The health of men significantly impacts their ability to conceive. Semen quality, testosterone levels and physical conditions like obesity are all major factors that affect men’s fertility.
Dr Justin Dubin, urologist and men’s health specialist, Memorial Healthcare System, South Florida, says that before a man plans a pregnancy with his partner, he needs to take a closer look at the external and internal factors that could affect his fertility.
What are the factors that affect men’s fertility?
1. Hot tubs and saunas could kill the sperm
According to Dubin, men should avoid hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms and jacuzzies. The testicles are outside the body for a reason. The ideal temperature for sperm development is a few degrees lower than the body temperature.
This is why testicles shrink in the cold and drop down in the heat. So, anything that elevates the temperature of the testicles could kill sperm. Dr Dubin says that, theoretically, even one session in the sauna could comprise sperm quality.
It usually takes about three months for sperm to generate.
2. Men’s age affects sperm quality
Unlike women, men continue to make sperm throughout their life. But the quality of the sperm declines with age. Starting from the age of forty, the sperm count may decline, the shape of the sperm may change and the motility (the ability of the sperm to swim) could also deteriorate.
3. Testosterone therapy can cause infertility in men
Testosterone levels should be within the normal range for sperm to develop.
Taking exogenous testosterone through injections or supplements can improve testosterone levels only for a short time. Dr Dubin points out that about 65 per cent of men become sterile within just four months of using testosterone therapy.
But the good news is that, gradually, the sperm count will get back to normal once testosterone injections/supplements are stopped.
4. Smoking tobacco and marijuana may also kill your sperm
“The more you smoke, the more the chances are of erectile dysfunction,” says Dr Sulaiman Ladhani, consulting chest physician, MD chest and tuberculosis, Masina Hospital, Mumbai.
“This is because smoking affects the blood vessels of the heart and other parts of the body including the penis. There may be blood circulation deficiency in the vessels, and since the lining is damaged, there may be difficulty in getting an erection or sustaining one. It only gets worse with the number of cigarettes smoked,” says Dr Ladhani, adding that it can get worse with age.
According to Dr Ladhani, erectile dysfunction could be reversed if the person quits smoking when he is young. “There may be some improvement in the motility and the concentration of the sperm. However, the time taken for improvement cannot be ascertained.”
Marijuana could also cause fertility problems, says Dr Dubin.
Though experts are not sure about the exact amount, doctors usually recommend limiting marijuana use when people are planning a baby.
5. Obesity could cause infertility in men
Obesity can also prove to be detrimental to fertility.
Being overweight can lower testosterone levels and this can affect the development of sperm.
A study co-authored by Jorge Chavarro, assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), finds that overweight and obese men are more likely than their normal-weight peers to produce lower numbers of sperm, or even no sperm at all.
6. A scheduled intercourse approach should be followed
Infrequent ejaculation leads to poor-quality sperm, says Dr Dubin.
“When couples come to us for planning a baby, we recommend them to have intercourse every other day; it allows you to be on a schedule. And there is always a guarantee that some amount of sperm is in the uterus, waiting for the egg when your partner is ovulating,” points out Dr Dubin.
7. Improper use of lubrication could skill sperm
Experts say that many lubricants are sperm toxic and tend to kill sperm. While trying to conceive, it is imperative to ask the doctor about the kind of lube that is safe for use.
8. Swollen veins around the testicles may cause infertility
A varicocele is the dilation or enlargement of the veins around the scrotum (the bag of skin that holds the testicles)
This condition is seen in around 15 per cent of the general population. About 40 per cent of the causes of infertility is due to varicocele. It may be surgically corrected and this can potentially increase semen parameters. But a consultation with a urologist is essential for an accurate assessment.