How Male infertility Occurs
Table of Contents
Clinically, infertility can be defined as when men and women cannot achieve natural pregnancy after 1 year of having intercourse and in women who have two or more failed pregnancies. Research and studies have suggested that after about a year of having unprotected sex, 15% of couples are unable to conceive, and after 2 years, 10% of couples still have not had a successful pregnancy. On the other hand, couples who are generally 30 years and under and healthy will see about 20% to 37% of them conceiving in the first 3 months.
Both men and women share equal responsibility when it comes to infertility. A third of infertility is caused by male factors and female factors also account for a third of infertility. The remaining factors are either unexplainable or a combination of both male and female factors. There are two types of infertility; primary infertility which refers to couples or partners that have never achieved parenthood and secondary infertility which describes couples with a history of parenthood but may have some challenged having more children. Below we take a look at how male infertility occurs with regards to lifestyle and personal choices.
The most common cause of infertility in men is low sperm count also known as oligospermia. Typically, healthy fertile men deliver about 60 to 100 million sperm with each ejaculation. Most of the sperm that are ejaculated end up being killed by vaginal secretions or getting destroyed during their journey toward the fallopian tubes. Therefore, any man that ejaculates less than the average number of sperm may have some challenges with fertility.
Health, lifestyle choices, and environmental issues may affect the production of healthy sperm. Some of the lifestyle or environmental factors that may affect male infertility are listed below.
There is enough research and documented evidence about the detrimental effects of smoking on human longevity, respiratory and cardiovascular physiology, and the overall health on humans. When it comes to its effect on male fertility, there is not much publicity or research that is widely available. Even though the causation between male infertility and smoking is yet to be proven, there is a consensus in literature that smoking is a male infertility risk factor, and men who smoke should preferably stop or reduce their tobacco consumption to help reduce the risk of male infertility. It is suggested that smoking reduces the motility of the sperm and lowers the average sperm count by about 15%. Further research is needed to validate some of these suggestions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes obesity as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a health risk. Using the BMI index, anyone over 30 on the scale is classed as obese and over 25 is considered as being overweight. Obesity and weight management is a growing problem globally and has nearly tripled since 1975. While obesity has been associated with a host of cardiovascular diseases and other health-related problems, recent studies have suggested a possible link between male infertility and obesity. A research study in 2006 reported that weight loss can improve hormonal abnormalities and fertility rates in both women and men and that erectile dysfunction can also be improved by lifestyle intervention strategies favouring weight loss. Further research is required to yield consistent results regarding the extent to which obesity affects male infertility. Even though this area remains inconclusive, a detailed understanding of the effects of obesity may have important clinical implications on male infertility.
Male infertility is a relatively common condition that affects up to 1 in 20 men and accounts for over 60 million cases worldwide. Among couples attempting to have a child, 15% will experience infertility with a male factor implicated in up to 50% of cases. Having the right nutrition most likely plays a significant role in maintaining optimal fertility. There is significant research that has identified an optimal range for select vitamins and minerals in supporting fertility. Good nutrition is important for men as this supports producing healthier sperm. The diet should contain key nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, and vitamin D as these have been identified as having a positive role in sperm production. Any man who may have fertility challenges should consider taking fertility supplements for men to help improve their chances.
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Alcohol abuse is one of the fastest-growing health problems worldwide. In England for example, it is estimated that nearly 90% of the adult population consumes alcoholic beverages. Drinking of alcohol is widely socially accepted and associated with relaxation and pleasure, and some people drink alcohol without experiencing harmful effects. However, some section of people experience physical, social, and psychological harmful effects of alcohol. Sexual disorders have been reported frequently in chronic alcoholics. There is significant evidence that confirms that chronic alcohol consumption has a detrimental effect on male reproductive function, which, in turn, will make people who are addicted to alcohol impotent and sterile. For men who would want to stay fertile, it is important to note the negative effect of chronic alcohol consumption on their reproductive competence.
The abuse of drugs is becoming a common issue in modern-day society. The World Health Organisation has listed marijuana, opioids, methamphetamine and MDMA, and cocaine as the most commonly used recreational drugs in the world. A research study that evaluated how marijuana impacts sperm function both in vivo and in vitro: semen analyses from men smoking marijuana concluded that marijuana smokers appear to have impaired fertility potential. The scientific research reported that smoking men have reduced semen volume and total sperm number. It further went on to state that seminal sperm from marijuana smoking men express abnormally high hyperactivated motility which persists after a wash and swim-up. These sperm may burn out quickly and reduce fertility. Although the effect of marijuana on male infertility is a bit unclear, the evidence out there points to the fact that it has a negative effect on male reproductive capacity. The use of steroids in men decreases levels of luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which leads to decreased endogenous testosterone production, decreased spermatogenesis, and testicular atrophy. These effects have been shown to lead to infertility. Like marijuana and steroids, there is a general consensus that opioids also reduce the likelihood of male reproductive success. The same can be said about cocaine which is the fourth most widely used type of drug in the world. In addition to having negative effects on the male reproductive health cocaine abuse also has adverse effects on the cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and pulmonary functions.
Other lifestyle or environmental factors that may cause infertility in men are;
Some prescription medications – High doses of some prescription medications can diminish a man’s fertility.
Chronic medical conditions – Some chronic diseases may or may not affect fertility and it is always important to speak to an expert before commencing treating
Injury – Injury around the scrotal area may contribute to the causes of infertility in men
Environmental and occupational factors – Exposure to toxic substances such as lead, mercury, hydrocarbons, and radioactivity may negatively impact sperm count and quality. Exposing the scrotal area to high temperatures can cause infertility in men.
Clothing – It is also widely reported that men who wear tight clothing may be lowering their sperm count and this can cause infertility in men. Men who are having some challenges with fertility are encouraged to wear loose pants and underwear.
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Discussions around how male infertility occurs are becoming more open now with people happily sharing their experiences on ways to improve fertility. Some lifestyle choices such as smoking, excessive drinking of alcohol, illicit use of drugs, obesity, and diet are known to cause infertility in men. When faced with infertility issues, it is important to make choices and decisions for you and your unborn baby that will help improve your chances of getting your partner pregnant.
References – How male infertility occurs
Du Plessis, S., Sabanegh, J. and Agarwal, A., 2014. Male Infertility. New York, NY: Springer New York.
Perkins, S. and Meyers-Thompson, J., 2007. Infertility for dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Pub.
Warhus, S., 2011. Fertility demystified. New York: McGraw Hill Professional.