If you and your partner have been unable to get pregnant despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least one year, it’s possible that one of you has underlying fertility problems.
Infertility can be incredibly frustrating and upsetting for couples who are eager to start a family. Sadly, it isn’t that uncommon—it affects one in seven couples.1 And while many assume that it’s primarily a female issue, according to the Cleveland Clinic, in at least half of all cases of infertility, a male factor is a major or contributing cause. This means that about 10 percent of all males in the United States who are attempting to conceive suffer from infertility.
Infertility in men can be caused by a variety of factors, including low sperm count, abnormal sperm function or structural issues that prevent sperm from reaching an egg. Illnesses, injuries impacting the male reproductive system, health conditions and lifestyle factors may also affect fertility.
Here’s everything you need to know about male infertility.
Sperm Health: The Basics
The health of a man’s sperm plays a critical role in conception.2 Here are some of the most important characteristics of healthy sperm.
There are two measurements used to determine sperm quantity, the total count and the concentration within semen. A sperm count of 40,000,000 or more and a sperm concentration of 15,000,000 to 20,000,000 or more per milliliter are typically considered normal.3 If the sperm count is lower, it may be a cause of infertility. Although it is important to note that there are men with low sperm counts who go on to have children.
Sperm have to be able to travel through a female’s cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes in order to fertilize an egg. But some sperm do not move swim well enough to make the journey. Research suggests that if at least 40 percent of the sperm are able to swim (motile), pregnancy is possible.
Healthy sperm are built to move—they have oval heads and long tails, which propel them forward. If the sperm are malformed, they may have trouble moving through the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes to fertilize an egg.
What causes fertility issues in men?
In order for a man to impregnate his partner, the following must happen:
- The man must produce healthy sperm.
- The sperm must be able to be transported to the semen.
- There needs to be a sufficient sperm count within the semen.
- The sperm must be mobile enough to reach and penetrate his partner’s egg.
A disruption of any part of this process could lead to fertility issues but the majority of men experiencing infertility struggle with healthy sperm4 production. Their sperm may be immature, abnormally shaped or unable to swim. Some men don’t make enough sperm (and some don’t make any). This problem may be the result of previous or existing infections or inflammatory conditions, issues with hormone levels, immune problems, genetic diseases or environmental and lifestyle factors like heavy alcohol, tobacco or steroid use. Certain health conditions are also associated with reductions in fertility. Men with high blood pressure (hypertension) have been shown to have impaired semen quality.5
Other potential causes of male infertility include structural issues, erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, or liver or kidney disease.
How can men produce healthy sperm?
While certain infertility issues may need to be addressed with hormone therapy or surgery, there are several lifestyle improvements that could help increase your chances of healthy sperm production, like:
- Achieve (and maintain) a healthy weight. Some research indicates that an increase in body mass index (BMI) is associated with a decrease in both sperm count and sperm movement.
- Eat a healthy diet. A balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables and packed with antioxidants may have protective properties for sperm.
- Engaging in regular, moderate effort physical activity is a great way to increase the levels of powerful antioxidant enzymes in your body, which can keep sperm strong.
- Reduce stress is powerful: It can reduce sexual function and negatively impact your hormone levels—including those required to produce healthy sperm. Finding healthy ways to manage your stress is a critical piece of the fertility puzzle.
Plus, taking a vitamin for fertility tailored specifically to men is a great way to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need on your fertility journey. Perelel offers men’s vitamin packs6 designed to support your general and reproductive health. They contain CoQ10, an omega, and a full-spectrum multivitamin for ultimate health benefits.
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What habits should men avoid to help with fertility?
Just as there are several lifestyle factors that can help your chances of being fertile, there are several that can hurt them.
To eliminate any additional hurdles in your fertility journey, consider making the following lifestyle changes:7
- Don’t use steroids or drugs. Anabolic steroids can cause the testicles to shrink and sperm production to slow. Using cocaine or marijuana may negatively impact the number and quality of sperm as well.
- Reduce or abstain from alcohol. Drinking alcohol can cause reductions in testosterone levels and affect sperm production. It can also cause erectile dysfunction. Excessive drinking can lead to liver disease, which may also contribute to infertility.
- Stop smoking. Male smokers may have a lower sperm count than non-smokers. (Secondhand smoke may impact male fertility as well.)
Should I see a fertility specialist?
If you and your female partner have been unsuccessfully trying to conceive using timed intercourse for 12 months, you should both be evaluated for infertility. If your partner is over the age of 35, she may be advised to be evaluated sooner.8
Many health experts advise that both partners get evaluated. This reduces the likelihood of a couple turning to expensive procedures like in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive techniques targeted at females when the issue is actually with the male’s fertility.
What are some signs of high fertility in men?
Fertility is not something that can be assessed with just a physical exam. If you want to determine yours, consider a semen analysis. A semen analysis can provide insight into your sperm health, which is at the root of most fertility issues. It involves providing a semen sample and having it evaluated in a lab. A medical professional will then evaluate the sperm count, motility and more to determine your overall fertility.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.
1. Mayo Clinic. 2022. Male infertility - Symptoms and causes. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/male-infertility/symptoms-causes/syc-20374773#:~:text=Male> [Accessed 10 August 2022].
2. Mayo Clinic. 2022. Healthy sperm: Improving your fertility. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/getting-pregnant/in-depth/fertility/art-20047584> [Accessed 10 August 2022].
7.Mayo Clinic. 2022. Male infertility - Symptoms and causes. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/male-infertility/symptoms-causes/syc-20374773#:~:text=Signs%20and%20symptoms%20you%20may,Recurrent%20respiratory%20infections> [Accessed 10 August 2022].
8. Consult QD. 2022. Why Men Should Be Evaluated Sooner in Infertility Cases. [online] Available at: <https://consultqd.clevelandclinic.org/why-men-should-be-evaluated-sooner-in-infertility-cases/> [Accessed 10 August 2022].