacy of home. Trak consists of a simple instrument, disposable tests, a mobile app, and education that empowers men to take control of their reproductive health and improve a couple’s chances of conception.
How does Trak analyze and monitor sperm count?
Trak works like a mini-centrifuge. A semen sample is loaded into a disposable Prop and spun on the Engine for about 6 minutes. Any sperm cells present are forced into the Prop channel where they form a visible white column. The height of the column correlates with the concentration of sperm cells in the sample. Then, results are read like an old-school thermometer.
Are there certain guidelines/ restrictions to follow, such as refraining from ejaculating before use?
1. You should abstain from ejaculation for 2-5 days. This will give you the highest number of healthy sperm cells in the sample
2. Avoid using lubricants or condoms in the collection of a sample as they will kill sperm cells.
In general, the more excited a man is when collecting a sample the more sperm cells he will produce. I think this is one of the incredible parts about the Stork. The body somehow knows when it is “the real deal” and studies have shown that men produce better sperm when they are passionate and excited. Good sex is something everyone can get behind.
How has male factor fertility changed over the past decade? What do you attribute to the rise in diagnoses of male factor issues?
Globally, sperm counts have been declining for several decades. No one knows exactly why. Leading suspects are increases in obesity, decreased movement, increase in stress and increased exposure to pollution/toxins. Personally, I think guys are cooking their balls. There are a lot of ways to overheat testicles – fat, biking, laptops, cell phones, long periods of sitting, getting sick. Men trying to conceive should be mindful of how hot it gets down there.
How can women encourage/support their partner when diagnosed with male factor infertility?
I’ve talked to a lot of men who have been diagnosed with infertility and there are a number of things that I hear all the time.
1. Men feel guilty. They are upset with their body for letting them down but even more, they are sad they may not be able to give a baby to the woman they love. The biggest thing women can do is remind him that she loves him, that they are a team and can do this together.
2. Men tend to communicate differently than women. They need separate time and space to get thoughts together. If a conversation is hard, try something less direct like email, texting, or a shared journal.
3. Give him some space. He needs to process his emotions around infertility. Men like to hide in caves when they are hurt and come out strong again. Try to respect his needs.
4. Make him open up. Just like he needs space, he also needs to come back to you. Find opportunities to restore intimacy. Think about taking a break from “trying” just to have sex for fun. Find meaning in the “right now” and in each other as a couple.
Uncertainty and infertility are hard on both of you. He might brush it off but he really really does care. Taking time to let go of the future and embracing the now can give you both the mental and emotional break you need to refuel.
One last tip that I heard about emotional support from one guy:
“Women’s thoughts are a ball of string. Everything is connected to everything. You can talk about problems and love and work and the house all at the same time. Men struggle to keep up. We keep all our thoughts in boxes. The problem box. The sex box. The work box. We actually have to pack up all our thoughts and put the box away before getting out a new box.
If you switch the conversation too quickly we can get an hourglass over our heads while we are frantically trying to put one box away and get a new one out. – Also, we actually do have a box called “Nothing” it is our favorite box. Sometimes we take it out and just think about nothing at all and it is the best.”
What are some natural ways to optimize male fertility factors like count, motility, etc.?
There are lots of things men can do to improve fertility:
1. Avoid heat – hot tubs, seat warmers, long periods of sitting, long showers, biking, dog or laptop on the lap, etc.
2. Maintain a healthy body weight – If you have a gut. Lose 15 pounds, or 20.
3. Eat well – Vitamins and antioxidants are hugely helpful for sperm. A good rule of thumb is to think about sperm cells like a embryo. Things that are good for pregnant women to eat are good for men trying to conceive.
4. Exercise – What’s good for the heart is good for sperm (and healthy erections). Get off your butt. You’ll feel better and make more sperm.
5. No smoking or drinking – Cigarettes are one of the worst things for sperm (so is mary jane btw). Alcohol really messes with testosterone/estrogen balance and in high amounts is toxic to sperm cells.
6. Have good sex often – If you are using em, you’ll make more of em.
7. Check your meds. Some medications cause sperm problems.
8. Get good sleep every night.
9. Maintain healthy stress level – Stress hormones can mess with testosterone and sperm production. Find ways to live in the present and appreciate the small things in life.
10. Be competitive – Playing sports or having hobbies that unleashes healthy competitive emotions can boost testosterone levels.
If you want to go the extra mile in improving your sperm health:
1. Ice your balls: Regular cooling has been incredibly effective at improving sperm count
2. Acupuncture: increases blood flow and improves male fertility
3. Herbs: Several herbs have been shown to improve male fertility (check out conceivable)
4. Take a multivitamin/prenatal/fertility supplement: folic acid isn’t just for women
5. Visit a urologist who specializes in male fertility: there are medications, surgeries and other treatment options available for men.
Does Sandstone Diagnostics, Inc. have future ambitions for additional health products?
Yes. Men’s fertility and reproductive health testing is only our beginning. Ultimately, our hope is to put tools in the hands of every consumer so that they can be proactive in creating personalized plans to optimize their health and wellbeing.