Men worry so much about the amount of sperm they produce that they sometimes forget how important the quality of their sperm is to fertility. Unfortunately, around 15 percent of couples are unable to conceive a child after a year or more of unprotected sex. Male infertility can be caused by several factors including the production, motility (the ability to move spontaneously and actively), and blockage of sperm. Excessive alcohol and tobacco use have been known to limit the production of sperm and damage its quality, but what are some other behavioral and environmental factors that can ruin a man’s chance of conceiving? Here are six things that men may not realize are destroying their sperm count:
1. Eating Bacon
A crispy strip of bacon may be delicious, but research shows it could also be destroying your sperm count. A recent study conducted at Harvard University included 156 men enrolled in an in vitro fertilization (IVF) trial. Lead researcher Dr. Myriam Afeiche and colleagues from the university tracked the eating habits of each male participant and his female partner, including how often they ate processed meat, red meat, white meat, poultry, and fish. Men who ate half a portion or more of processed meat a day recorded 5.5 percent normal-shaped sperm compared to 7.2 percent in men who ate less than half a portion. On the other hand, men who reported eating a healthy portion of fish actually improved the quality of their sperm.
“We found the effect of processed meat intake lowered quality and fish raised quality,” Dr. Afeiche explained.
2. Sweating It Out in a Sauna
If you’re looking for a healthy way to sweat out all of your body’s toxins, you may want to avoid trips to the sauna. Researchers from the University of Padova in Italy asked 10 healthy Finnish men in their thirties to participate in 15-minute sauna sessions twice a week for three months. Each study participant reported normal sperm count prior to the sauna regimen and no history of sauna use in the past year. They were also asked to provide blood and semen samples and had their scrotal temperatures taken before and after each sauna session. The group’s sperm count and concentration experienced a significant drop off after three months of 15-minute sauna sessions and remained low in the three months following the program. However, sperm production was restored to normal levels after six months.
"Avoidance of testicular heating and in particular of sauna exposure (in those countries where sauna is largely used) could be suggested in the counseling of males seeking fertility [treatment]," lead researcher Carlo Foresta told LiveScience.
3. Stressing Out About Life
Stress and anxiety can have a damaging effect on our overall health, including male fertility. Take for example a recent study involving 193 men between the ages of 38 and 49 who were assessed by a subjective and objective scale including life events that led up to stress at work and in life. Semen samples provided by each male participant were analyzed by University of California-Davis technicians for sperm appearance, motility, and semen concentration. While men who reported stressful life events suffered from impaired fertility, stress at the workplace had no damaging effect on semen quality. Work stress, however, did lower the group’s testosterone levels.
"Men who feel stressed are more likely to have lower concentrations of sperm in their ejaculate, and the sperm they have are more likely to be misshapen or have impaired motility," said Dr. Pam Factor-Litvak, senior author and associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, in a statement. "These deficits could be associated with fertility problems."
4. Using Your Laptop
You may recall being told to keep your laptop off of your lap to prevent the heat from damaging your sperm count, but you may not know that even a computer’s Wi-Fi connection can hinder male fertility. A recent study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility collected 29 sperm samples from healthy men that were placed underneath laptop with a wireless Internet connection for four hours. Researchers set the laptop to download and upload information so its Wi-Fi was in constant use. To prove that temperature wasn’t the only factor effecting sperm quality, an air-conditioning system was used to keep the laptop at 77 degrees. Radiation from the laptop’s Wi-Fi connection caused DNA damage and less motility in sperm.
5. Being Exposed to Pesticides
Exposure to pesticides has been implicated in a variety of health complications, including birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and even decreased sperm count. A research team from George Washington University’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health investigated 17 recent studies testing the effects of certain pesticides on male fertility. Researchers targeted studies that involved pyrethroids and organophosphates, two pesticides that humans are commonly exposed to. Out of all 17 studies, 15 reported significant damage to sperm quality due to pesticide exposure. Almost all studies found that sperm concentration had decreased while some reported sperm motility obstruction.
6. Smoking Marijuana
With all the research coming to light surrounding the alleged healthy effects of marijuana use, it may be hard for men to accept what cannabis is doing to their fertility. University of Buffalo researchers who tested the sperm quality and concentration of frequent marijuana smokers found that their little swimmers were burnt out before reaching the egg because they had swam too fast too early. To examine the effect marijuana’s main component, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), had on sperm, the research team tested semen samples from 22 men who reported smoking marijuana at least 14 times a week for five years. Laboratory tests confirmed that when sperm was exposed to THC it began to swim erratically and was unable to start the fertilization process by attaching itself to an egg.
“The sperm from marijuana smokers were moving too fast too early,” said lead researcher Dr. Lani Burkman. “The timing was all wrong. These sperm will experience burnout before they reach the egg and would not be capable of fertilization.”