Lifestyle and Behavior
What men choose to drink, smoke, or medicate with can have a direct effect on their fertility. Scientists now estimate that a man’s health or habits can play a role in about 40 percent of infertility cases. For instance, a recent study of over 1500 Danish men found that being underweight or overweight can significantly lower a man’s sperm count and concentration. For men who want to lead a fertility-friendly lifestyle, consider the following:
Even though alcohol may have some health benefits (red wine, for instance, has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease), consuming large amounts of wine, beer, or hard liquor can affect the quality of sperm and even lower the level of testosterone (necessary for sperm production). How much is too much when you’re trying to conceive? “I recommend men limit alcoholic beverages to no more than two drinks twice a week,” says Dr. Goldstein. Heavy drinkers who cut back on alcohol intake should see an improvement in the quality and production of sperm in about three months.
Both cigarettes and marijuana are toxic to the testicles and cause poor sperm quality. It takes about three months for the levels of nicotine-related chemicals to start diminishing in the blood after a smoker quits.One recent study found that active marijuana use adversely affects fertilization by causing sperm to “poop out” before they get close to the egg. Abstaining from marijuana for three months allows healthy sperm to regenerate.
Drugs And Environmental Toxins
Calcium channel blockers, which are used to treat heart disease and high blood pressure, can destroy a sperm’s ability to penetrate an egg. Methotrexate, an arthritis drug, can decrease sperm count, as can the anabolic steroids used by some athletes. Chemotherapy drugs, pesticides, and other chemicals may damage sperm production. Illegal drugs such as cocaine can lower testosterone levels, sperm production, and libido. Check with your doctor for a complete list of drugs that might impair fertility.
Research has shown that chronic stress can interfere with everything from a man’s sex drive, erection and ejaculatory capabilities to his sperm count and quality. Of course, it’s hard for men not to feel stressed when they’re dealing with infertility. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and good nutrition can go a long way toward combating the ill effects of stress, and when these lifestyle changes aren’t enough, counseling sessions with a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist may be helpful.
Doctors tell prospective dads to steer clear of any clothing (such as tight-fitting nylon underwear or exercise shorts) or activities (soaking in a very hot tub, sitting for hours in a car or truck, long-distance bike riding) that heat up the testicles. Similarly, studies have found that the radiation emitted from cell phones, and the heat from laptop computers, electric blankets and waterbeds, can all affect a man’s fertility. For most men, these activities will probably not affect sperm count or quality enough to prevent conception. But for couples who are having difficulty conceiving, changing any of these factors can sometimes make a difference.
RESOLVE, Inc., a national infertility support group with more than 50 chapters across the country, offers locals support groups for men dealing with infertility. For more information, check out their website at www.resolve.org and click on “Just for men.”