Causes of Infertility in Men

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An in-depth report on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of male infertility.

Age

The effect of aging on male fertility is not totally clear. However, growing evidence suggests that it may be a factor (although not to the extent that it is in women). This evidence indicates that age-related sperm changes in men are not abrupt, but are a gradual process. Aging can adversely affect sperm counts and sperm motility (the sperm’s ability to swim quickly and move in a straight line). A 2006 study also suggested that the genetic quality of sperm declines as a man ages. The researchers found that poor sperm motility was associated with DNA fragmentation. This led to some older men having an increased risk of passing on gene mutations that cause dwarfism and possibly other genetic diseases.

Temporary and Lifestyle Causes of Low Sperm Count

Nearly any major physical or mental stress can temporarily reduce sperm count. Some common conditions that lower sperm count, temporarily in nearly all cases, include:

Emotional Stress. Stress may interfere with the hormone GnRH and reduce sperm counts.

Sexual Issues. In less than 1% of cases, impotence, premature ejaculation, or psychological or relationship problems contribute to male infertility, although these conditions are usually very treatable. Lubricants used with condoms, including spermicides, oils, and Vaseline, can affect fertility. Astroglide, Replens, or mineral oil may not be as harmful to sperm. However, oil-based lubricants can damage latex condoms and should be avoided.

Testicular Overheating. Overheating, such as from high fevers, saunas, and hot tubs, may temporarily lower sperm count. Persistent exposure to high temperatures during work may impair fertility. Several studies have found no negative effects on fertility from wearing tight trousers, briefs, or athletic supports, even every day.

Substance Abuse. Cocaine or heavy marijuana use appears to temporarily reduce the number and quality of sperm by as much as 50%. Sperm actually have receptors for certain compounds in marijuana that may impair the sperm's ability to swim and also inhibit their ability to penetrate the egg. Alcohol does not appear to affect fertility, unless it is so abused that it causes liver damage.

Smoking. Smoking impairs sperm motility, reduces sperm lifespan, and may cause genetic changes that affect the offspring. One 2002 trial found that men or women who smoke have lower success rates with assisted reproductive technologies. An earlier study reported that men who smoke also have lower sex drives and less frequent sex.

Malnutrition and Nutrient Deficiencies. Deficiencies in certain nutrients, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, zinc, and folate, may be particular risk factors for infertility

Obesity. Obesity may be a risk factor for male infertility. A 2006 epidemiological study found that a 20-pound increase in a man’s weight increased the chance for infertility by about 10 percent.

Bicycling. Exercise Bikes or Bicycling has been linked to impotence in men and also may affect fertility. Pressure from the bike seat may damage blood vessels and nerves that are responsible for erections. Mountain biking, which involves riding on off-road terrain, exposes the perineum (the region between the scrotum and the

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