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A rise in male infertility- lifestyle and environmental factors

Updated on September 6, 2012

Recently, a news item in Times of India dated August 26, 2012 attracted my attention which reads that infertility is on rise in young Indian males. It further states that there has been a 2% decrease in quality of sperms annually. Also 40% of men in the reproductive age group have a quantitative and qualitative decline in sperm quality.

As a matter fact, the scenario is the same more or less all over the world in this regard. A number of things can affect the number of sperms, movements of sperms (mobility) or their ability to fertilize an egg.


Lifestyle choices-

The lifestyle of our younger generation contributes to a significant extent to a rise in male infertility. Poor nutrition, obesity, use of alcohol, smoking and drugs are responsible to a significant extent.

  • Nutrition- Surprisingly, there is a link between intake of junk food and quality of sperm. It appears that a diet high in trans fatty acids found in junk food and snacks reduce the sperm quality. Those with the highest intake of junk food have the lowest quality of sperms.
  • Obesity- Men with increased BMI (body mass index) are more likely to be infertile than men with normal weight. This is an independent risk factor in both younger and older men. It has been found that a 20 pound increase in weight in men may increase the chance of infertility by about 10%. Obese men may also have higher than normal levels of estrogen, which can change the make-up of the sperm and lead to low testosterone levels. Nearly 80% of men with type-2 diabetes are obese and insulin resistance in diabetics can inhibit normal sperm development.
  • Alcohol- Drinking alcohol causes a noticeable decrease in sperm count, increase in abnormal sperms and decrease in sperm motility. The more alcohol a man consumes, the bigger the effect it has on his ability to produce quality sperm. So if one has a low quantity or quality of sperms, the best thing is to lay off the alcohol.
  • Smoking- Smoking tobacco may hamper male fertility in heavy smokers. Smokers should also be aware that smoking can damage their sperm DNA and thus they may pass on faulty DNA to their baby. A human sperm carries a receptor for nicotine which means that it recognizes and responds to nicotine. In fact, smoking may cause as much as 23% decrease in sperm density and 13% decrease in sperm motility.
  • Recreational drugs- Regular male users of recreational drugs have low sperm counts and a significant increase in number of abnormal sperms. Moreover, these illegal drugs decrease the libido in men and diminish their testosterone levels. Marijuana use has especially been associated with low levels of testosterone and a decrease in quantity and quality of sperms.
  • Stress- Emotional stress plays a large part in male infertility. It interferes with the hormones which affect sperm production and motility. Oxidative stress in sperms can lead to DNA fragmentation. The generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the male reproductive tract has a toxic effect on the sperm quality and function. ROS are a type of highly reactive free radicals. The administration of anti-oxidants can protect sperms against the free radicals. The level of oxidative stress is determined by the balance between the rate at which the oxidative damage is done and the rate at which the damage is repaired efficiently. Unfortunately, our present day lifestyle conditions promote high level of oxidative stress.
  • Use of laptops and mobiles- By using laptops on the laps and placing the mobile phones in the trouser pocket or clipping on the trouser belt, the testicles of an individual can get overheated causing sperm damage due to high temperature.
  • Sauna and hot baths- Frequent sauna or hot baths can lead to an increase of temperature more than normal of the core of the body. This may result in the causation of male infertility.

Exposure to certain environmental factors-

Overexposure to pesticides and other chemicals and exposure to heat as in sauna and hot tubs may impair sperm quality and production.

  • Pesticides- Excessive use of pesticides in agriculture may affect spermatogenesis (sperm production) leading to poor sperm quality and reduced male fertility. As farmers are exposed to multiple pesticides, it is difficult to pinpoint which pesticide affects their fertility more. Even persons consuming the vegetable and fruits having pesticides on them are also affected by them to some extent. Men working in places where they are exposed to toxic chemicals like lead, gases, heavy metals and some chemicals report adverse affects on their fertility.
  • Traffic pollutants- An association between traffic pollutants and low male infertility has been established. Traffic pollutants like surphur oxide (SO), nitrogen oxide (NO), carbon mono oxide (CO), and lead beyond the permissible limits are responsible for a deterioration in quantity and quality of sperms.

By adopting right lifestyle choices and avoiding exposure to the environmental pollutants, the rise of male infertility can be lessened to a great extent.


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