Male fertility in decline: what you can do
There’s no doubt anymore. According to scientists, sperm counts have more than halved over the past 40 years in the West. On top of that, sperm counts are continuing to fall by about 1.4% a year.
What is sperm count?Sperm count is the number of active male sperm cells in an ejaculate produced by a man’s body. According to the Mayo Clinic, sperm density is considered normal when situated between 15-200 million sperm per milliliter, or higher. Men are considered to have a low sperm count when there is less than 15 million sperm/ml. This condition is called oligospermia.
Chances of pregnancy with low sperm counts are less than with normal sperm densities, although other fertility issues could also affect chances of conception.
Why is sperm count dropping and what can you do?A recent study conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has concluded that sperm counts in men living in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have declined by 50 to 60 percent in 40 years. Sperm count plays a vital role in reproduction and this decline could have a dangerous impact on male health, public health and future generations. Additionally, this decline is not slowing.
However, despite the fact that this decline is cause for concern, the reasons behind it remain unclear to scientists. What’s even more worrying is that lower sperm counts are linked to conditions such as cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, varicose veins, sexually transmitted diseases, and shorter life expectancy.
Although further research is needed, a typically western lifestyle is suspected of affecting sperm counts. Diet, obesity, stress, tobacco, alcohol, pesticides and endocrine disruptors are all likely contributors to this troubling phenomenon. Here is what you can do about it.
Stop (or at least reduce) alcohol, recreational drugs and tobacco consumptionSmoking tobacco affects sperm count, motility and shape, according to several studies. Cigarettes can damage smokers’ DNA and affect semen quality and, therefore, fertility.
Moreover, drugs such as marijuana and opioids can also affect fertility and disrupt the production of sperm. As for alcohol, drinking five or more glasses of alcohol per week can damage sperm quality.
Have a healthy dietSeveral studies have shown that what we eat can influence our fertility. Additionally, according to a 2012 study, being overweight or obese can cause low sperm production and provoke infertility. To ensure a healthy diet, it’s best to go vegetarian (or at least to reduce your consumption of meat) and eat organic food to avoid chemicals and pesticides. Try also to avoid fast food, foods high in fat, sugar, cholesterol, and ready-made meals. Opt instead for cooking your meals yourself using fresh and organic products.
Exercise, but not too muchIn addition to maintaining a healthy weight with a varied and balanced diet (which is essential for boosting chances of conception), try to exercise at least 150 minutes every week. Otherwise, you risk a decline in sperm count.However, although working out is great, you should avoid intense exercise, as this can affect sperm production. Additionally, cycling too much tends to compress the testes and increases your body temperature. The ideal temperature for the testes is two to three degrees below body temperature.
Avoid skinny jeansFashion may also explain the drop in sperm count. Just as with cycling too much, wearing skinny jeans or tight underwear can also increase your body temperature. In fact, a study of 2,500 British men has revealed that wearing tight pants could be even worse than smoking tobacco or consuming alcohol.
Reduce Phthalates exposureWe are now aware of the existence of endocrine disruptors that, as their name suggests, can disrupt the endocrine or hormone system and, therefore, can affect both male and female fertility. Phthalates are one of these dangerous chemicals. Used as dissolving agents to make plastics more flexible, they are found everywhere: in hairspray and gel, perfume, deodorant, shampoo, sex toys, paint, detergent, shower curtains, food containers, and much more.
A lot of companies have begun to phase out their use but their presence in products remains significant in the US (some of these chemicals are still not banned). Reducing your exposure to phthalates is vital for your fertility, as well as your future children’s health. Look for "phthalate-free" or "no synthetic fragrance" products.
Reduce stressStress affects men’s fertility too. According to a 2014 study, men who experience a lot of stress have more chances of having lower sperm concentrations in their ejaculate, as well as sperm morphology or motility issues. If you are feeling too much stress because of your job, family, marriage, etc., don’t wait any longer to start finding solutions to relax.
What can I do if I’m infertile?If, after a year of trying to conceive there is still no sign of pregnancy, it’s best to pay a visit to your doctor and undergo a semen analysis or male fertility test. In addition to the medical tests, your fertility specialist will examine your medical history and lifestyle to determine the issue and find a treatment.
However, as mentioned above, reasons for male fertility sometimes remain a mystery, which makes finding a treatment complicated. In the case of infertility that cannot be cured by a change of lifestyle or medication your doctor might suggest turning to fertility treatments (such as intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization with donor sperm or your own sperm) to help you conceive.