Our bodies truly are machines; each part working cohesively and efficiently, from the muscles, joints, and bones to the more intricate cellular processes. This is why it’s so easy for someone diagnosed with a disease experiences a domino effect of other health problems. Infertility is one of those problems, and hypertension may be to blame, according to a new study.

“About 15 percent of all couples have fertility issues, and in half of those cases the male partner has semen deficiencies,” said lead author Dr. Michael Eisenberg, assistant professor of urology and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford University, in a press release. “We should be paying more attention to these millions of men.”

It makes sense when you look at the effects of stress and high blood pressure on a man’s reproductive health, and vice versa. It eventually becomes a cycle of worsening health. Erectile dysfunction (ED) happens when a man can’t get it up due to problems with the vascular network in the penis.  In fact, problems with these blood vessels — they usually become too narrow to carry the right amount of blood — are the most common cause of ED, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. So right there, you have problems with the cardiovascular and reproductive system. Naturally, something like this becomes stressful, an effect that’s been shown to reduce sperm quality.

By wrangling in all these components, infertility patients may be able to improve their health and quality of life. “A man’s health is strongly correlated with his semen quality,” Eisenberg said. “Given the high incidence of infertility, we need to take a broader view. As we treat men’s infertility, we should also assess their overall health. That visit to a fertility clinic represents a big opportunity to improve their treatment for other conditions, which we now suspect could actually help resolve the infertility they came in for in the first place.”

Eisenberg and his team discovered the correlation after looking over the medical records of 9,387 men, whose media age was 38, and who’d gone to Stanford Hospital & Clinics between 1994 and 2011. The men regularly submitted semen samples, which were analyzed for volume, concentration, and motility — the ability for sperm to move through the female reproductive tract. About half the men had abnormal semen. But when the researchers looked at other health problems, they found that 44 percent had something else that could have been causing infertility. Heart, vascular, and blood pressure problems played the largest role.

Although it’s much easier said than done to ease stress and subsequent high blood pressure, and thus improve fertility, men with these problems may benefit from a Mediterranean diet. A study from just last week found that men with ED who began eating the fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, olive oil, fish, and unrefined grains that comprise the diet were able to reverse some vessel damage. Thus ED may improve, and maybe even sperm quality — maybe. Besides the Mediterranean diet, there are so many more ways to reduce stress, you just have to find what’s right for you.

Source: Cullen M, Eisenberg M, Behr B, Pera R, Li S. Fertility and Sterility. 2014.