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Sperm Quality FAQ

Be proactive about your sperm quality

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 body mass index (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 infertility may arise if your sperm count is low or the sperm have motility (movement) 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 72 days to mature, which means that if you make healthy lifestyle changes you only need to wait about 3 months before seeing improvements in sperm quality, which increases your chances for reproductive success.

Here are some frequently asked questions about how you can be proactive about your sperm quality:

does being overweight affect male infertility?

Absolutely. As with women who have fertility complications from being underweight or overweight, men suffer from similar complications. By maintaining a healthy diet and staying active, though, you can alleviate these potential risks. Abnormal semen parameters (i.e., low sperm counts and low sperm motility) increase with obesity. If you are overweight, you may 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 the body forms sperm, due to increased scrotal temperatures. If you are overweight or obese, talk with your physician about ways to get healthy. Even modest weight loss can make a big difference.

do smoking and recreational drugs affect sperm quality?

Yes, significantly. Smoking cigarettes can cause a decrease in the three main factors that determine a man’s sperm quality: sperm count, shape (morphology), and motility. The good news—studies have shown that damage from smoking is not necessarily permanent and may vary by the quantity and length of smoking history. In general, your fertility rate can completely return to normal within 1 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 you should definitely avoid use when trying to get pregnant.

does the rate of Alcohol Consumption in men matter?

Yes. Just as alcohol consumption matters in women, it also matters in men. Excessive consumption of alcohol in men has shown to impact 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), which is defined as the inability to maintain an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. However, by reducing the amount of alcohol you consume, you can quickly reverse these effects.

does excessive heat near my genitals cause sperm problems?

Unequivocally, yes. If you frequently use saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, or even hot stoves such as in a commercial kitchen, your sperm count can be affected. 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, you should be wary of common household ‘heats’ like resting your laptop on your lap—an issue that you can easily resolve by using a lap board or cooling pad.

what if I'm taking a low t (testosterone) medication, what do I need to know?

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; however, advertising would have you 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 by zeroing in on low energy, a drop in sexual interest, and other symptoms as potential symptoms. While these symptoms may, indeed, have an underlying cause that needs attention, the cause is not necessarily low T, and you should always consult your physician before trying any medication. What does this have to do with fertility? Researchers have found low T medications can cause a low sperm count, creating the exact opposite effect of what was intended.

By proactively addressing these lifestyle changes, you can make a remarkable difference not only in your overall health but also in your fertility and sperm quality.

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