It is estimated that about one in six couples faces difficulty conceiving. A couple are considered infertile when they have been having unprotected sex for a year or longer and have not yet become pregnant.
While people think that most fertility problems involve the woman, around 40% of infertility cases are attributed to the man.
In Hong Kong, male infertility can be problematic due to the high stress culture of working hard and playing hard, alongside urogenital infections which are extremely common in this region. Male infertility can stem from a wide number of reasons, including low sperm count, abnormal sperm shape (morphology), suboptimal movement (motility) and/or function. Read on to find out which 10 factors contribute to male infertility.
Frequent exposure to heat
Do you sit for a long period of time (e.g. long-distance driver, avid cyclist)? Do you use hot tubs, heated car seats or wear tight underwear? All of these factors can effect normal sperm production. The testicles are located outside the body in the scrotum to keep sperm cool. Studies show that actions or activities that raise testicular temperature can decrease sperm count.
A fairly common condition among men. Varicoceles are enlarged dilated veins in the scrotum, which results in an elevated temperature in the testicles, which can lead to fertility problems.
Exposure to chemicals
Sperm health can be affected by overexposure to certain environmental elements, such as industrial chemicals (e.g. benzenes, toluene), pesticides and heavy metals. A 2015 Harvard study revealed that men who ate fruits and vegetables with higher levels of pesticide residues (e.g. strawberries, spinach, peppers) had lower sperm counts and lower percentages of normal sperm than those who ate produce with lower pesticide levels.
It turns out that processed meats, such as bacon and sausage may also decrease sperm count. In another Harvard study, researchers found that men who ate between one and three servings of processed meats per day had worse quality sperm than those who ate the fewest servings. In comparison, sperm quality was better in men who ate white or fatty fish (e.g. cod, halibut, salmon, tuna). Note that soy can also negatively affect sperm quality as it contains isoflavones which mimic oestrogen, a primary female sex hormone.
Smoking over 20 cigarettes a day has been shown to reduce both sperm count and sperm motility.
Heat and radiation from mobile phones also have an effect on sperm health. Studies show that using Wi-Fi can decrease a man’s fertility by decreasing sperm motility and increasing sperm DNA fragmentation.
Exposure to radiation from X-rays or cancer therapy
With high doses of radiation, sperm production can be permanently reduced.
In a Harvard study it was found that overweight men are 11% more likely to have a low sperm count and 39% more likely to have no sperm in their ejaculate. Obesity can reduce fertility by lowering testosterone levels (greater fat storage can end up turning testosterone into the female hormone oestrogen, leading to a slowing or cessation of sperm production), directly raising testicular temperature due to extra insulating fat tissue and increasing the risk of erectile dysfunction.
Men with normal sperm counts who are abstinent for 11 or more days may experience significant decreases in the percentage of sperm motility and normal morphology.
Untreated infections can decrease sperm count and quality or cause scarring that blocks the passage of sperm. These include inflammation of the epididymis (epididymitis) or testicles (orchitis) and some sexually transmitted infections (STI), including HIV and gonorrhoea.
Worried that you may be suffering from male infertility? It may be time for a comprehensive semen analysis, which will give details of sperm count, sperm motility and morphology (and if there are defects, where the defects lie – in the head, body, tail, etc.). It can also rule out possible infections.