Infertility is a condition that can affect both men and women, and can hinder one’s ability to start a family. The term is used to describe the inability to make a baby. Here are some common causes of fertility problems in men.
When there is a deficiency in testosterone, the predominant male hormone, defective sperm production can take place and lead to male infertility. Hormonal problems can be present at birth (due to genetics) or developed later in life, usually due to damaged pituitary glands in the brain. Problems with other hormones, such as FSH, LH, or androgens, can also impact male fertility factors. Some of hormonal-based medical conditions include hypogonadism, Kallmann syndrome, and panhypopituitarism.
Structural abnormalities of the male reproductive organs will certainly play a factor in male fertility. For example, some genetic abnormalities can cause the testes of a fetus to never properly descend outside the body. Some infants may also be born with blocked tubes responsible for delivering sperm; hence, even if ejaculation can take place, there may not be any sperm present in the fluids. Injuries later in life, or having a vasectomy, can also change the structural integrity of the male reproductive tract.
(For more information on vasectomies, see Vasectomy: Male Sterilization To Prevent Unintended Pregnancies.)
Environmental factors, such as pollution or occupational hazards, can definitely wreak havoc on sperm quality and count in men. Exposure to pesticides, mercury, radiation, second-hand smoke, paint, or heavy metals (fumes included) also has the same effects. Hence, be sure to take occupational safety measures to decrease such risks.
Treatments involving radiation, such as chemotherapy, can significantly alter the fertility of men, especially if it is near the reproductive organs. Having frequent x-rays done near the testicles can also affect sperm production. Certain medications intended to treat hypertension, depression, and arthritis can also effect ejaculation and sperm functions, causing male infertility.
Sometimes, male infertility is a symptom of other underlying medical conditions. For example, a condition known as immunological infertility happens when the man’s own body attacks his sperm for unknown reasons. Obesity, kidney disease, and other metabolic diseases can also decrease male fertility levels.
What you put in your mouth can affect your fertility! Malnutrition, specifically a deficiency in vitamin C and zinc, can cause infertility in men. Anemia also has similar effects. Since there are male prenatal vitamins on the market, be sure to take one daily in preparation of starting a family, along with a nutrient-rich diet and daily exercise.
Excessive drinking, smoking, recreational drug use can significantly decrease sperm count and the mobility of sperm cells. Anabolic steroid abuse, often known to produce large muscles, can also have testicular shrinkage and infertility as side effects. Wearing tight pants, underwear, or the habit of using laptops directly on the lap can also decrease sperm production due to the elevated temperature. Stress and irregular sleep schedules also increase the potential for male infertility.
For some men, the problem lies in a more intimate place – between the sheets. Erectile dysfunction (also known as impotence), is increasingly affecting men nowadays, and is often accompanied by other health problems. Premature ejaculation also prevents the sperm from entering the female reproductive system. Another psychological condition, known as ejaculatory incompetence, prevents a man from ejaculating during sexual intercourse, even if he can ejaculate normally through masturbation. Fortunately, factors of a behavioral nature may be corrected through therapy or addressing personal issues.
For a sperm to be able properly fertilize an egg, it needs to fit three criteria: count, motility and morphology. If the sperm count is lower than 20million/mL, the chances of fertilization dramatically decrease. For some men, sperm may be completely absent in the semen. Then, if the sperm cannot move in a straight line, or is too slow, it may never be able to reach the egg for fertilization; normal motility is considered 60 percent and above. Lastly, morphology considers the shape of the sperm body and the presence of the tail. An abnormally shaped sperm cannot properly penetrate the egg, and can contribute to male infertility.
Although a man’s “biological clock” surpasses a woman’s, it still has an expiration point. While there is no specific age that deems the sperm’s ability to fertilize unviable, older men tend to produce lower quality sperm. In term, such sperm cannot fertilize eggs as easily as the sperm of a younger man. In fact, research has shown that men can go through andropause, similar to that of menopause in females. Male sex hormone production significantly decreases along with libido, and the rate of erectile dysfunction increases.
If male infertility plays a factor in your life, be sure to see a urologist for tips to improve the chances of conceiving.