Considering there is equal chance that male factor infertility may be the cause of a couple’s struggle to achieve pregnancy, it’s pretty important to know what may cause this. If you have been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, it may be time to get male fertility testing done. Sperm count tests are easy to do and are the first step in determining if there may be male factor infertility. First let’s learn what causes male infertility.
What Causes Male Infertility?
You will notice that the risk factors for infertility in men are connected. For example, hormonal balance may be caused by another health-related issue such as diabetes. Now add poor diet and lifestyle habits into the equation and you have a cascade of issues contributing to low sperm count and health, and perhaps low libido. All of our body systems are intricately connected; they all rely on the other to function in harmony, which directly impacts the health of sperm. The genetic material contained in sperm will make up half of your future child. The health of your sperm is very important to the health of your future child!
If after reading through this article you suspect you may have male factor infertility, please get fertility testing done!
Poor diet and lifestyle choices are the most common reason for hormonal imbalance and low sperm count and health. Common signs of hormonal imbalance in men are low libido, abnormal hair growth, and erectile dysfunction. Other health-related problems may contribute to hormonal balance in men as well.
Hormones that are most commonly out-of-balance in men:
What causes hormonal imbalance?
- Stress – Stress can have a big impact on hormonal balance.
- Pesticides and hormones in foods – The pesticides found on produce and the hormones added to the dairy and meat have a HUGE effect on men’s hormonal balance. Pesticides mimic estrogens in the body while the added hormones to meat and dairy are actual hormones (like estrogen) you do not want in your system.
- Soy foods – Soy foods mimic estrogens in the body also. As a man, these xenohormones can match up with the receptor sites that testosterone is supposed to go and can create hormonal havoc.
- Alcohol– Excessive consumption of hops has been shown to increase estrogen levels in men. On top of that, alcohol is broken down into sugars, which may in turn be stored as body fat. Body fat has been shown to produce estrogen, the more body fat you have, the more estrogen produced in the body. A recent study showed that men who drink alcohol regularly also have lower sperm motility and concentration.
- Plastics – When plastics are heated they release xenohormones, which mimic estrogen in the body.
- Prior history of health issues (see below)
Health Related Factors and Problems that Affect Male Reproductive Function
Other health related problems may cause hormonal imbalance, poor sperm health, or poor/abnormal immune response which may affect conception.
Hyperthyroidism in Men
-Abnormal enlargement of the mammary glands in males
-Loss of libido
Hypothyroidism in Men
Hypothyroidism happens in women more often than men.
-Decreased libido in men; creates impairment of testicular testosterone synthesis.
-Abnormal enlargement of the mammary glands in males.
Poor Adrenal Health
The adrenals secrete sex steroids, androgens DHEA (the precursor to estrogen), testosterone, androstenedione, and some estrogen/progesterone. These supplement sex hormones secreted by the gonads (testes and ovaries). The adrenals are very sensitive to stress, and over time, may become sluggish, contributing to lowered function and immunity.
Very low body weight
Low body weight may contribute to hormonal imbalance.
Obesity in men lowers testosterone levels. Chronic low levels of testosterone affect how the testes function, which causes all hormones produced by them to be out of balance. This may also lead to lowered function of producing mature sperm. Over time, this may lead to male infertility. Research shows elevated levels of estrogen in obese men. The sperm of obese men are often abnormal; this increases risk for miscarriage and chromosomal defects in a developing embryo. Obese men also often have sexual dysfunction.
Diabetes in men has been shown to negatively impact sperm health, including damage to the DNA in sperm. It also contributes to hormonal imbalance. Studies have shown that a diabetic man who does not control his glucose levels has less of a chance of impregnating his partner and, when he does, the risk of miscarriage and deformities are much higher.
Chemotherapy and radiation may cause low sperm count and health.
Injury or trauma to reproductive organs or one of the endocrine glands
This may cause antisperm antibodies or hormonal imbalance, which affects sperm health and count.
Vas Deferens Blockage
This is also known as blockage of the epididymis. The Vas Deferens is the tube in which the fertile sperm are transported. Varicocele (varicose veins) of the testicles is the number one reason for this blockage. Sexually Transmitted Disease (STDs) such as gonorrhea or Chlamydia may also cause a blockage. Varicoceles is usually treated with surgery. It is important to be treated for any STD right away to prevent damage to the reproductive organs.
A man’s body may create antisperm antibodies when the sperm come into contact with his immune system cells. This happens when the testicles are injured, after surgery (biopsy, vasectomy), or if the prostate gland has an infection. The testicles protect the sperm from immune cells; when they are damaged, they may no longer be able to do that.Over 70% of all men who get a vasectomy will develop antisperm antibodies.
Antibodies are triggered during the immune response that work to kill off the sperm. High numbers of antisperm antibodies can make it difficult for the sperm to reach the egg and/or fertilize the egg. Antisperm antibodies also may damage sperm that survive, which increases chances of miscarriage.
Antisperm antibodies are considered to be an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases may also contribute to hormonal imbalances as well.
Research has shown that smoking also leads to a longer conception time than for non-smokers. Shown to damage DNA in sperm and reduces adrenal gland function.
Men who regularly consume alcohol have lower sperm motility and concentration, as well as lowered chance of fertilization.
May cause erectile dysfunction. Other problems may be caused because hypertension often requires use of medications.
Long-term use of medications and Drug Addiction
There are a variety of medications both over-the-counter and prescription that may cause erectile dysfunction, lowered libido, hormonal imbalance, and poor sperm production, count and health. If you are concerned your medications may be impacting your fertility, talk to your doctor about your concern and to learn more.
Heavy exposure to radiation or other environmental pollution
Radiation and environmental pollution are known to damage DNA and the thyroid gland, as well as other body systems. This may cause hormonal imbalance.
Hormonal Imbalance + Other Health Related Issues = Low Sperm Count & Health
Over time, other health issues may lead to hormonal imbalance or vice versa; this may lead to low sperm count and health, as well as problems with erectile function. None of these are good if you are trying for a baby. In addition, electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) have been shown through studies to lower sperm count due to the heating of the testicles from the EMFs. Do not keep your cell phone in your pocket and do not place your laptop computer on your lap.
A complete semen analysis performed by your doctor will determine the following:
Motility: whip of the tail, movement of the sperm
Morphology: size and shape of the sperm
Count: 20 million sperm per mL or more is a healthy sperm count. Less than that is considered a low sperm count. You can find out if you have low sperm count with an easy at-home test.
Issues with Sperm Count, Health & Delivery Issues
- Vas Deferens blockage-varicoceles or STD damage
- Low sperm count (oligospermia)
- Abnormal sperm shape (teratozoospermia)
- Abnormal or poor sperm movement (asthenozoospermia)
- Immobile sperm (necrozoospermia)-this is when the sperm do not move at all; the sperm may be dead, partially alive or alive, but do not move.
- Abnormal sperm production
- Genetic disorders
- Retrograde ejaculation
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Vasectomy reversal- Up to 70% of men with vasectomy develop antisperm antibodies.
- Physical or structural abnormalities such as undescended testicle.
When To See A Doctor
If you have been trying for a year or more to get pregnant it may be time to see a doctor. If you suspect or have any of the above risk factors that may be a sign of infertility, it is very important to see a doctor. While your family doctor may be able to help with initial testing, further testing from a Reproductive Endocrinologist or even possibly a Reproductive Immunologist may be necessary.
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- Dawson, C. (n.d.). Male fertility problems. Retrieved from: http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/menshealth/facts/malefertility.htm