There are always new articles popping up about what a woman can do to enhance her fertility potential. These enhancements run from the practical—eating healthy, exercising, having an ideal BMI—to the more superstitious—eating exotic fruits and nuts or standing on your head after sex. What’s often left out of this conversation, though, is what the male partner should be doing to prepare for conception. While the man will not be carrying the baby, male factor is the cause of infertility in 40 to 50 percent of couples and male infertility may arise if his sperm count is low or the sperm have mobility issues.
The fact that men produce millions of new sperm every day makes it highly beneficial to men who want to alter their lifestyle habits. Sperm take about 74 days to mature, which means that men who do make lifestyle changes only need to wait about three months before seeing improvements in sperm quality–increasing their chances for reproductive success.
#1: Make Physical Fitness and Healthy Eating a Priority to Reverse Male Infertility
As with women who have fertility complications from being under or overweight, men suffer from similar complications. By maintaining a healthy diet and staying active, though, these potential risks can be alleviated. Abnormal semen parameters (i.e., low sperm counts and low sperm motility) increase with obesity. Overweight men have been found to have decreased levels of testosterone and elevated levels of estrogen, an issue that may impair signals from the brain that regulate sperm development. Overweight men are also at risk for impaired spermatogenesis, the process by which sperm are formed, due to increased scrotal temperatures.
#2: Kick the Smoking Habit and Improve Sperm Count and Quality
Smoking cigarettes can cause a decrease in the three main factors that determine a man’s sperm quality: sperm count, shape (morphology), and movement (motility). Studies have shown that damage from smoking is not necessarily permanent and may vary by the quantity and length of smoking history. A man’s fertility rate can completely return to normal within a year of quitting smoking.
Other drugs, including marijuana, have been shown to decrease sperm counts. About 33 percent of chronic users will have low sperm counts and men should avoid use when trying to get pregnant.
#3: Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Excessive consumption of alcohol in men has been seen to have an impact on fertility in several studies. Men who consume large quantities of alcohol (five or more drinks per day) may have lowered testosterone levels and reduced sperm quality and quantity. Alcohol is also linked to erectile dysfunction (also called ED or impotence) in men, which is defined as the inability to maintain an erection firm enough for intercourse. It has been shown, though, that reducing the amount of alcohol consumed can quickly reverse these side effects.
#4: Too Much Heat Can be Dangerous
Sperm counts and sperm quality may be affected by frequent or long visits to saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs (although occasional heat exposure like this should not have adverse long-term effects). This exposure to heat does not have a permanent impact on sperm though, and sperm should return to normal quality and quantity within a few months of discontinuing excessive heat exposure. Additionally, men should be wary of common household ‘heats’ like resting their laptops on their laps—an issue that can easily be resolved by using a laptop lap board or cooling pad.
#5: Low T Medications Can Create Unintended Consequences
Low T, or low testosterone, occurs when a man has testosterone levels that are below normal levels. While some men do have this condition, the vast majority do not, but advertising has led them to believe otherwise. In the British Medical Journal’s European Male Ageing Study, they found that low T (which they defined as a combination of sexual symptoms and measured testosterone level) was found in only 0.1 percent of men in their 40s, 0.6 percent in their 50s, 3.2 percent in their 60s, and 5.1 percent of men in their 70s.
Pharmaceutical companies have taken advantage of men’s concerns about Low T, using low energy, a drop in sexual interest, and other symptoms as potential clinical indicators. While these may be attributable to actual conditions, it is not necessarily Low T, and a physician should always be consulted before trying any medications. What does this have to do with fertility? Low T medications have actually been found to sometimes cause a low sperm count, creating the exact opposite effect of what was intended.
Male Fertility & Sperm Count Can Improve with Lifestyle Changes
While there are many unknown factors that can cause male infertility, the lifestyle tips listed above have been shown to make a remarkable difference in men whose habits are affecting their fertility and sperm count. It is beneficial for any man who is trying to conceive with his partner to keep a healthy lifestyle: minimizing alcohol intake, quitting smoking, and eating healthy and exercising.
The Center for Male Fertility at Shady Grove Fertility offers a range of services including basic evaluation and testing to state-of-the-art microsurgical techniques. The program is led by Paul R. Shin, M.D. and Cori Tanrikut, M.D., board certified reproductive urologists who care for patients in our D.C. metro and Baltimore metro locations, respectively.
If you have questions regarding factors that may affect sperm count or would like to schedule a new patient appointment, please call our New Patient Center at 877-971-7755 or click here to complete this brief online form.
Editors Note: This post was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness as of May 2018.