Male fertility doesn’t decline as markedly with age compared to women. Men can sometimes remain fertile their whole life, but, as with females, chances of conception does reduce with age. Although fertility problems are commonly ‘blamed’ on the woman, about one third of all fertility problems are linked to men.
Sperm quality naturally reduces as men age. Sperm quality not only impacts the ability to conceive but also the viability of the pregnancy; poor sperm quality increases the risk of miscarriage.
However, again there is good news. Good nutrition, or lack there of, directly impacts sperm quality and potency and can assist in countering or accelerating the ageing process. Older men with a high intake of antioxidant nutrients including vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc, showed significantly reduced levels of sperm damage compared to men of same age and those with the highest intake of these nutrients showed levels of sperm damage comparable to those of much younger men.
- + Weight
Being overweight or underweight impacts both female and male fertility. Being overweight can lead to an increase in circulating estrogen in the body, which has a direct impact on spermatogenesis.
Studies confirm that male obesity is associated with
- lower sperm concentration
- lower sperm count
- lower levels of motile sperm
- poor sperm morphology
- increases in DNA damage
In a study of couples undergoing IVF treatment, men with normal BMI were found to have higher sperm concentration than overweight or obese men. A larger number of morbidly obese men also required prescribed fertility drugs to help achieve fertilization.
The good news is that studies confirm positive improvements in sperm count and sperm volume following weight loss.
Being underweight (classified as a BMI under 18.5) also has a negative impact on sperm count and sperm motility. So if you’re trying to fall pregnant it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. To help support sperm health and weight management you may like to try the Fertility Diet. Click here to download your FREE introduction to the Fertility Diet now.
- + Smoking
Smoking negatively affects sperm motility and seminal fluid quality. These negative effects have been shown to increase, the more cigarettes smoked. A recent study showed that only 6% of smokers had normal, healthy sperm parameters compared to 37% of non-smokers. Light smokers were found to have reduced sperm motility. Heavy smokers also showed reduced sperm motility as well as low sperm count and abnormally shaped sperm, all factors which can impair fertility.
The bottom line is that smokers, both male and female, are more likely to be infertile than non-smokers. The good news is that most of these negative effects have been found to reverse or greatly reduce within 12 smoke free months.
- + Alcohol
Alcohol has been found to have a negative effect on all levels of the male reproductive system, with the most common symptom being abnormal sperm or damaged sperm. Regular high alcohol consumption doubles the likelihood of low sperm count and the presence of abnormal sperm. Alcohol consumption by both males and females during the week of conception has been found to increase the risk of early miscarriage.
In a study of the impact of high alcohol consumption on fertility, of the 100 alcoholics tested, only 12 showed normal sperm parameters. High alcohol consumption also reduces testosterone levels, which can lead to atrophy of the testes, impotence and infertility.
The National Health and Medical Research Council has not established any guidelines for men wishing to conceive. Standard guidelines for males recommends no more than 2 standard drinks on any one day and no more than 4 drinks on any single occasion.
However the council prefaced these guidelines by stating that no level of alcohol consumption can be guaranteed to be completely ‘safe’ or ‘have no risk’ during the preconception period.
- + Caffeine
- Evidence of the impact of caffeine on male fertility is extremely limited and no ‘safe’ guidelines have been established. Most studies show that moderate intake has little to no impact on male fertility and that modest intake may even be helpful. However, studies do show that excessive intake negatively impacts sperm motility and the ability to achieve a healthy pregnancy. So although there are no specific ‘safe’ levels or ‘upper safe limits’ for males, experts agree that moderation is key.
- + Diet/Nutrition
- While the impact of diet on female fertility is widely known, the impact of good nutrition on male fertility should not be underestimated. Studies confirm a direct link between sperm health and diet. As with women, this is linked to both excess body fat as well as lack of essential nutrients and increased exposure to artificial additives and preservatives. Sperm also follow a 90 day lifecycle. During this growth period you can positively and negatively impact sperm health through diet. Following the menu plans outlined in the Fertility Diet can help improve sperm health and increase your chances of conception. Click here to download your introduction to the Fertility Diet today, it’s FREE!
- + Exercise
Sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise reduces fertility in men, largely due to the influence on body fat levels, which can lead to impaired sperm production.
However, unlike women, men don’t appear to be as affected by high intensity exercise. High-level exercise does appear to alter male hormonal balance.
There are some studies showing that short, intense bursts of exercise, temporarily increase testosterone levels, whereas prolonged exercise (and to some extent in the hours following short bursts of exercise) appears to suppress testosterone levels. The extra heat produced during exercise is also not beneficial for sperm health. Although some endurance athletes do present with non-specific modifications in sperm count, morphology and motility it’s not clear whether these minor testosterone fluctuations have a clinically relevant effect on male reproduction.
Although there is no finite definition of exactly how many hours and how much intensity is optimal for individuals, it’s generally agreed that 45 minutes of activity 5 times per week is a great step towards supporting male fertility.
Males are better able to cope with higher levels of intense exercise than females in relation to their fertility. So for those who already participate in more regular exercise than these recommended levels, that’s likely to be fine, however it’s not recommended to significantly increase your exercise load too suddenly. Maintenance or a gradual increase in exercise is ideal.
There is little evidence to suggest that one activity is more beneficial than another for men, however studies suggest that frequent, long distance bike riding may have a negative impact on sperm production by increasing heat and reducing circulation to the testes. Although evidence is limited about the exact impact on fertility, it would be advisable to ensure you have a cushioned bike seat, avoid overly tight bike short and opt for breathable material and take regular breaks if participating in regular cycling.
- + Medications
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s)
Eg. Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil
Prescribed in the treatment of depression and anxiety, SSRI’s can have a significant impact on sperm production. Unlike women, where potential risks are still in debate, conclusive studies show that SSRI’s have a detrimental effect on sperm production, sperm motility as well as sperm quality. Men taking SSRI’s have been shown to have significantly reduced sperm concentration and percentage of normal sperm as well as a significantly increased percentage of sperm with DNA damage. This reduces both the ability to conceive as well as risk of miscarriage and birth defects. Other side effects include decreased libido, reduced ability to orgasm and ejaculate and erectile dysfunction. If your partner is already taking SSRI’s you should consult your Health Care Professional about alternative treatment options.
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCA’s)
Eg. Endep, Placil, Dothep, Sinequan, Tofranil
Tricyclic antidepressants are less commonly prescribed in preference to the newer SSRI’s, however both forms of anti-depressant medications directly impact sperm health. Therefore you should consult your Health Care Professional if you partner is currently taking these medications.
Calcium channel blockers
Eg. Norvasc, Cardizem
Calcium channel blockers are prescribed for the treatment of high blood pressure, angina and irregular heartbeat, however they are generally not the first line treatment for these conditions. This type of medication can reduce the ability of sperm to fertilise the egg. If your partner is currently taking this medication, consult your Health Care Professional about alternative treatment options.
Eg. Nizoral, Extina, Xolegel
Ketoconazole is prescribed in the treatment of fungal infection. Whilst topical application within creams, ointments or powders does not appear to impact fertility, oral ingestion of ketoconazole tablets can decrease testosterone and sperm production. Use of this medication is generally for the acute treatment of infection and side effects appear to reverse once use is discontinued.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s)
Eg. Nurofen, Advil (Ibuprofen), Naprogesic (Naproxen), Aspirin
Unlike women, men do not appear to suffer any negative reproductive effects from the use of NSAID’s.
These are some of the most commonly prescribed medications. Other medications such as antipsychotics, cancer medications, prostate medications as well as some antibiotics can also negatively impact fertility in men. If you are currently taking any medications consult your Health Care Professional about potential impact on fertility.