Male infertility and low sperm count is more prevalent than many couples consider. There is an equal chance that male factor infertility can be the cause of not falling pregnant as much as a female infertility issue. While women have many tests to undergo to try to find out the cause of infertility, men have only a couple, the sperm test being the easiest.
So, men's health should always be considered in
situations of suspected infertility. Remember, 'it takes two to tango'!
Potential causes of infertility in men and damage to sperm include:
- · Environmental factors e.g. radiation, pesticides and fertilizers
- · Electromagnetic frequencies (EMF’s) have been correlated with low sperm count due to the heating of the testicles from the EMF’s. Do not keep your mobile phone in your trouser pocket near the genitals, don't sleep with the mobile phone next to you (even on a bedside table) and do not place your laptop computer on your lap.
- · Viral illness in the previous months
- · A history of undescended testes / cryptorchidism (failure of the testicles to descend into the scrotum)
- · Surgery e.g. prior history of vasectomy
- · Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury are common in the environment and can have a direct effect on sperm cell structure and reduced sperm counts.
- · Cigarette smoking – smoking causes sperm damage. Quit smoking and reverse the damaging effects!
- · Caffeine in all forms. Studies have shown that men who consume more than 300mg of caffeine per day had 20% higher DNA damage to their sperm than men with no caffeine intake.
- · Pesticides and hormones in foods – these can significantly affect male reproductive health. Pesticides mimic estrogens in the body while the added hormones to meat and dairy in many countries are actual hormones your system does not need.
- · Soy foods – mimic estrogens in the body also. As a man such estrogens can compete with testosterone at the cell receptor site, creating hormonal havoc.
- · Alcohol - in a study of men with poor sperm quality, excess alcohol consumption was associated with decrease in the number of normal sperm. See box below.
· Plastics – When plastics containing BPA (bisphenol A) are heated they release xeno-estrogens which create further hormone havoc.
- Tight underwear – can keep the testicles from being able to hang and regulate a healthy temperature.
- · Hot tubs and saunas/ bike riding – all these can affect temperature control for the testes impacting on sperm health.
- · Stress – this is not to be underestimated. Stress can have a massive impact on hormonal balance which can have an effect on sperm production.
Sperm abnormalities such as abnormalities in motility,
morphology or numbers can be common.
Studies confirm that there has been a significant decline in human sperm count and an increase in the rate of testicular cancer. It is estimated that the average number of sperm per ejaculation has dropped by a significant 50% in the last 50 to 60 years. In nearly 30% of all infertility cases, the cause is attributed to the male.
In the past 15 years there has been interest in the effects of environmental toxins and the dramatic reduction in fertility of animals exposed to substances such as fertilizers, pesticides, exogenous estrogens and heavy metals, which may negatively impact spermatogenesis.
Many factors affect the quality of sperm produced by a man at any given time. These factors include issues such as unusual stress, fever, certain medications, environmental factors or any injury to the testicles. During a consultation, a man will be asked for a complete reproductive history as well as any conditions or known toxic exposure which may affect sperm quality.
Effects of Alcohol in Men
In 66 men (non-smoking), semen volume, sperm count, sperm motility and number of morphologically normal sperm were significantly decreased.
Participants were aged 30-40 years and consumed 180ml of alcoholic drinks per day (bandy and whisky, both 40-50% alcohol content) for a minimum of five days per week for at least one year.
Alcohol increases the clearance rate of testosterone and increases its conversion to estrogen.