According to the WHO’s recent data, infertility and problems getting pregnant affect one in six couples worldwide. Many people believe that infertility is a female issue. However, further study finds approximately 40 – 50% of these cases point to infertility in the male partner. Infertility is the inability to achieve pregnancy after one year of unprotected intercourse, and it is more prevalent than most think.
Male infertility can be caused by a variety of factors, such as hormonal imbalances, genetic abnormalities, infections, certain medications, and lifestyle factors like smoking, drug use, alcohol consumption, obesity, or exposure to environmental toxins.
Male infertility refers to the inability of a man to contribute to conception or achieve a pregnancy with a female partner. Considering that human reproduction requires a 50-50 contribution from the male (provides the sperm) and the female (provides the egg), the importance of a healthy male reproductive system is vital.
Sperm count, a major indicator of male fertility status, fell significantly (50 – 60%) between 1973 and 2011 among men in Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand.
Pulling statistical data from various sources, the numbers paint a picture of the status of male reproductive health.
- Estimates predict 17% of couples will have difficulty conceiving. (WHO)
- On a global scale, 48.5 million couples struggle with infertility. (Reproductive Biological Endocrinology, 2015)
- Responsibility for infertility is traceable to difficulties in 20% of male reproductive system cases. (National Library of Medicine, 2023)
- In the United States, approximately 9% of men aged 15 to 44 report problems with infertility. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013)
- Males over 40 are more likely to have difficulty with infertility. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019)
- As men age, their sperm quality may deteriorate as early as age 40. (American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 2012)
Multiple factors contribute to infertility among the male population.
A male’s body takes about three months to produce sperm, so with any intervention, it will take 72 – 90 days to see the resultant improvement from any intervention. Myriad conditions and factors can impact a man’s reproductive health. Here are some of the more prevalent ones.
Changes to lifestyle choices can be quite effective in improving reproductive health. Here are some of the recommended changes anyone can make.
- Diet changes. A diet of more chicken, fish, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fruit improves sperm motility.
- Stop smoking. Tobacco contains man substances that are toxic to sperm. Men who smoke have lower sperm counts and decreased sperm motility. Sperm quality can improve in only three months after stopping smoking.
- Moderate exercise. Exercising for an hour at least three times a week improves sperm motility and sperm count. A high BMI and low physical activity can cause a decline in sperm quality.
- Enjoy caffeine and alcohol in moderation. Excess alcohol or caffeine impairs sperm quality.
- Avoid toxic chemicals. Read a product’s ingredients before purchasing it. Choose natural products where possible.
- Excessive substance use. Heavy use of alcohol or smoking can impact male fertility. Use of anabolic steroid use or illicit drug use can also be detrimental to reproductive health.
- Marijuana use. Although legal in many states, marijuana can have a negative impact on sperm production, impacting both sperm counts and quality.
These are lifestyle and behavioral changes a person can make to improve his reproductive health. Others will require medical intervention.
Below are some of the more common causative factors of male infertility.
- Varicocele. In this condition, the veins in a man’s testicle(s) are enlarged. There may be no other symptoms, but varicoceles can affect sperm count and sperm quality.
- Testicular trauma. Direct trauma to the testes may affect the man’s ability to produce sperm and may lower the number of sperm produced.
- Cancer treatments. Specific radiation treatments and chemotherapy can negatively impact a man’s reproductive health. A cancer diagnosis may also require surgical removal of one or both testicles.
- Common medical conditions. Testicular failure can result from conditions such as diabetes, certain autoimmune disorders, cystic fibrosis, and certain infections.
- Hormonal disorders. Improper pituitary glands or hypothalamus functioning may disrupt normal testicular function, resulting in low or no sperm production.
- Genetic conditions. These are less common but may impact sperm production.
- Medications. Many commonly used medications can negatively impact sperm production. Make sure you share your entire list of medications you are taking with your reproductive urologist.
A semen analysis will help determine if any factors are playing a role in infertility and how it is impacting the man’s reproductive health. A reproductive specialist can navigate these various causes to determine if any of them apply to a man’s specific symptoms and begin treatment.
Male infertility has many causes, and treatment depends on the causative factor. A fertility specialist may talk you through the following options:
Infertility resulting from a hormone disorder may require hormonal treatment. Hormone imbalance can hurt sperm development. This could result from problems in the testicles, the pituitary gland, or the hypothalamus. Treatment may also include antibiotics or hormonal therapy. Sometimes, removing a medication that an individual is taking can be necessary as well.
Correcting infertility may require a surgical fix. Surgical intervention might improve the quality and quantity of sperm produced. It can also correct structural problems or anatomic problems that may interfere with sperm production or ejaculation.
Anyone, male or female, who has fertility concerns should see a reproductive specialist. A few situations should prompt a man to be evaluated for male infertility.
- If a heterosexual couple has been trying to conceive for more than a year to no avail, they should seek an evaluation by a reproductive specialist. If, however, the female partner is 35 or older, then this evaluation should take place after trying for six months. Many couples are proactively assessing their fertility status even before attempting to conceive. For males, checking a semen analysis is a noninvasive, inexpensive way of assessing whether a significant male factor is present or not.
- Men with a history of medical conditions or treatments should discuss an evaluation of male infertility with their physician if they have concerns about their reproductive health.
- If a man has reached age 45 -60 or more and suspects his reproductive capability may be in decline, he should discuss his situation with his physician.
Male infertility is a problem around the globe and more common than many believe it to be. It can result from medical conditions, genetic factors, lifestyle, or trauma to the testicles. If you or your partner suspects an infertility issue, contact our team. As a partner of Posterity Health, our team of male reproductive specialists is here to help you every step of the way.