When it comes to fertility, many men are actually down for the count – sperm count, that is, possibly due to environmental toxins.
If a woman isn’t getting pregnant it must be something about the woman…right? Well…wrong! Depending on the study, between 30-50 percent of the time a couple is not getting pregnant it is due to issues with sperm count.
Low sperm counts, or male factor infertility, may be due to a medical issue including structural problems (varicocele, blockages, injury to genital area), hormonal problems (diabetes, thyroid disease), and exposure to medical toxins such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Plus, there has been a steady decline in sperm counts over the last 50 years, suggesting that environmental factors may be playing a role.
Pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers have now been widely used by the food industry. Studies have shown that these agents can result in decreased testicular size and adversely affect the development of the testes. Agents in commonly used plastics, such as BPA and nonylphenol, have been shown to cause decreased sperm counts, motility and sperm viability.
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Smoking has been shown to adversely affect sperm counts in a dose-related manner (the more you smoke, the worse it is!). Smoking has been shown to decrease sperm counts, decrease sperm movement and increase the percentage of abnormally formed sperm. This is likely a combination of decreased oxygen supply and an increase in toxic substances such as alkaloids, nicotine and hydroxycotine. Smokers have much higher levels of oxidative stress in their semen and lower levels of antioxidants.
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Excessive alcohol intake has been linked to impotence, testicular wasting, decreased sex drive and decreased testosterone levels. This is likely related to increased oxidative stress and poorer overall health. Marijuana and cocaine have also been shown to cause hormonal disruption and decreased sperm counts. Anabolic steroids (testosterone or testosterone derivatives) have a marked negative effect on sperm and can completely stop sperm production.
Obesity has been shown to have a negative impact on male fertility. A body mass index (BMI) of over 25 is associated with a 3 times higher risk of infertility. Increased body fat results in testosterone being converted to estrogen, which will decrease sperm counts. The increased fat deposit near the scrotum can cause increased local temperature that also decreases sperm counts.
Diets with high levels of highly refined carbohydrates will increase oxidative stress and have a negative impact on fertility. Alternatively, a diet with fresh produce, fiber and multivitamins will result in increased antioxidants to help with sperm production.
Excessive exercise can also have a negative impact on fertility. The high stress levels (physical and psychological) of elite athletes often combined with dehydration during training may cause a drop in sperm counts. Elite cyclists in particular are at risk, as they will have additional trauma to the genital area. Recreational levels of exercise will rarely have a negative impact on fertility.
Takeaway for men
After underlying medical causes of male factor infertility are excluded, lifestyle should be considered. Environmental toxins are hard to avoid, however organic and local produce may be of benefit. Taking care to avoid heating plastics in the microwave is recommended. Non-BPA water bottles are recommended.
It is advisable that anyone attempting pregnancy refrain from smoking. Alcohol should only be taken in moderation. Recreational drugs should be minimized.
Healthy diet and moderate exercise are recommended. Healthy local produce with lots of colored fruits and vegetables will increase healthy antioxidants. Trying to keep weight in the healthy range will also be of benefit. Stress management is suggested.
Just as healthy lifestyle is recommended for the female partner trying to conceive, it is equally important to the male partner, especially if the sperm count shows abnormalities.