What Causes Male Infertility? A Look At Common Risk Factors

male-infertility

If you and your male partner have been trying to achieve pregnancy unsuccessfully for over a year, it is time to get medical assistance. Both of you need to get checked since male and female infertility issues are responsible for a roughly equal number of cases. By getting a fertility test for men, you might be able to pinpoint the exact cause of the fertility problem which will also help your medical care team chart a customized strategy for you to plan your family.   

What Causes Male Infertility?

Infertility is becoming a serious public health concern with around one in every seven couples struggling with it. And out of all these cases, almost half are because of a male factor.

The human reproductive system is a bioengineering marvel. Each partner – male and female – contributes almost equally to its complexity. For a male to make the female partner pregnant,

  • he must produce healthy sperm,
  • the sperm must be mixed with semen,
  • there must be a sufficient number of sperm in the semen
  • the sperm need to be sufficiently active and motile for them to be able to fertilize the egg.   

If there is a problem with any of these above-mentioned factors – low sperm production, abnormal sperm, and blockages – it may lead to infertility.

There are many causes of male infertility. These could be medical, environmental, and lifestyle-related.

  • Medical Causes

Many health issues and treatments can cause problems with sperm production, delivery, and sperm quality.

o   Infections

Inflammation or infections of the testicles and epididymis can cause problems in sperm production, cause blockages in the path of the sperm, and also negatively influence sperm quality. 

  o   Tumors

Cancer of the organs of the male reproductive system may cause infertility. Treatment for cancer that includes chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation may also cause infertility

  o   Retrograde Ejaculation

Some health issues cause this condition in which the semen enters the bladder, instead of coming out of the tip of the penis.

  o   Other Medical Conditions

Other medical conditions that can affect male fertility include some surgeries, anti-sperm antibodies, undescended testicles, chromosomal defects, and hormone imbalances, among others. Some of these conditions are reversible, while others are not. In such cases, if the male is able to produce sperm, even if very little, it is possible, with the help of assisted reproductive technologies (like in vitro fertilization, or IVF), to achieve pregnancy.

  • Environmental Causes

Environmental elements like high temperature and certain toxins can hamper sperm production and sperm quality. Usually, men working in certain jobs where there is a risk of overexposure to toxic chemicals are at a greater risk of developing problems with sperm production, leading to infertility. Exposure to chemicals like pesticides and organic solvents, heavy metals like lead, and radiation exposure (like X-rays) can cause impairment in sperm production. In some cases this impairment is reversible, but if the exposure is great, there could be permanent damage to sperm production.

  • Lifestyle Habits

Some lifestyle habits may also have a negative effect on sperm production and therefore on fertility. Some of these effects are reversible if the lifestyle habit is reversed, while others only become worse with continued habits.

o   Recreational Drug Use

Recreational drugs like marijuana and cocaine are found to temporarily reduce the quality and quantity of sperm. If the use of such drugs is stopped before permanent damage occurs, sperm production may return back to normal. Men using anabolic steroids (for bodybuilding) may also experience lowered fertility due to the shrinking of testicles and impaired sperm production.

  o   Alcohol Use

Alcohol decreases testosterone levels and decreases sperm production. It may also cause erectile dysfunction which hampers the successful delivery of semen into the woman’s reproductive system, thereby reducing the chances of conception.

o   Smoking

Research has found that men who smoke have a lower semen volume and sperm count than men who do not. Men who inhale secondhand smoke are also at risk of lowered sperm production.

o   Weight

Men who are overweight or obese can have a low sperm count. This affects male fertility either directly due to weight issues or due to a hormonal imbalance as a result of being obese.

Fertility Test for Men: How is the Problem Diagnosed?

To diagnose the exact problem, your physician will start with a general physical exam, an understanding of your medical history, any conditions that run in the family, and your sexual habits. With this information, the second step is to perform a comprehensive semen analysis and if need be, a hormone analysis.

  • Semen Analysis

Semen analysis begins with the male partner producing an ejaculate sample. This is usually done through masturbation at the physician’s office in a private room. The analysis assesses checks for several things:

o   Sperm Concentration

The total number of sperm per milliliter of semen is checked. Too few sperm can be a cause of infertility.

  o   Sperm Morphology

Through microscopic examination, the shape, size, and structure of the sperm are checked. Abnormal sperm may have trouble moving efficiently towards the egg and fertilizing the egg and may be a cause of infertility.

  o   Sperm Motility

Microscopic examination of the semen sample also helps the lab technician to assess the motility of the sperm in the sample. Not all sperm will be motile as motility decreases with time, however around 40% of sperm should be motile if the testing is done following standard testing protocols. Also, the motility of individual sperm is checked to see how they are moving, ie forward vs backward vs twitching in place.

  o   Semen Factors

Semen factors like volume of the ejaculate, pH, chemical composition, time for liquefaction, etc. are also checked. These can point to problems like blockages (in case of low volume) or infections. 

Is a home sperm test effective?

Some home sperm test kits are available that allow men to collect their semen samples in the comfort of their homes. Some simple kits only allow for collection and preservation (by adding a chemical that is provided along with the kit). This sample can then be mailed to the lab for further analysis. Some advanced at-home test kits also allow the estimation of sperm count as well as motility. However, a comprehensive test is possible only with a fresh sample checked in a lab.

The comprehensive and affordable – at $199 – Male Fertility Test from Reproductive Health and Wellness Center is performed under strict conditions and using high-end testing equipment by skilled technicians.  

  • Hormone Analysis

Hormonal imbalance can also affect male fertility. Your physician may check the levels of different hormones like follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), estradiol, and prolactin.

Treating Male Infertility: Ways to Improve Male Fertility

There are some natural ways to improve your fertility. This includes making certain lifestyle changes and eating some foods and natural supplements.

  • Lifestyle Changes

We have seen the ill effects of recreational drugs, tobacco smoking, and alcohol intake on fertility. If you are trying to achieve pregnancy with your partner, you need to stop taking these substances.

If you are overweight or obese, try to lose weight. Other medical issues like diabetes may also have an effect on your fertility. When you lose weight, you will also be better able to control your diabetes which will help improve your fertility.

Regular exercising has been found to boost testosterone levels. So make regular exercising part of your daily routine.

Stress has been known to have a diverse effect on your health. It can also impair your libido and sexual satisfaction, leading to infertility. Managing stress and performing activities that help you stay in a good mental space go a long way in treating male infertility.

  • Foods and Supplements

Foods and supplements like fenugreek, Ashwagandha, maca root, D-aspartic acid, vitamins D and C, zinc, folate, Tribulus terrestris (a medicinal herb, also known as puncture vine), and antioxidant-rich foods and supplements (walnuts, co-enzyme Q10, etc.) can positively impact male fertility.

  Avoid soy products as the isoflavone content in them can lower semen quality.

Male Biological Clock: Does Advanced Age Affect Male Fertility?

Because of their ability to produce new sperm on a daily basis, men have been largely excluded from the “ticking biological clock” debate.  However, male fertility begins to decline around the same age as female fertility, between the ages of 35 and 45.  As men age, the male reproductive organs become less efficient and in turn, sperm production becomes slower. This results in lower sperm count and a decrease in other sperm parameters, as well as an increase in the risks of genetic abnormalities. Since there is a decline in testosterone levels, it affects sexual function and libido, thereby increasing the time to conception.  

Parting Thoughts

Male factor infertility is responsible for 40-50% of all cases of couples unable to achieve pregnancy naturally. It requires a careful assessment to pinpoint the problem and find a tailored solution for infertility problems.

At Reproductive Health and Wellness Center, we are experts in treating fertility issues. We provide the latest in cutting-edge embryo science by using the latest technologies, and we create innovative fertility plans customized specifically for each individual.

Schedule a consultation with our fertility specialist today and let us help you achieve your dream of starting a family.  

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