Stress and its effects on male fertility

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Past research has associated stress with a number of health problems, including heart disease, asthma, obesity and depression. Now, a new study suggests stress can reduce sperm and semen quality, which could have implications for male fertility.

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, in around 40% of infertile couples the male partner is the sole cause or contributing cause of infertility.

The main cause of male infertility is sperm abnormalities, including low sperm production or misshapen or immobile sperm. Medical conditions – such as undescended testicles or ejaculation problems – can lead to sperm abnormalities, as well as health and lifestyle factors.

How can stress affect semen quality?

The researchers found that men who experienced two or more stressful life events in the past year had a lower percentage of sperm motility and a lower percentage of sperm of normal morphology, compared with men who did not experience any stressful life events. They note this finding remained even after accounting for other factors that may influence semen quality, such as age, other health problems and history of reproductive health problems.

Although workplace stress did not directly affect semen quality in the men, the researchers found that those who experienced job strains had lower levels of the hormone testosterone in their semen, which could affect reproductive health. In addition, they found that regardless of the levels of stress experienced, men who were unemployed had lower semen quality than those who were employed.

How can stress affect semen quality?

Although the researchers are unable to pinpoint exactly how stress affects the quality of semen, they do present some theories. They say stress could activate the release of glucocorticoids – steroid hormones that affect the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins – which could reduce testosterone levels and sperm production.

Furthermore, they say stress could trigger oxidative stress – physiological stress on the body caused by damage from unneutralized free radicals – which has been associated with semen quality and fertility.

 

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