Male infertility is a growing problem but thankfully through research, we have learned there are many things that can cause it but it also can be difficult to treat.
However, there are steps you can take to ensure healthy sperm and improve your chances of conceiving a child. In this article, we will discuss the causes of male infertility and the best ways to increase fertility.
We will also provide advice on when you need to see your doctor about your sperm health so that you can get the treatment you need.
What is male infertility?
Male infertility is when a man has a low sperm count or his sperm is of poor quality.
If you have male infertility, it does not mean you can not have children although it may make it difficult to get your partner pregnant.
There are several factors that determine the health of your sperm and these include:
Quantity of sperm
The sperm concentration in your ejaculate can help determine how fertile you are.
The average ejaculate contains a minimum of 15 million sperm per milliliter, which is roughly 20% of a teaspoon.
A low sperm count is defined as fewer than this amount per milliliter.
Sperm motility refers to how well your sperm swim. Healthy sperm will be able to swim quickly and straight.
Poor sperm motility may struggle to reach the egg or may not be able to penetrate it. Anything less than 40% of your sperm having difficulty moving is considered a motility problem.
The shape of your sperm is also important for fertility. Sperm normally have an oval head and a long tail.
If the head or tail is abnormal, it may make it difficult for the sperm to fertilize an egg.
Another factor that is not directly related to your sperm is a low sex drive, also called libido, which can result in you not having sex as often which can have an effect on your ability to produce children.
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What can cause male infertility?
There are many different factors that can cause male infertility and most are related to health conditions but not all.
The most common factors for male infertility include:
If you have difficulty getting or maintaining an erection, it can make it difficult to have sex and ejaculate which will affect your ability to get your partner pregnant.
Low testosterone levels
Testosterone is the hormone responsible for sperm production. If your testosterone levels are low, this can result in a decrease in sperm count and motility.
As you age, your sperm quality and quantity may decrease. However, this is not a guarantee that you will have difficulty conceiving as many men in their 60s and 70s are still able to have children.
Using alcohol, nicotine, or drugs
Substances like alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine can have a negative effect on your sperm quality and quantity. Using illicit drugs can also lead to fertility problems including anabolic steroids.
Some medications can interfere with sperm production or how well it works. If you are taking any medication, speak to your doctor about the potential side effects.
Lubricants for sex
If you use lubricants during sex, make sure they are water-based as some can kill sperm although more research is needed to confirm this fact.
Sperm transport issues
If your sperm is produced normally but cannot get to the egg, this is called a transport issue.
These issues can be caused by blockages in your reproductive tract or problems with how your body stores and releases sperm.
The most common causes include congenital disorders (including genetic disorders) that do not allow you to transport or store sperm properly, obstructions either from accidents or surgeries which can lead to low sperm counts or no sperm being present at all (azoospermia), and diseases or infections such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
You may not know you have transport issues even with blockages as usually there are no symptoms.
Working in certain occupations or being exposed to certain chemicals, such as pesticides, heavy metals, and radiation can increase your risk of infertility.
Cancer treatments with radiation may also damage sperm-producing cells.
Your testicles need to be slightly cooler than the rest of your body to produce sperm which is why they are located outside of your body in the scrotum.
If your testicles get too hot, it can affect how well they work and may lead to a lower sperm count. Overheating from saunas, hot tubs, or tight clothing can also increase your risk of infertility.
Research has shown that emotional stress can affect how well your sperm works although the exact mechanism is still unknown on how it affects your reproductive health.
It is thought that high levels of stress may impact hormones needed for sperm production.
Being overweight or obese can have an impact on your fertility as it can lead to hormonal imbalances and problems with how your body stores and releases sperm.
Studies have shown that men with a higher than normal body mass index (BMI) are more likely to have a low sperm count, sperm motility, and no sperm in their ejaculate.
Other health conditions
Certain health conditions can also lead to male infertility including diabetes, celiac disease, or testicular disease.
Problems in your brain with your hypothalamus or pituitary gland could also cause trouble in testosterone production which signals your testicles to make sperm too.
What are the best ways to ensure healthy sperm?
There are a few things you can do to help ensure healthy sperm including:
- Avoiding substances like alcohol, nicotine, and drugs
- Speaking to your doctor about any medications you are taking and their potential side effects
- Using water-based lubricants during sex as other lubricants can affect semen quality after your ejaculate
- Keeping your testicles cool by avoiding such things as saunas, hot tubs, and laptops on your groin while also wearing loose, breathable underwear and clothing
- Maintaining a healthy weight through lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly as both have been linked to helping fertility issues
- Prevent sexually transmitted diseases by using protection and limiting the number of partners you have
- Managing stress
- Treat underlying health conditions
- Avoiding soy as it has been shown to affect male fertility although the results have varied and more research is needed to come to any firm conclusions
Some health supplements, vitamins, and minerals have been shown in some studies to help with male fertility although most of the evidence is not conclusive.
Examples of these include ashwagandha, vitamin C, maca root, tribulus terrestris (puncture vine), fenugreek, zinc, D-aspartic acid, and increasing your antioxidant intake.
Always talk to your doctor or health care provider before starting any new medication or supplement.
When do I need to see a doctor about my sperm?
You need to see your doctor if you have concerns about your fertility or if you are having trouble conceiving after trying for 12 months.
There are tests that can be done with a semen sample to check your sperm count, semen volume, how well your sperm move (motility), and the overall health of your sperm.
If you have a low sperm count or poor motility, there are treatments that can help improve these things. You may also be referred to a fertility specialist or fertility clinic if more testing is needed.
Male infertility is a common issue that can be caused by a variety of things from stress to underlying health problems among many other issues listed above.
There are some things you can do to help increase your fertility including avoiding substances like alcohol and drugs, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, treating underlying health conditions, and more.
If you have any other questions regarding male fertility, please talk to your doctor or health care provider.
References, Studies and sources:
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Chris is one of the Co-Founders of PregnancyResource.org. An entrepreneur at heart, Chris has been building and writing in consumer health for over 11 years. In addition to PregnancyResrouce.org, Chris and his Acme Health LLC Brand Team own and operate Diabetic.org, Pharmacists.org, and the USA Rx Pharmacy Discount Card powered by Pharmacists.org.
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