If you’re like most men who encounter fertility issues, you probably never thought you’d end up wondering what’s wrong. Conceiving a child is supposed to be easy. So easy, you might have taken measures to prevent it when you weren’t ready. Plenty of men aren’t having fertility issues. So, why you?
Even though you may feel alone, it may help to know this is a common problem. Infertility rates have been steadily rising over the last decade—the issue affects an estimated 15 percent of couples. There are many reasons for fertility problems in men, including low testosterone, testicular injury or exposure to certain substances such as steroids—and there are many treatments that can help.
If you’re thinking of undergoing infertility testing (which involves having a semen analysis), it may be useful to know that sperm tests can help identify the following important problems:
- Too few sperm (oligospermia)
- Undetectable sperm (azoospermia)
- Sperm motility, or swimming, issues (asthenospermia)
- Misshapen sperm (teratospermia)
Whether you seek medical care or not (and these suggestions should not take the place of consultations with a doctor), taking better care of your body certainly won’t hurt—and, in some cases, could even help.
“Any lifestyle that negatively impacts general health will also have a negative impact on male reproductive function,” explains Stanton Honig, MD, a urologist who is the director of Men's Health at Yale Medicine Urology. “What is good for your general health will be good for sperm as well.”
In service of an overall healthier lifestyle, you can begin taking these important steps at home now:
Clean up your act
When trying to conceive, stop using tobacco, which has been linked to sperm reduction. Also helpful is limiting alcohol consumption or even stopping altogether, since excessive drinking can cause motility issues (sperm won’t be able to sprint to the finish line). Don’t drink more than one to two beers or glasses of wine per day. Any more has been shown to have a negative effect on sperm, says Dr. Honig.
Recreational drugs such as cocaine or marijuana, and performance enhancers such as anabolic steroids, have been shown to have negative effects on sperm. Use of anabolic steroids that contain testosterone will reduce sperm counts sometimes to zero, says Dr. Honig. Be sure to get help from your doctor or a substance abuse counselor, if needed.
Don’t expose yourself (or your boys) to prolonged heat. Sperm production can be negatively affected by overheating your testicles. Avoid resting a laptop (which can heat up) in the genital area for long periods of time. It’s also a good idea to keep your romance out of the hot tub for now. Don’t hop in unless you first check the temperature. Water should be 97 degrees or lower.
If you have been told there is a problem with your sperm, see a reproductive urologist. Many sperm problems are treatable, even reversible. (Don’t worry, the exam is completely painless.)
Soy products contain small amounts of the female hormone estrogen, which may negatively impact male fertility, says Dr. Honig.
Practice stress reduction techniques such as exercise, positive thinking, breathing exercises and talking it out. If you are having a hard time keeping stress at bay at home, work or everywhere, seek counseling to learn coping techniques.
Talk to your pharmacist
Know the side effects of your medications. Certain medications – such as some antidepressants, anti-epileptic drugs, antibiotics, anti-retroviral medications, alpha androgenic blockers, channel blockers and calcium blockers—can affect sperm count and quality. Bring a list of all the medications you are taking to your next appointment with your urologist; sometimes these can be adjusted to improve the quality of your sperm.
Work out (but not too much!)
There is a difference between healthy exercise—and overdoing it. Regular exercise is good for your health and fertility in general. But you should avoid excessive exercise (as is required for marathons, for example) that can have a negative effect on male fertility
Be honest about performance issues
It’s not TMI to tell your urologist if you’re having erectile or ejaculatory issues. Lots of guys experience them, and often there are treatments that can help improve your sex life and your sexual function.
Lose the lube
It’s best to avoid the use of over-the-counter lubricants (while you’re trying, anyway). Look for lubricants without spermicide and for ones that say they’re PH-balanced. If you do want or need to use a lubricant, try Pre-Seed, a lubricant that has been shown to be very safe for sperm, says Dr. Honig. (A high concentration of saliva is also thought to harm sperm, so perhaps you might avoid that for a while too.)
Scrutinize your supplements
Though many believe that taking certain vitamins will help improve sperm quality and quantity, a bit of skepticism may be in order.
Talk to your doctor before taking any vitamin or supplement that claims to help male fertility, says Dr. Honig. “Read the ingredients. Many supplements contain unnecessary ingredients. And many contain lower doses of recommended vitamins than are found in a regular daily multivitamin.”
Taking care of your health is a step in the right direction to becoming a dad—and being healthy and in shape will also help you keep up with a little one someday.