Seven things to know about male infertility

The reality of male infertility is often underestimated. Many people don’t realise that half of all infertility cases are caused by male problems. Surveys have also found that, for cultural reasons, some people find male fertility an embarrassing topic. Young men avoid the subject for reasons to do with confidence, self-belief and macho stereotyping.

Here are seven facets of male infertility that are not widely known or understood:

A male fertility crisis

In the west we are amid a slow-burning male infertility crisis. In fact, the earliest indications of this decrease first emerged in the 1970s with a steady 1.4% decrease in sperm counts per year. Between that decade and now, sperm counts have decreased by approximately 50% and there is no indication that this situation will change.

The cause of the crisis is unknown. However, research suggests lifestyle factors and the presence of hormone-disrupting chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, in the environment may play a big part in the problem.

Men have biological clocks too

When it comes to ticking biological clock conversations about fertility, men have been largely excluded. This is due to their ability to continually create sperm. However, male reproductive organs become slower and less efficient with age, and this results in low sperm counts as well as genetic problems.

The truth is that male fertility rates decrease after the age of 40 and it then becomes progressively difficult for men to become fathers. Also, if their partners become pregnant, the frequency of miscarriage increases as the man’s age rises.

Lighter/looser underwear/trousers can make a difference!

Did you ever hear that wearing tight underwear or jeans is not great for male fertility? Well, don’t dismiss it; there is now some evidence that there is truth in the matter.

Harvard researchers conducted some studies in this area and found that males who wore light underwear (such as boxer shorts) had higher sperm concentrations than those who wore tighter clothes. The scientists explained this in terms of tighter garments increasing the temperature in the testes leading to impairment of sperm production. This makes sense because the testicles themselves grow outside of the body to keep sperm cooler than the internal body temperature. 

Loss of smell or poor sense of smell? Get it checked out

Loss of smell is one of the pre-eminent symptoms of COVID-19 so don’t delay in getting a test if you suddenly experience it. However, in young/pubescent males, it can also be a sign of Kallman Syndrome, a rare genetic disease that affects the hormone balance and leads to male infertility.

Hormone replacement therapy is indicated in the small number of boys/young men that have this syndrome.

Traumatic injury and severe acute illness can lead to male infertility

Sometimes, because of illness or traumatic injury, sperm can encounter blood. When this happens it’s possible for antibodies in the blood to mistake sperm for invaders in the same way that they recognise bacteria and viruses.

Once triggered the immune process can interfere with conception. However, it’s rare for antibodies by themselves to make it impossible to get pregnant and there are ways of overcoming the immune response.

If immunologic infertility is suspected, health professionals can organise tests on blood and sperm to confirm it. And if confirmed, steps, such as taking low doses of immunosuppressant drugs, may be taken to lessen the immunologic response to sperm.

Sleep duration can affect sperm counts

Sleep duration can affect both sperm counts and sperm quality. This is what research undertaken in China in 2016 showed. Sperm count and semen volume were highest in volunteers that had between 7-7.5 hours of sleep per day, whereas those who had longer, or shorter sleep duration showed lower coin and semen volume.

Think about food choices

Obviously, too much or too little food is going to have an overall negative effect on your body, which in turn can be detrimental to sperm production. But assuming you aren’t obese or anorexic you can eat what you like, right? Wrong.

The truth is that certain foods are better for sperm production than others. For instance, men who eat processed meat every day have been found to have lower sperm counts than those who don’t. Doctors also recommend avoiding excessive fats, sugar, red meat and soya to increase sperm count and help with overall health.

Foods that are high in antioxidants and nutrients that the body can use in sperm production are recommended, including:

  • Whole grains
  • Green vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruit and berries
  • Fish and shellfish.