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Sperm health & male-factor infertility

Of all infertility cases, did you know that approximately 40-50% is due to ‘male-factor’ infertility?! (PMID: 4691969)  


Sperm quality can have a big impact on getting (and staying!) pregnant, and according to Tommy's - the presence of DNA damage in sperm can more than DOUBLE the risk of miscarriage. I’m a huge believer of the fact that supporting fertility is a two-way street (after all, 50% of the DNA that becomes a baby is from the male!) and sperm health is often overlooked when supporting couples on their fertility journey. (PMID: 26752853).  

The good news is that nutritional and lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on sperm parameters and overall fertility in a relatively short space of time. It is generally known that most men produce millions of sperm every day. However, it takes between 60-90 days for full sperm to FULLY mature (and regenerate!).   


During this cycle, lifestyle factors and environmental factors such as smoking, extreme temperatures and poor diet can cause damage to sperm in a number of ways which may affect:  


𝐒𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐦 𝐜𝐨𝐮𝐧𝐭 (𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐦𝐚𝐧𝐲 𝐬𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐦)   

𝐒𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐦 𝐦𝐨𝐭𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲 (𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐰𝐞𝐥𝐥 𝐬𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐦 𝐦𝐨𝐯𝐞)  

𝐒𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐦 𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐩𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐨𝐠𝐲 (𝐬𝐡𝐚𝐩𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐬𝐢𝐳𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐬𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐦) 


Here are some of the key lifestyle factors that affect sperm health:



SMOKING


Whilst this one may not come as a huge surprise, research suggests that men and women who smoke are twice as likely to have infertility issues than those who do not smoke. Cigarette smoking can lead to slower moving sperm and also a reduced number of sperm. This also includes those affected by second-hand smoke and also marijuana (which also has been linked with abnormal sperm morphology), which can also affect sexual performance. 



OBESITY


Male obesity is associated with poorer sperm morphology, sperm counts and lower sperm motility. Research also shows that couples with a higher BMI have a higher risk of miscarriage in those who conceive naturally and those who go through assisted reproduction. ( PMID: 22161463)



ENDOCRINE-DISRUPTING CHEMICALS


During a sperm’s 90-day regeneration cycle, sperm can be subject to a lot of damage from stressors produced by the body and in our environment. Whilst it’s impossible to avoid every chemical in our environment, we can definitely try and reduce exposure. We know that exposure to chemicals such as BPA (found in water bottles and some plastic food storage containers), pesticides (found on unwashed or nonorganic fruits/vegetables and phthalates (found in vinyl flooring and personal care products such as soaps, shampoos etc.) can affect sperm quality. (PMID: 15090685)



AGE


A man’s sperm count and sperm morphology does start to decline after the age of 40, making it harder to conceive as men get older. Some studies suggest that older men are not only at risk for infertility, but they are more likely to pass on genetic problems to their children. Whilst men may not have a complete drop in fertility like women do, a man’s age does still matter when it comes to fertility. (PMID: 16973530) 



MOBILE PHONE USE


Mobile phones have been shown to emit high frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) which have been shown to affect sperm motility. It’s important to note that sperm prefer cooler temperatures than the standard body temperature. Laptops on your lap, sitting for long periods of time, keeping your phone in your pocket and wearing tight-fitting clothing can increase body temperature around the groin and testicle area which can all affect sperm quality. (PMID: PMID: 26949865) 



ALCOHOL


Like with smoking, excessive alcohol can lower testosterone levels, sperm count and sperm quality. One study in particular found decreased sperm quality in men who drank more than 5 units of alcohol (around 3 small beers) per week. Alcohol can also inhibit the function of the testes, reducing the sperm’s ability to move towards an egg and affecting sperm development. The good news is that these effects are reversible with research suggesting men reduce their alcohol intake at least 3-6 months prior to trying to conceive. (PMID: 25277121)



STRESS


Stress can affect the production of hormones that support sperm production as well as those that help with a healthy libido. Managing stress is a key part of health in general and men dealing with chronic stress are found to more likely experience lower levels of testosterone, lower sperm count, abnormal sperm production and decreased sperm motility. Not getting enough sleep (less than 7 hours per night) can also exacerbate stress and is one of the most important foundational things you can do for your fertility. (PMID: 20595939) 


Supporting sperm health during this preconception period is equally as important as female fertility and a key part of my work with couples on my 1:1 fertility programme. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, confused and frustrated with where you’re currently at with you baby-making journey, please know you’re not alone! Get in touch to book your free 30 minute call or send me a DM to find out more about how Nutritional Therapy can help you.


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