Guys, improve your male fertility with a healthy weight, quit smoking, reduced alcohol consumption, managing stress & other DIY tips.
Research shows that male fertility, specifically sperm counts, has been declining for the past few decades. The big question is what can men do about it? The most direct answer is to make lifestyle changes to avoid conditions and practices that harm male fertility.
A 2018 comprehensive review of existing literature on the effects of lifestyle factors on male infertility identifies the key factors at play and concludes that greater awareness of these can help men protect their fertility. Evidence links cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, obesity and stress to infertility in men. In fact, in about 40% of infertility cases the American Society for Reproductive Medicine says male factors are the sole cause or a contributing cause.
The good news is that men can take control of their fertility. Many of the factors that could affect male fertility can be addressed with lifestyle and behavior modifications.
Overweight guys: lose weight to gain sperm production
A Harvard University study found that “overweight and obese men are more likely than their normal-weight peers to produce lower numbers of sperm, or none at all.” For a man, being overweight means having a body mass index (BMI) of 25-29.9. Obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or more.
The Harvard researchers found that overweight men are 11% more likely to have low sperm counts and 39% more likely to produce no sperm. For obese men, the statistics are 39% and 81%, respectively.
One reason is that male obesity is linked with lower testosterone levels, which directly cause infertility by reducing sperm production and indirectly harms fertility by reducing sex drive and increasing erectile dysfunction. The decrease in testosterone is proportional to the level of obesity.
Rest assured, the effect of low testosterone in overweight men is reversible, especially with diet and exercise. Try to avoid foods that may diminish sperm health, such as processed meats, trans fats, soy products, high-fat dairy, and foods that may have been subject to pesticides and BPA (bisphenol). Eat your vegetables!
Contrary to what men might think – and many practice – trying to boost testosterone levels with testosterone therapy acts as a male contraceptive. It may increase a man’s sex drive but it inhibits production of the necessary follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone.
Reduce/stop recreational drug use, smoking & alcohol consumption
Perhaps the best lifestyle choice you can make on a fertility journey is to reduce (or better yet refrain from) partaking in recreational drugs, tobacco use and alcohol consumption.
Cut out smoking and other tobacco use
Moderate and heavy tobacco smokers have 22% poorer sperm function and semen parameters, according to one study. The link between reduced sperm count and motility and the heavy metals, hydrocarbons and 4,700 chemicals identified in cigarette smoke has been reported going on 20 years now.
Tobacco use releases nicotine, which is an addictive drug. That’s a big reason why it’s hard to stop smoking. But we see so many studies and incidences of our patients, male and female, who smoke having trouble with conception. Infertility and smoking go hand in hand. Break the connection.
The link between alcohol consumption & male fertility
Thirty-plus years of research on the connection between alcohol and male fertility has directly linked alcohol to deficiencies in testosterone metabolism and sperm production. Excessive and chronic alcohol intake has also proven to negatively affect male reproductive hormones and semen quality. The jury is still out on moderate drinking, so the safest bet is to cut intake for fertility purposes.
Recreational drugs don’t give a male fertility high
Nearly 25% of men under 35 years old use recreational drugs. Cannabis, ecstasy (MDMA), opioids and cocaine have all been reported to affect male fertility. Chronic marijuana use has been associated with poor semen quality. Cocaine use is associated with other risky behaviors, such as smoking and sexually transmitted disease, which can hinder fertility. Opioids suppress key reproductive hormones, which leads to impaired sperm production and low testosterone.
Aside from smoking and alcohol, one of the main problems with recreational drug use is that there is conflicting or insufficient evidence about its effect on male infertility. With that in mind, it’s better to err on the side of caution and abstain when attempting to conceive and during fertility treatment. We want you to boost your male fertility, not reduce it.
Mind your mind-body connection
Though researchers have been unable to prove that stress directly causes infertility, all of us at Dallas IVF know that infertility causes stress and even depression. And stress can affect all aspects of life, including the desire to have sex.
Scientific evidence does indicate that psychological stress can significantly impact sperm production and maturation. Stress increases the body’s production of steroidal hormones that help the body respond to perceived danger. In turn, those hormones decrease the output of testosterone.
A few studies have proven that men in stressful jobs or soldiers on active wartime duty experienced adverse sperm counts, semen quality, morphology and the ability of the sperm to penetrate an egg. Even an isolated stressor, such as a life event or social strain, may have a significant effect on sperm quality.
Combat stress with moderate exercise three days a week. Eat fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. Adopt relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, biofeedback, yoga or Tai Chi.
Aging and male infertility
While not exactly a lifestyle factor you can change, aging’s effect on male fertility is a fact of life. Women are not the only ones who have a biological clock when it comes to reproduction. The relationship between male age and fertility is called andropause.
Male sperm production drops off by about 11% each year after age 40. Older men wishing to become fathers should not overlook the effects of aging on their fertility. Following are some points on male fertility and aging to keep in mind.
- Aging causes a decline in sperm quantity and quality.
- It lowers testosterone levels.
- Around age 40, men are more likely to produce sperm with abnormal chromosomes, which can inhibit conception.
I encourage any man hoping to become a father to follow the tips above on how to take charge of improving his fertility. You might not be able to turn back time, but you can lose weight and stop habits that reduce your chance of helping your partner become pregnant.
Please try these proven steps. And if all else fails, see a fertility specialist. Male fertility testing and treatment are viable options.