Male infertility: all you need to know

Infertility, both in men and women, has become a global problem. As per WHO estimates, 60–80 million couples across the globe currently are undergoing infertility problems. In India, the overall pervasiveness of primary infertility ranges between 3.9% and 16.8%.

In India, male infertility is largely overlooked and women are subjected to a lot of social stigma for being unable to bear children.

The need of the hour is, therefore, to give equal importance to male infertility and create awareness about the condition. 

As defined by WHO, infertility is a disease in the reproductive system, which means failure to conceive even after 12 months or more of regular sexual intercourse. It can also be described as the failure of a couple to conceive after 12 months of regular intercourse without the use of contraception in women who are less than 35 years, and after 6 months of regular intercourse without the use of contraception in women who are more than 35 years.

Also, in India, infertility in men specifically has increased manifold due to the bad habits and poor lifestyles.

Here’s a list from Igenomix, a pioneer in reproductive genetics, that list down the “wrongs” which can make a man infertile:

1. Excessive alcohol: As per research studies, if you are an alcoholic and are consuming alcohol in excess, there are fair chances you can turn infertile. Drinking alcohol lowers testosterone levels, causes erectile dysfunction and decreases sperm production. Liver disease caused by excessive drinking may also lead to fertility problems.

2. Smoking: If one is too much into smoking tobacco or marijuana, it’s directly going to affect your fertility. Male smokers can suffer from decreased sperm quality with lower mobility and it also boosts the number of abnormally-shaped sperm. Furthermore, if you are a chain smoker, it might also decrease the sperm’s ability to fertilise eggs.

3. Stress: Recent research claims that if you are stressing out too much, then it is going to affect your sexual health. As per a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, men who had experienced two or more stressful life events over the course of a year had lower sperm quality compared to men who hadn’t experienced any kind of stressful life events. Learning yoga and meditation can be a constructive way to escape this problem.

4. Tight clothing: We all want to look fashionable, but in the course of doing so, we overlook our comfort. Be careful, it’s not only a matter of comfort now if your jeans or underwear are excessively tight; you experience infertility trouble, too.

Wearing ultra tight jeans affects circulation of blood, especially in the groin area and the knees. They have a strangulation effect on the veins and this can be very damaging for the ejaculation of your semen.

5. Toothpaste and sunscreens: This may sound a little absurd but recent research studies have declared toothpaste and sunscreens as dangerous to men’s fertility, owing to the harmful chemicals present in them. They also lead to an early release of compounds critical to fertilisation and make sperm less sensitive to female sex hormones. 

6. Hormonal imbalance: We all know that hormones play a vital role in sexual health. In men, fat cells manufacture the oestrogen, so if this gets affected it will create severe complications for their sexual health.

Other non-sex hormones such as thyroxin can also affect sex hormones. When we suspect a hormonal imbalance, we recommend blood tests and/or salivary hormone tests which often reveal what may be happening. 

7. Excessive exercise: Excessive exercise could lower your sperm count indirectly by lowering the amount of testosterone in your body. As you might have also guessed, stay off the steroids as they can cause testicular shrinkage, resulting in infertility. 

8. Being obese: Are you overweight? Be cautioned, for not only female obesity, male obesity too affects pregnancy. In men, obesity tends to lower the semen parameters. Overweight men are detected with decreased libido and erectile dysfunction. So if you notice that you are gaining weight, start working at keeping fit right away.

It is now known that male factor contributes to almost equally (about 30%) to known causes of infertility. Hence, all couples who have been trying for long to conceive would do well not ignore the male infertility factor.

(The writer, a former researcher at AIIMS, is Lab Director at Igenomix)

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Male infertility: all you need to know

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