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The Truth And Myths About Male Infertility

Posted on February 27, 2024 by Henry Ford Health Staff

When a couple has trouble getting pregnant, their first thought is often to have the female partner tested. But in about half of couples who can’t conceive, male factor infertility plays a role. 

“Male infertility is more common than people think,” says Ali Dabaja, M.D., a urologist and male infertility specialist at Henry Ford Health. “But because of social and cultural taboos, men are often hesitant to get tested and treated.”

Who Should Get Fertility Testing?

As a general rule, if a couple hasn’t gotten pregnant after a year of unprotected sex (or 6 months if the female partner is over 35), they should be seen by a specialist. “We encourage any couple who can’t conceive to have both partners evaluated and tested at the same time,” says Dr. Dabaja. “You don’t want to waste time before moving forward with treatment if needed.”

What Are The Main Causes of Male Infertility?

There are many reasons why a man’s fertility may not be at its best. Luckily, many of the causes are treatable or, in some cases, avoidable. 

Some common causes of male infertility include:

  • Low sperm count: A variety of medical, lifestyle and environmental factors can reduce a man’s sperm count, making it more difficult to conceive.
  • Low testosterone: This hormone is essential for sperm production. Low levels of testosterone can lead to low sperm count.
  • Varicocele: This condition is the most common cause of male infertility. These enlarged veins in the testicles can interfere with sperm production or quality.
  • Azoospermia: Some men have zero sperm count—either because they don’t produce sperm or have a blockage that prevents sperm from entering the semen.
  • History of cancer treatment: Chemotherapy and radiation can halt sperm production—sometimes permanently. Fertility preservation before treatment may be an option.
  • Cystic fibrosis: Men born with this condition often have complications that lead to azoospermia. 

For all of these conditions, a fertility specialist can help. There are ways to improve sperm production and quality. There are also procedures for retrieving sperm directly from the testicles to use for in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Are Any Of The Rumored Causes Of Infertility True?

Keeping a cell phone in your pocket, a laptop on your lap, sitting in a hot tub or riding a bike—these are all things that men may worry will impact their fertility. And while the evidence is conflicting, Dr. Dabaja says it’s unlikely that any of these activities in moderation will leave you infertile. 

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Some studies have shown that an increase in testicular temperature of just 1 degree Celsius can lead to a decrease in sperm production. It’s possible that prolonged exposure to heat from sources such as laptops or hot tubs may cause that sort of increase in body temperature. But Dr. Dabaja notes that so far, there’s no scientific evidence that this happens.

“There might be some truth to the idea that excesses of temperature can adversely affect sperm,” says Dr. Dabaja. “But you’d likely have to be soaking in a hot tub or sitting in a sauna daily for hours to see a real impact on your fertility.” 

A few studies have also found a connection between the electromagnetic radiation from a cell phone and sperm production. But Dr. Dabaja notes those findings are not conclusive and likely not a cause for concern. 

As for bike riding, again moderation is key. Wearing tight bike shorts and exercising vigorously for a long time will increase the temperature in the testicles. But for most recreational cyclists, it’s probably not enough to affect fertility.

What Can Men Do To Improve Fertility?

The best thing you can do to boost your fertility is to take good care of yourself. “Healthy bodies produce healthy sperm,” says Dr. Dabaja. “You want to eat well, exercise regularly and manage stress.” 

Good habits to keep sperm healthy include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Not smoking cigarettes or marijuana (even second-hand smoke contains enough toxins to damage sperm)
  • Minimizing exposure to environmental toxins (such as benzene), heavy metals and radiation
  • Eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of protein
  • Increasing fruit and vegetable intake to get more antioxidants in your diet
  • Taking supplements of antioxidants such as CoQ-10, selenium and vitamin E (with your doctor’s okay)

If you’re experiencing infertility, it can be stressful—both for you and your partner. “Be mindful of mental health too,” says Dr. Dabaja. “Find ways as a couple to help manage stress.” 

Reviewed by Ali Dabaja, M.D., a urologist and male infertility specialist who sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Henry Ford Medical Center - Fairlane.

Categories : FeelWell

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