Male Infertility - FAQs
How common is male infertility?
In three out of every five couples experiencing infertility, a male factor is involved. Male infertility is the primary factor in two out of five of these couples. Moreover, one out of every five couples struggling with fertility has a combination of male and female infertility. Therefore, it is prudent to examine both male and female partners when dealing with this issue.
What lifestyle changes can be made to improve sperm count and quality?
- Quit smoking.
- Stop using recreational drugs.
- Reduce alcohol consumption.
- Avoid using lubricants while trying to conceive.
- Practise moderate aerobic and resistance exercises.
- Avoid high temperatures, that is, saunas and hot tubs.
- Take supplemental vitamins (antioxidants).
What can I do to make my sperm healthy?
- Take multivitamins. A daily intake of multivitamins can help provide selenium, zinc and folic acid - special nutrients that are important for favourable sperm production and function. A multivitamin usually contains antioxidant vitamins such as C and E, which may help prevent sperm damage.
- Lower stress. Researchers are studying the correlation between stress and sperm production. Stress may also harm sexual function.
- Get regular exercise. It is well known that physical activity is good for overall health; moderate physical activity is good for reproductive health as well.
- Weight management. High-quality sperm is produced when a healthy weight is maintained.
I have a low sperm count. Can I do something to improve it?
Keeping your body and mind healthy will boost your fertility, as lack of sleep and stress can affect your hormone levels. Being overweight could also reduce sperm production. Smoking harms sperms and can reduce a man’s sex drive. Foods that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins C and E, and certain minerals such as zinc are particularly good, as these increase sperm count and motility (movement).
I am a keen cyclist. I have been told that a hard bicycle seat and Lycra cycling shorts are not good for fertility. Is this true?
Yes, overheated testicles can temporarily lower sperm counts. Regular and prolonged cycling on hard bike seats can also affect the nerves and blood vessels to the genitals, by putting pressure on the perineum. I would advise you to consider a gel seat to cushion this part of the body. It is also best to avoid saunas, hot baths and tight underwear when you are trying to conceive.
The veins around my testicles are swollen; they look like a bag of worms. Will that affect my fertility?
This condition is called a varicocele, and it could affect fertility, as warm blood raises the temperature and reduces sperm production. Often, all you need is a small operation to correct this, which may improve the sperm count and potentially restore natural fertility.
Myths and facts
- Age does not affect male fertility.
According to a recent study, paternal fertility decreases with age. If you are older and looking to conceive, a semen analysis evaluating shape and motility will provide a valuable guide to fertility potential.
- Only women need to take supplements to improve fertility.
It has long been known that women should take folic acid while trying to conceive, as well as during pregnancy, to prevent certain birth defects, but folic acid is now known to be an important supplement in male fertility as well.
- Smoking does not affect male fertility.
Smoking increases the chances of male infertility by 30%. Cutting out cigarettes is an obvious health advantage, and cigarettes can be especially harmful to fertility. Smoking as few as five cigarettes per day has been associated with lower fertility rates in men as well as women.
- Cell phones, laptops, hot tubs and bicycles do not have an effect on semen quality.
Heat in extreme amounts can damage the testes and decline semen quality. A recent study by Fertility and Sterility found that the heat created from laptops can affect sperm motility and cause DNA damage. Cell phone emissions can also cause sperm damage; keep your phone in your back pocket and put a fan under your laptop. Men should be careful of spending too much time on a bike or lounging for too long in a hot tub.
- Only hard drugs can affect male fertility.
Hard drugs affect fertility and, more importantly, pose a threat to your life. However, it is not just hard drugs that can affect fertility. Prescription drugs, antibiotics, blood pressure medication, and even exposure to lead and mercury can affect the quality and quantity of sperm. Frequent marijuana use has also been known to cause similar problems.
- In a healthy male, all sperms are healthy.
In an average male, only 14% sperms have a normal shape, size and the ability to move properly. The count may look low, but the fact is that you only need one sperm to fertilise an egg and get pregnant.
- Male infertility is genetic.
While male infertility can be genetically passed down, there are several additional factors that contribute to it.
- There is no common diagnosis with male infertility.
While the specific cause of male infertility can vary greatly, the most common diagnosis associated with male infertility is low sperm count.
- Separate health problems do not affect male fertility.
Chronic conditions such as diabetes and liver cirrhosis can cause abnormal male ejaculation due to nerve damage and retrograde ejaculation.
- Weight does not affect fertility.
Extra weight presents a multitude of health issues including male infertility. Obesity causes elevated oestrogen and low testosterone levels, which can cause the sperm count to decrease. Overweight males also experience a decreased libido.
- Diet does not affect male fertility.
Men with a high-fat diet have been found to have a decreased sperm count. Conversely, a mostly plant-based diet has been found to improve fertility and overall health.