This week is Men’s Health Awareness week. To help raise awareness, Merrion Fertility Clinic have put together this short guide on the most important lifestyle changes you can make to optimise male fertility:
Stop smoking: It is well established that smoking affects fertility in both women and men. Cigarette smoking is associated with reduced sperm counts, reduced sperm motility and reduced numbers of normally shaped sperm (sperm morphology), as well as genetic DNA damage in sperm. Smoking by men also reduces the success rates of IVF by at least 40%. Thankfully, quitting smoking can reverse some of the detrimental effects on male fertility.
Avoid steroids and performance enhancers: An ever-increasing problem that we are seeing in our clinics is the impact of certain male supplements on reproductive function. Use of anabolic steroids has increased tenfold in Ireland since 2015. Many men are also taking testosterone supplements or supplements available online which they think are innocuous. However, many of these supplements contain lots of additives, including testosterone. These drugs have a devastating effect on male fertility and testicular function. Sperm production is dependent on normal testosterone levels in the testis, but if the man is flooded with excess testosterone, his natural testosterone production is switched off, with drastic effects on reproduction. This leads to complete absence of sperm (azoospermia) or very reduced sperm counts and reduced size and health of the testis. The good news is that four to six months after discontinuing these drugs, sperm counts and quality generally return to normal levels.
Exercise in moderation: While the relationship of exercise and fertility in men hasn’t been studied as much as in women, the beneficial effects of exercise on general health, bones and mental health are similar. Lots of studies show that excessive exercise can affect sperm counts but it has not been proven whether or not this actually affects fertility. If a man has a very good sperm count and quality to start off with, this probably doesn’t make a huge difference, but if his sperm count is borderline, something like running a marathon may just tip him over. Moderation is the key – a regular amount of moderate exercise is ideal, but try to avoid putting your body under excessive stress. On the other end of the spectrum, obesity in men (which usually goes along with not doing enough exercise) is also bad for sperm and fertility. Excessive heat is not good for sperm so it’s best to avoid hot yoga, saunas or jacuzzis.
Get to a healthy weight: Diet and weight are huge problems in modern western society and Ireland is no exception. Overweight and obese men have increased fertility issues like reduced semen quality (reduced sperm count, concentration and motility), impaired erectile function, and other physical problems, including sleep apnoea and increased scrotal temperatures. Obese men have been shown to have decreased levels of testosterone and other hormones, possibly related to increased oestrogen production in fat tissue. Male obesity may also affect the health of future generations. Studies have shown that obese fathers have a higher likelihood of fathering obese children, irrespective of maternal obesity, and studies in animals show that poor sperm development in obese animals are transmitted to the embryo and may lead to health issues in their offspring. Making fundamental changes to your diet by incorporating wholegrains, lots of vegetables, moderate amounts of fruit and protein and reducing your intake of refined and processed sugars can help support a healthy weight loss and a healthier lifestyle for you and your future children.
Remember the ‘3 month rule’: the entire process of producing a sperm that is capable of fertilizing an egg takes about 90 days, or around three months. Any intervention or lifestyle change you make to improve sperm (e.g. stopping smoking) takes at least three months to have an effect.
The information above is based on the ‘The Fertility Handbook’ by Prof Mary Wingfield, MFC Clinical Director – click here for more information on the book.
If you have concerns about your fertility and would like to speak with one of our team of doctors, please contact us at 01 663 5000 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org