Declining sperm counts in men all over the world have been reported for years. A landmark study published in the journal Human Reproduction Update in 2017 found that sperm counts dropped by more than half over four decades of data. Causes of this decline have not been studied, although some hypothesize that environmental factors, such as endocrine disruptors in plastics, may affect sperm count.
Sperm count is usually the first metric of a man’s fertility, along with motility (ability to swim) and morphology (size and shape). Low sperm counts are often caused by health and lifestyle factors that can be managed, and young men who take better care of their health will often see sperm counts rise. To improve your overall health and fertility, here are 7 factors to look out for:
Almost 3 out of 4 men in the U.S. are overweight or obese, and 43 percent are obese. Low sperm count is associated with having more body fat and a higher BMI (body mass index). Obesity lowers testosterone levels, which drive sperm production. It’s not easy to lose weight but losing weight and reducing waist size will help increase a man’s fertility.
Type 2 diabetes, which is often caused by overweight or obesity, is also linked with lower testosterone levels and infertility. Losing weight and managing diabetes can improve testosterone levels.
Smoking cigarettes has been proven to decrease fertility in men. It affects sperm volume, sperm count, and sperm motility, its ability to swim. Smoking also makes ART like IVF treatment less successful.
Chronic alcohol abuse has been linked to infertility. What does that mean, exactly? Binge drinking can cause impotence and affect sperm quality. Several studies have documented decreased testosterone and atrophy of the testicles from long-term, heavy alcohol use. For men, binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks consumed within two hours, while heavy drinking is 15 or more drinks per week.
5. Drug Use
Recreational drugs negatively affect a man’s fertility. A recent study found smoking marijuana decreased the volume of semen and sperm count and affected the sperm’s shape. Use of opiates like oxycontin and fentanyl affect hormone levels and can lead to DNA problems. Using anabolic steroids for bodybuilding puts a man at risk for lessened testosterone production and sperm count. The good news is, if he stops using these drugs, a man’s sperm counts can recover.
6. Hot Tubs and Saunas
A man’s testicles need to stay cooler than the rest of his body in order to manufacture sperm. That’s why they hang outside in the scrotum instead of being inside his body cavity. When he gets hot in a hot tub, Jacuzzi or sauna, his sperm count goes down. If he’ll stay out of the hot tub for a few weeks, it will usually bounce back.
7. Boxers vs. Briefs
After years of controversy and conflicting studies, another study found that men who wear boxer shorts have higher sperm counts than those who wear tight briefs. Boxer wearers also have lower levels of FSH, follicle stimulating hormone, which indicates a healthier environment for sperm.
If a man is diagnosed with male factor infertility, there are treatments that can help in addition to lifestyle factors. ICSI combined with IVF treatment allows a man’s sperm to be injected into an egg and fertilize it, so sperm quantity becomes less of an influence on conception. If other factors are also at play, assisted reproductive technology (ART) can help a couple with male factor infertility have a child.
40 to 50 percent of all cases of infertility are due wholly or in part to male factor infertility. WIN for HIM, WIN’s clinical advocacy program, helps men on their fertility journey with at-home semen analysis test kits, a dedicated WIN Nurse Care Manager for guidance, and WIN’s reproductive behavioral health team for emotional support. If treatment is needed, WIN’s national network of highly qualified fertility specialists are ready to help you become a parent.