We know sperm counts are dropping globally.  And, researchers are asking why and what can be done.  It’s becoming more clear that lifestyle habits profoundly contribute to low sperm counts.  What are some of these sperm killers and why are they deadly?

The male factor is present in >40% of infertility problems.  Causes of male infertility are certainly related to health issues such as varicocele, abnormal testosterone production and genetic problems.  In addition, it is becoming clear that lifestyle and environmental factors are also linked to long-term male infertility.  While comprehensive studies are still underway to determine the level of impact these factors have on sperm counts and quality, it is important to understand the impact these modern-day sperm killers on the male reproductive system.

Killer #1:  Smoking…

A pack of cigarettes is loaded with warnings about how it can impact your health, the health of those around you and even the wellbeing of a baby in the womb.  Did you know that smoking also can also severely impact male reproductive health? Studies show that smoking increases oxidative stress (OS). OS has been shown to be detrimental to sperm health, affecting its viability, morphology and even basic function, resulting in male infertility.  In addition to OS, cigarette smoke contains highly carcinogenic chemicals and these pose an additional risk factor for male fertility. Lastly, tobacco also leads to DNA damage and mutations in sperm, thereby causing overall deterioration in semen quality.

Men who are trying to start a family, should really consider not smoking.

Killer #2:  Alcohol…

For years, women have been advised to refrain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. NIH research has shown that alcohol abuse in men can lead to impaired testosterone production, impotence, infertility and actual shrinkage of the testes..

How much alcohol is acceptable?  The guideline is 50 grams per week.  To gauge where you stand, here is the content per drink for some popular alcoholic beverages:

  • 4 oz White wine = 12.1 grams
  • 4 oz Red wine = 12.5 grams
  • 12 oz Beer = 13.9 grams
  • 5 oz Hard liquor = 14 grams

Killer #3:  Heat…

When you’re trying to conceive, heat is NOT your friend guys.  Hot tubs, saunas, fevers, and using laptop computers near ‘the boys’ can impact sperm production and result in low sperm count and low sperm motility.  But why?  Harvard Medical School says ‘the germ cells in the testicles that produce sperm work best in temperatures slightly below normal body temperature.’ They also agree that the old wives tale about wearing loose underwear is based on fact.  The testicles can ‘hang out’ freely and keep cool if they’re not packed into spandex and lodged up against your hot body. Amazing what the ‘old wives’ knew.

Killer #4:  Coffee…

Research is zeroing in on the negative impact excessive coffee / caffeine intake has on sperm quantity and quality.  According to new Italian research, the impact on sperm is directly related to the number of cups consumed daily.  Moderate consumption of caffeine (3 or less cups/day) was fine and did not impact sperm DNA, count, motility or morphology. However, in men drinking more than four cups of coffee a day, abnormal sperm shapes (morphology) were seen.  The researchers found a correlation between excessive caffeine intake and ‘increased sperm DNA damage in the form of double-strand DNA breaks and aneuploidy, the presence of an abnormal number of chromosomes.’

Prepping for a baby is not just a woman’s responsibility. The father, too, needs to exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and keep fit. And, of course, ditch those cigarettes and other poor lifestyle choices.

What to do to dodge the bullet…

According to the Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins Medicine, male factor infertility contributes to conception problems in over 50 per cent of all infertile couples. To raise the possibility for conception:

  • Test your sperm to see how things look
  • If you smoke, drink alcohol, hang in the hot tub and drink a lot of coffee…stop
  • Re-test your sperm to gauge your improvement after 70-80 days – it takes this long to generate new sperm
  • Take action if no improvement – go see a fertility specialist – don’t wait.