When a couple is planning to extend their family, the woman is often the one being extra vigilant about her health. But the man should be just as mindful — men actually account for 20-30% of total infertility cases.1 If a couple has been trying to conceive for a year without success, the man may be considered infertile.
Main Causes Of Male Infertility
- Endocrine disorders leading to hormone imbalances
- Gonad disorder
- Sperm transport disorder (production and motility of the sperm)
- Antibodies attacking the sperm
- Celiac disease
- Chromosomal abnormalities
- Drug interactions
- Past history of scrotal or testicular surgeries
- Other unknown causes
Along with these factors, a man’s lifestyle may contribute to infertility. A study published in the Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology journal in 2012 analyzed the sperm of 1,683 patients who were on assisted reproductive techniques (ART). A survey to understand the men’s lifestyle factors showed that factors like BMI, nutrition, physical activity, and social behavior were major correlatives. In other words, a stagnant and unhealthy lifestyle can have a negative effect on sperm count and motility.2
The Human Reproduction Update journal also released an evidence-based review on lifestyle factors that reveal similar findings.3 They found that age, weight, diet, smoking, alcohol, caffeine, exercise, psychological stress, and environmental pollutants can all impact a man’s reproductive performance. Another review examined the effects of oxidative stress, which is seen in around half of all infertile men.[refTremellen, Kelton. “Oxidative stress and male infertility—a clinical perspective.” Human reproduction update 14, no. 3 (2008): 243-258.[/ref]
Lifestyle Factors Affecting Male Fertility
According to the Fertility Coalition of the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA), sperm quality declines with age. The chance of conception also decreases with age, while the risk of miscarriage can be greater after the father reaches age 45.4 And the older the man is, the longer it will take to achieve conception.5 On average, a man under 25 will be able to conceive within about 4.5 months of trying, while a man over 40 can take nearly two years.6
Being either overweight or underweight can impact male fertility and lower sperm quality.7 A male should aim to be within the healthy body mass index (BMI) range of 18.5 to 24.5. (Though this is not the only determinant of a healthy weight.) A man’s weight can also be a sign of hormonal and metabolic imbalances, both of which can lead to erectile dysfunction and/or infertility.
Several studies have found significant correlations between diet and male fertility. The Rochester Young Men’s study8 identified and correlated dietary patterns to sperm concentration, motility, and morphology. The Western dietary pattern comprised a high intake of red and processed meat, refined grains, pizza, quick snacks, high-energy drinks, and sugary foods. In contrast, the Prudent dietary pattern included a high intake of white meats (like chicken), fish, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. The Prudent pattern was linked to higher progressive sperm motility. Another study in the Rochester group found that a higher consumption of sugary drinks and foods was associated with lower sperm motility.9
Researchers have also examined the effects high-cholesterol diets, at least on male rat fertility.10 Shalaby et al. found that male rats fed with a high-cholesterol diet had declines in fertility, testicular weight, and sperm quality versus those fed with a cholesterol-free diet.11 Fertility rates were also found to improve when male rats were given diets rich in antioxidants.
Cigarette smoke contains mutagens and carcinogens and degrades sperm concentration, motility, and morphology.12
Excessive consumption of alcohol has been linked to a lower sperm quality. It also affects sperm concentration and morphology.13 According to the National Health and Medical Research Council Guidelines, Australia,14 men and women who are trying to conceive should drink no more than two alcoholic beverages per day.
Though evidence is scarce on the effects of caffeine on infertility, a study at the Massachusetts General Hospital has found that caffeine may harm sperm at the molecular level.15 If you are hoping to conceive, it’s a good idea to keep your caffeine consumption at a minimum.
One study found that stress at work marginally diminished semen quality whereas stress relating to a family member’s death led to greater reduction in semen quality. On the whole, stress was found to take a marginal toll on semen quality.16
Anabolic steroids and recreational drugs like cocaine can adversely impact semen quality and sperm count.17 Drug use can also interfere with hormone production and affect a man’s sex drive.
Traumatic injury to the testicles can affect fertility.18
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Men who have chlamydia, herpes, or gonorrhea may have problems with fertility.19
There is limited evidence that endurance trained athletes are affected by hormone and semen changes impacting male fertility.20 However, normal exercise schedules do not seem to have any effect on male fertility.
Several experimental studies have shown that artificial increases in scrotum or testicle temperature in fertile men reduce sperm count and quality. According to Thonneau et al., occupational heat exposure is an important factor affecting male fertility.21
As you can see, poor lifestyle habits can significantly harm sperm health. But, guess what? That’s good news! It means you can decrease your risk for infertility by making some simple changes to your daily routine. Here are some of the things you can do to set it right.
- Eat fresh fruits and veggies, as well as healthy fats and lean proteins. Make sure to consume plenty of fiber, folate, and lycopene as well.
- Reduce or eliminate your intake of junk food. All that high sugar, salt, and trans-fat content can seriously damage your sperm health.
- Aim to exercise for at least 40–45 minutes, at least every other day.
- Quit smoking and control your alcohol consumption (no more than two glasses per day).
- Reduce your caffeine intake.
- Do not expose yourself to industry chemicals like benzenes, toluene, xylene, paints, solvents, and other pesticides.
- Remember that elevated temperatures near the scrotum can impair sperm count and function. Do not place any laptops or electronic devices on your lap for several hours at a time. Avoid frequent use of hot tubs and saunas as well.
- Choose comfortable, loose-fitting undergarments.
- If you are on certain medications like steroids or immunosuppressants, check with your doctor if this will interfere with your fertility.
Go The Natural Route
Many researchers have found natural and holistic ways to improve male fertility.22 Some naturopathy studies have found that ginseng botanical extracts23 have a positive impact on sperm count and testosterone levels,24 and marjoram and sage essential oils can curb obesity-related infertility.25 Ayurveda treats low sperm counts and concentration with herbs such as a_shwagandha_ and shatavari along with other classical combinations. A Panchakarma treatment known as uttar basti is known to improve male prostate health. Incidentally, uttar basti is used extensively to treat female fertility problems as well. It needs to be administered under the supervision of a trained specialist. Practicing yoga can help improve prostate health and sperm quality. Apart from the classic asanas, moola bandha is a yogic practice that is especially recommended to improve sexual health.26
|↑1||Agarwal, Ashok, Aditi Mulgund, Alaa Hamada, and Michelle Renee Chyatte. “A unique view on male infertility around the globe.” Reprod Biol Endocrinol 13 (2015): 37-46.|
|↑2||Wogatzky, Johannes, Barbara Wirleitner, Astrid Stecher, Pierre Vanderzwalmen, Anton Neyer, Dietmar Spitzer, Maximilian Schuff, Birgit Schechinger, and Nicolas H. Zech. “The combination matters-distinct impact of lifestyle factors on sperm quality: a study on semen analysis of 1683 patients according to MSOME criteria.” Reprod Biol Endocrinol 10 (2012): 115.|
|↑3||Homan, G. F., Michael Davies, and Robert Norman. “The impact of lifestyle factors on reproductive performance in the general population and those undergoing infertility treatment: a review.” Human reproduction update 13, no. 3 (2007): 209-223.|
|↑4||VARTA Annual Report 2013, Victoria Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority.|
|↑5||Harris, Isiah D., Carolyn Fronczak, Lauren Roth, and Randall B. Meacham. “Fertility and the aging male.” Reviews in urology 13, no. 4 (2011): e184.|
|↑6||A man’s age matters, http://www.yourfertility.org.au|
|↑7||Fertility and a man’s weight, http://www.yourfertility.org.au|
|↑8||Gaskins, Audrey J., Daniela S. Colaci, Jaime Mendiola, Shanna H. Swan, and Jorge E. Chavarro. “Dietary patterns and semen quality in young men.” Human reproduction (2012): des298.|
|↑9||Chiu, Y. H., M. C. Afeiche, A. J. Gaskins, P. L. Williams, J. Mendiola, N. Jørgensen, S. H. Swan, and J. E. Chavarro. “Sugar-sweetened beverage intake in relation to semen quality and reproductive hormone levels in young men.” Human Reproduction 29, no. 7 (2014): 1575-1584.|
|↑10||Kasturi, Sanjay S., Justin Tannir, and Robert E. Brannigan. “The metabolic syndrome and male infertility.” Journal of andrology 29, no. 3 (2008): 251-259.|
|↑11||Shalaby, M. A., H. Y. El Zorba, and Gehan M. Kamel. “Effect of α-tocopherol and simvastatin on male fertility in hypercholesterolemic rats.” Pharmacological research 50, no. 2 (2004): 137-142.|
|↑12||Vine, Marilyn F. “Smoking and male reproduction: a review.” International journal of andrology 19, no. 6 (1996): 323-337.|
|↑13||Gaur, Dushyant Singh, Manju S. Talekar, and Ved Prakash Pathak. “Alcohol intake and cigarette smoking: impact of two major lifestyle factors on male fertility.” Indian journal of Pathology and Microbiology 53, no. 1 (2010): 35.|
|↑14||AUSTRALIA, WORKING TO BUILD A. HEALTHY. “TO REDUCE HEALTH RISKS from Drinking Alcohol.” (2009).|
|↑15||Karmon, A. E., T. L. Toth, A. J. Gaskins, M. C. Afeiche, C. Tanrikut, R. Hauser, and J. C. Chavarro. “Male caffeine and alcohol intake in relation to in vitro fertilization outcome among fertility patients.” Fertility and Sterility 102, no. 3 (2014): e8.|
|↑16||FENSTER, LAURA, DAVID F. KATZ, ANDREW J. WYROBEK, CARL PIEPER, DAVID M. REMPEL, DOUGLAS OMAN, and SHANNA H. SWAN. “Effects of psychological stress on human semen quality.” Journal of Andrology 18, no. 2 (1997): 194-202.|
|↑17, ↑18||Other Factors, http://www.yourfertility.org.au|
|↑19||Sexually-Transmitted Diseases (STD’s) and Infertility, http://www.fertilitymatters.ca|
|↑20||Arce, Joan Carles, and Mary Jane De Souza. “Exercise and male factor infertility.” Sports Medicine 15, no. 3 (1993): 146-169.|
|↑21||Thonneau, Patrick, Louis Bujan, Luc Multigner, and Roger Mieusset. “Occupational heat exposure and male fertility: a review.” Human reproduction 13, no. 8 (1998): 2122-2125.|
|↑22||Meletis, Chris D., and Jason Barker. “Natural ways to enhance male fertility.” Alternative & Complementary Therapies 10, no. 1 (2004): 22-27.|
|↑23||Salvati, G., G. Genovesi, L. Marcellini, P. Paolini, I. De Nuccio, M. Pepe, and M. Re. “Effects of Panax Ginseng CA Meyer saponins on male fertility.” Panminerva medica 38, no. 4 (1996): 249-254.|
|↑24||Fiore, Judith. “The Naturopathic View: male fertility.”|
|↑25||El-Wakf, Azza M., El-Sayed M. Elhabibi, and Eman Abd El-Ghany. “Preventing male infertility by marjoram and sage essential oils through modulating testicular lipid accumulation and androgens biosynthesis disruption in a rat model of dietary obesity.” Egyptian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences 2, no. 3 (2015): 167-175.|
|↑26||Sengupta, Pallav, Prasenjit Chaudhuri, and Koushik Bhattacharya. “Male reproductive health and yoga.” International journal of yoga 6, no. 2 (2013): 87.|