It was believed that only the female is responsible for infertility – a condition that affects about 15 per cent couples who have unprotected intercourse for over a year. However, advancements in research have established that both the male and female partners may be infertile.
For men to be fertile, they need to ejaculate an astronomical number of motile sperms i.e. 40-250 million per ml of semen. This needs a production of 100-200 million sperms every day, wherein each sperm takes 10 weeks to be produced.
Infertility is a problem which manifests itself only when the couple tries to conceive. Environmental factors combined with certain kind of adult lifestyles can make men more vulnerable to fertility problems.
Male Infertility Risk Factors:
- Smoking: Various independent studies on smokers vs. nonsmokers have shown that smoking damages sperms which make them incapable of fertilizing the female egg. Both active and passive smoking is believed to be a cause of delayed conception or fertility issues. However, the good news is that the negative effects on fertility can be reversed after a year of quitting as the body is able to restore the balance of protamine 1 and protamine 2 – the two highly charged proteins whose proportion in the sperm cells gets skewed because of smoking.
- Heavy drinking: Excessive consumption of alcohol reduces the testosterone levels in the blood – the hormone responsible for male fertility, besides impairing the function of the testicular Sertoli cells which play animportant role in maturing the sperm. In fact, alcohol can have adverse effects on the functioning of the hypothalamus, the anterior pituitary gland, and the testes which are the main male reproductive organs.
- Being overweight or underweight: Obese men are at a greater risk of being infertile because excess body weight reduces the sperm count, and decreases the sperm quality and motility (movement). On the other hand, being excessively underweight (i.e. with a Body Mass Index lesser than 18.5) also affects sperm quality and causes problems in fertilizing the female partner.
- Overheating of the testicles: Overheating of the male genital area and specifically the male testicles makes has direct relation with a lower sperm count. Overheating can be caused by prolonged saunas or hot baths, laptops being kept continuously on the lap/thigh area, infection related fevers, tight fitting clothing, long hours spent cycling or biking (which generates heat because of being in the same seat), etc.
- Drugs: Various kinds of drugs have can potentially harm the reproductive health of males. These include Anabolic steroids which are often consumed by men to build their muscle mass or decrease body fat. Other narcotics and drugs such as marijuana decrease sperm and testosterone production and sexual drive.