What can affect male fertility? This week, LetsGetChecked discusses the rise of male infertility and how to improve your sperm quality.

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Female Fertility Vs. Male Fertility

Discussions around fertility are never-ending, however, the focal point of these discussions are directed towards female fertility, with male fertility largely being overlooked.

Women are harassed with unlimited messages about getting pregnant, wheras men, are generally told that they can take their time.

Initially, in their teenage years, girls are taught that teenage pregnancy is best avoided. In westernized society, females are advised to monitor their fertility and plan for the future having received an education.

The perception can be “if you don’t do it soon, your chances could be gone forever”. This creates a sense of urgency that prompts women to get their fertility potential checked.

On the other side of the coin, a lack of awareness regarding the age at which fertility declines is well documented. In one study entitled Age and Fertility: A Study on Patient Awareness, it was found that a significant percentage of women are lacking awareness in the age that fertility begins to decline.

In the study, 97 surverys were collected in female participants aged between 18-67 years of age. 75.8% of women reported a history of prior pregnacy, however only 30.5% of women stated accurately stated that fertility begins to decline at 35. 5.3% of women stated that there is no age at which fertility begins to decline.

Findings, published in the Human Reproduction Update show a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count among North American, European, Australian and New Zealand men.

Advertising for men advises that they always use contraception. When it comes to having a family, there is a slightly faslse perception that there is no rush on getting started despite numerous studies that show the sperm counts of men from developed countries are at a record low, posing potential detriment to human fertility in general.

Male Fertility Study

The Male Fertility Study was conducted between 1973 and 2011, the results of which were published in a journal called “Human Reproduction Update”. Findings illustrated a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count among North American, European, Australian and New Zealand men.

“This study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp ongoing drop in sperm count.” said Hagai Levine, who co-led the work at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Jerusalem.

Symptoms and Causes of Male Infertility

The study did not explore the causes for this steep decline. However, the researchers involved have said that falling sperm counts have previously been linked to various factors such as exposure to certain chemicals and pesticides, smoking, stress and obesity.

For the most part, male fertility problems are asymptomatic. Intercourse, erections and ejaculation will usually present no difficulty. The quantity and appearance of the ejaculated semen may generally appear normal.

Medical tests are needed to find out if a man is infertile or has issues with fertility.

Male Fertility Tests

In order to diagnose any issues with sperm production you must visit your local physician to take a sperm analysis, otherwise known as a sperm count test. This test analyses the health and viability of a man’s sperm by looking at the amount, the shape and the movement of the sperm.

Home semen tests are available. However, they only test the amount of sperm. They don’t analyse the overall sperm movement or shape.

Other issues with male fertility, such as hormonal imbalances and erectile dysfunction can easily be tested for with a finger-prick blood sample.

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What is Testosterone?

Testosterone is a hormone found in humans, primarily made in the testes in men. Women’s ovaries also make testosterone though in much smaller amounts. Testosterone is most often associated with sex drive and plays a vital role in sperm production. It affects bone and muscle mass, the way men store fat in the body, and even red blood cell production. A man’s testosterone levels can also affect his mood.

Testosterone deficiency can be a cause of infertility in men. Causes of testosterone deficiency include:

  • Stress
  • Obesity
  • Injury or infection of the testicles
  • Chemotherapy or radiation treatment from cancer
  • Genetic abnormalities including Klinefelter’s syndrome
  • Hemochromatosis (overproduction of iron)
  • Dysfunction of the pituitary gland
  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

How can you Improve your Sperm Quality and Overall Fertility?

1. Keep it cool
Sperm temperature is an important factor in its viability, so keeping things cool is important. If you work in a hot environment, try to take regular breaks. If you sit for long periods at a time, try to get up and move around.

2. Alcohol
Excessive drinking is going to have an effect on your fertility potential. More than 14 units a week may decrease your production of testosterone, increase the rate at which testosterone is cleared from your bloodstream, and increase your estrogen levels. This lack of testosterone can seriously affect the quality of your sperm.

3. Drugs
Unsurprisingly, drugs aren’t good for your fertility. The worst candidates are cannabis, cocaine, anabolic steroids, amphetamines and opiates such as heroin or methadone.

For those of you that don’t consider cannabis a dangerous drug: THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, decreases sperm production and weakens sexual drive by interfering with the production of testosterone. THC also has a direct harmful effect on the movement of sperm. For a complete list of the effects that drugs can have on a man’s fertility, check out this piece by the Cleveland Clinic

4. Diet & exercise
It may seem obvious, but being unhealthy in your diet or overweight can make it harder to conceive. Furthermore, being overweight can also cause testosterone deficiency, another barrier for a man’s fertility.

5. Stress
Stress lowers your libido, making it less likely that you’re having sex which obviously presents an issue with conception. Severe stress can also inhibit sperm production by causing testosterone deficiency.

Written by Hannah Kingston | Approved by Medical Director Dominic Rowley