Lifestyle Issues and Sperm Quality
Up to 90% of male infertility cases can be attributed sperm quality. While much ado has been made about the dire consequences of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and exposure to toxins on sperm function, far less attention has been given to lifestyle factors and issues that impact sperm.
What are Lifestyle Issues?
Lifestyle issues are the day-to-day practices and realities of a person's life, at home and in the workplace, as well as other elements of the environment. "Lifestyle issues" encompasses both external and internal factors, and physical and emotional issues.
Important lifestyle factors that can affect male fertility include: mental or emotional stress, weight, smoking, substance abuse, occupational hazards such as exposure to certain metals or chemicals, and medical conditions.
Lifestyle Issues and Changes
Medical Conditions: Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation put men at risk for infertility, and infections in the area of the genitals can potentially impair the ability of sperm to naturally fertilize an egg. Other medical states that have been known to affect sperm include thyroid disease, liver and kidney failures, diabetes, HIV, chronic anemia, and more. Men are also advised to be wary of "testicular overheating," which can result from high fevers, saunas, and hot tubs, and which can temporarily lower sperm count.
Stress: All forms of stress (physical, mental, and emotional) have been shown to reduce sperm count. Since trying to conceive is often an especially stressful time for couples, care should be taken to get enough sleep, eat healthfully, and exercise moderately. While stress-reducing techniques will not likely improve sperm quality, they can change rocky roads into smoother trails. Lowering stress becomes even more essential when a couple is undergoing fertility treatments, which are challenging procedures that can wreak havoc on one's emotions.
Smoking and Substance Abuse: It is a known fact that smoking and substance abuse negatively impact sperm quality. Not only is sperm count lowered, but sperm movement and the ability of sperm to penetrate and fertilize an egg is impaired. Other lifestyle practices that affect sperm are the use of anabolic steroids and alcohol consumption.
Weight: Being overweight or obese can damage hormone levels and delay fertility. All couples who are trying to conceive are urged to make lifestyle changes to their diet. A healthy diet contains fresh produce, whole grains, and monounsaturated oils (i.e. olive oil). In addition, while there is no solid evidence that vitamins improve sperm quality, some doctors recommend Vitamin C and E supplements to enhance sperm quality.
Environmental Factors: Prolonged exposure at home or in the workplace to environmental toxins can lower sperm count by affecting the hormonal system or by directly impairing testicular function. If your work entails such hazards you may have to consider a major lifestyle change by changing jobs. At home, avoid the use of toxic cleaning agents, herbicides, and pesticides.
Sexual Activity: A couple who is having difficulty getting pregnant should consider timing and carefully monitoring when they have intercourse in order to improve their chances of conceiving. For example, some research indicates that sperm count is higher in the winter than in the summer (although the opposite is true for women, whose fertility rates are higher in the summer).
An ongoing debate continues over the issue of frequency of intercourse. While there is some evidence that frequent sexual activity lowers the sperm count in each ejaculation, other studies indicate that having sex often when a woman is ovulating - even several times a day - improves the success rate of getting pregnant.