Infertility is a problem that has grown quite considerably over the last few years. An estimated one in every seven couples in many countries experience difficulty conceiving a child, with the most commonly identified cause being male infertility.
In many instances, male infertility is caused by damage to the testicles that results in the failure of the testicles to produce sperm. Other causes of male infertility are low sperm count and poor sperm quality. Fertility reflects a man's general health., and men who live a healthy lifestyle are more likely to produce healthy sperm. Here are six lifestyle factors that play a significant role in male fertility. Modify these behaviors and you can help improve you or your partner's fertility and the chances of conception.
1. Size Matters – Maintain a healthy body weight
Obesity has become a major public health concern worldwide. In the United States alone, 62% of adult women and 71% of adult men are considered either overweight or obese (body mass index (BMI) equal to or greater than 25 kg/m2). Many reports have been published describing the relationship between obesity and reproductive health. For instance, research has shown that obese men (those who have a BMI equal to or greater than 30 kg/m2) are at an increased risk of erectile dysfunction. Studies have also found that being overweight or obese can alter one's hormonal profile, resulting in decreased testosterone and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) levels, increased estradiol levels, and, in morbidly obese men, changes in gonadotropin secretion. Taken together, these changes can severely impact sperm production. In fact, a BMI above 25kg/m2 has been associated with an average 25% reduction in sperm count and sperm motility (i.e., how well sperm 'swim'). Because of the possible negative impact of excess weight on fertility, it's important for men to maintain a healthy body weight (a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 kg/m2).
2. Antioxidants are pro-fertility – Consume more Selenium
Oxidative stress is another major risk factor for male infertility. Consequently, it's important for men to ensure adequate consumption of antioxidants to help repair the damage caused by free radicals. Selenium is an essential trace mineral, as well as a powerful antioxidant, that is vital for normal male reproductive function. Low levels of selenium may leave sperm more vulnerable to free radical damage and, as a result, unsuitable for procreation. Thankfully, selenium is found in many foods, and including these foods in your diet can help maintain adequate levels of this important mineral in the body and potentially help improve your fertility. The following foods contain high levels of selenium: cereal (e.g., corn, wheat, rice), nuts, legumes, animal products, and seafood.
3. Zinc about it – Consume more zinc
As with selenium, zinc is an essential mineral and a powerful antioxidant that plays an important role in hunting free radicals in the body. Zinc has also been implicated in male reproductive health. For instance, seminal zinc, in both fertile and infertile men, has been found to be significantly correlated with sperm count and normal morphology (i.e., shape) of sperm. Poor zinc nutrition may be an important risk factor for low sperm quality and, as a result, male infertility. Luckily, zinc is found in many foods, and including these in your diet can help maintain adequate levels of zinc in the body and possibly help improve your fertility. The following foods are excellent sources of zinc: oysters, shellfish, meat, whole grains, nuts, beans.
4. No butts – Avoid smoking
Everyone knows that smoking has a number of negative health consequences. Among them is infertility. Smoking affects male fertility in more than one way. Studies have discovered that smoking compromises the delivery of oxygen to the testes, which has a detrimental effect on the quality and quantity of the sperm. In addition, smoking can negatively impact sperm motility, or the swimming capabilities of the sperm. If sperm cannot swim well, they may have difficulty reaching the egg and fertilizing it. Cigarette smoking can also impact testosterone levels, which can, in turn, decrease the number of sperm produced and, once again, reduce the likelihood of fertilizing an egg. It would therefore be important to avoid (or give up) cigarettes in order to increase your likelihood of conceiving a child.
5. Blame it on the alcohol – Avoid excessive drinking
Another lifestyle factor that has been associated with male infertility is excessive consumption of alcohol. Research suggests that men who drink large amounts of alcohol often are at an increased risk of having serious issues with their fertility. Alcohol affects blood flow and operates on brain centers that can encumber the ability to hold an erection. In addition, it has been reported that alcoholics are more likely to have higher levels of the female sex hormone estrogen in their system compared to non-alcoholics, which can decrease levels of testosterone and impede sperm production. Furthermore, alcohol abuse has been linked with sperm damage, reduced sperm counts and reduced sperm motility. Thus, it's important for men to limit the amount of alcohol they consume to no more than two alcoholic beverages a day.
6. Keep cool – Avoid exposure to heat
There's a reason why the testes descend into the scrotum, away from the body. It's in order to keep their temperature roughly 3 to 4°C below the core body temperature, as normal body temperature is incompatible with spermatogenesis (i.e., sperm production). Anything that increases the temperature of the testes (e.g., tight pants, undergarments, hot baths, hot tubs, saunas, laptops, etc.) will have a harmful effect on spermatogenesis. The more prolonged the increase in testicular temperature is, the greater the negative effects on spermatogenesis, resulting in lower sperm counts. One behavior that can increase scrotal temperature is sitting. Most men spend a great deal of time in a seated position, due to sedentary nature of many jobs. When seated, air does not circulate as easily around the scrotum, resulting in less-efficient cooling. This tends to increase the temperature of the testes, which is most likely aggravated when wearing tight underpants or slacks. It makes sense that any factor that hinders normal cooling of the scrotum and testes will have a negative effect on sperm production, and it's therefore wise to advise all men attempting to father a child to take steps to minimize scrotal heating.