Your sperm may be suffering without you realizing it. (Getty Images)
Men, listen up: Your everyday behaviors could have an impact on your fertility.
Recent research has shown that men’s sperm count, quality, mobility, and viability — all of which could have an impact on baby-making — could be affected by factors such as alcohol consumption and stress (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). Read on to find other surprising things that could be hurting men’s sperm:
Another health issue
Poor semen quality is linked with health conditions that may not be so obviously linked with sexual health, according to recent research from the Stanford University School of Medicine. In the study of 9,387 men with fertility problems, researchers found that 44 percent of them had an additional health problem aside from the fertility problems.
“To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a study showing this association before,” study researcher Michael Eisenberg, MD, an assistant professor of urology and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford University, said in a statement. “There are a lot of men who have hypertension, so understanding that correlation is of huge interest to us.”
The researchers also found an association between defects in the semen and an increased risk of having a skin disease or endocrine disorder. “As we treat men’s infertility, we should also assess their overall health,” Eisenberg adds in the statement. “That visit to a fertility clinic represents a big opportunity to improve their treatment for other conditions, which we now suspect could actually help resolve the infertility they came in for in the first place.”
According to research published in in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, exposure to aluminum may reduce sperm count, negatively affecting a man’s fertility. And since our exposure to aluminum has increased over the years, the “significant contamination of male semen by aluminum must implicate aluminum as a potential contributor to these changes in reproductive fertility,” Christopher Exley, lead study author and a professor of bioinorganic chemistry at Keele University in the U.K., said in a statement.
The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry details the various ways we inhale, ingest, or absorb aluminum, which include being in nature (it’s found in soil, water, and air), as well as through food (aluminum compounds may be added in the processing of baked goods, such as flour, baking powder, and coloring agents) and consumer products (including some cosmetics and medicines).
While avoiding all sources of aluminum is next to impossible, there are ways to decrease exposure. This includes avoiding drinking out of soda cans, using cast-iron, stainless steel, or oven-safe glassware instead of aluminum-based cookware, and avoiding using antiperspirants or deodorants that include aluminum.
If you’re hoping to become a dad, you might be wise to curb your happy hour outings. In a study in the British Medical Journal, researchers examined 1,221 Danish men between the ages of 18 and 28, who were given a physical exam that included a sperm sample and a questionnaire about their drinking habits. The researchers found that those who consumed beer (which was the favorite beverage in this group), wine, or spirits the week prior showed a change in reproductive hormone levels. And the more they drank, the lower their sperm quality (which was measured by total sperm count and the proportion of the sperm shape and size).
“It remains to be seen whether semen quality is restored if alcohol intake is reduced, but young men should be advised that high habitual alcohol intake may affect not only their general health, but also their reproductive health,” the researchers wrote in the study.
While hormonal changes were seen in the men who drank five or more units per week (about two beers or three glasses of wine), the shifts were more noticeable in those who downed 25 or more units (about nine beers or 12 glasses of wine) each week.
Related: Does Romance Kill Men’s Sex Drive?
In a Human Reproduction study examining how lifestyle factors might influence the size and shape of sperm (referred to as sperm morphology), researchers from the University of Sheffield and the University of Manchester examined sperm samples, medical histories, and lifestyle habits of 1,970 men throughout England. For men younger than 30, researchers found an association between marijuana use and a higher likelihood of having sperm that was not “normally” shaped. (Past research has shown that having sperm morphology affects the ability of the sperm to travel to and fertilize a woman’s egg.)
The findings suggest “that cannabis users might be advised to stop using the drug if they are planning to try and start a family,” study researcher Allan Pacey, PhD, a senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, said in a statement.
It’s no secret that cell phones emit radiation, but the jury is still out on whether that radiation (which is different from the sort of radiation from X-rays) can definitively cause health problems such as cancer. That being said, there is some evidence that cell phone radiation could affect sperm.
Take, for instance, the findings of an Environment International review of 10 studies, examining the link between sperm quality and environmental exposures. Out of the 1,492 samples collected from fertility clinics and research centers, between 50 and 85 percent of the sperm had normal movement (meaning the ability of sperm to move properly toward an egg). However, in all of the control groups, that number dropped by 8 percent when the sperm was exposed to mobile phones.
“This study strongly suggests that being exposed to radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation from carrying mobiles in trouser pockets negatively affects sperm quality,” study researcher Fiona Mathews, DPhil, of the Biosciences Department at the University of Exeter in the U.K., said in a statement. “This could be particularly important for men already on the borderline of infertility, and further research is required to determine the full clinical implications for the general population.”
Psychological stress has been shown to play a role in numerous health conditions, and now experts at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Rutgers School of Public Health say it may also contribute to poor semen quality.
For the study, researchers examined semen samples of 193 men, ages 38 to 49, who were asked to complete a test that measured their work-life stress. Men with job strain had lower levels of testosterone, while unemployed men had lower-quality sperm compared to men who were employed. And even after factoring in men’s history of reproductive health problems and other health problems, life stress overall was associated with “degraded” semen quality, the study said.
"Men who feel stressed are more likely to have lower concentrations of sperm in their ejaculate, and the sperm they have are more likely to be misshapen or have impaired motility," senior author Pam Factor-Litvak, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, said in a statement. “These deficits could be associated with fertility problems.”