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A large study in Scotland found that the average sperm count has fallen over recent years, but it is not clear whether this translates into a lower birth rates. Other possible causes could include environmental pollutants, the effects of medication or the tendency for couple to be older when starting a family.
Infertility affects 1 in 20 men (5%). But 20% of men have low sperm count and 2-3% produce no sperm at all. A low sperm count is the cause of infertility in about 20% of couples.
If you have not conceived after one year of unprotected sex then you and your partner should visit your doctor. It is reasonable to go sooner if you have a reason to be concerned about your fertility, such as previous groin surgery or chemotherapy.
There are some simple lifestyle changes that every man can make to boost his fertility and increase the chances of conception.
If you ejaculate very regularly (say, daily), the testes cannot keep up sperm production fast enough, so fewer sperm are in the semen. It is also not advisable to 'store' up the sperm, as this can result in lower numbers of active, healthy sperm in the semen.
Being overweight can affect your sperm and increases the risk of developing blood-flow problems that may affect your erections. Even if you are of a healthy weight you should still eat a broad, healthy diet - high in fruit and vegetables and low in fat. Aim to drink at least six to eight glasses of liquid a day. The Department of Health currently does not recommend taking any supplements to improve fertility, though some people recommend taking zinc or vitamin E. (Consult your doctor before making major changes to your diet or exercise..)
Regular exercise may help fertility by controlling body weight and relieving stress.
Drinking up to the Department of Health recommended limit of 21 units per week for men has not been shown to affect fertility. [Note: In January 2016, the DH lowered its recommended limit for men to 14 units per week.] However, drinking excessively can adversely affect sperm quantity and quality.
Smoking affects sperm counts but it is not known what effect this has on male fertility. However, stopping smoking will improve your general health and your life expectancy.
Ask your GP about the effects on fertility and sexual function of any medicines. Fertility can be affected by various medications, for example those for high blood pressure or depression.
Cannabis can affect sperm quality and quantity. (If you want to get off recreational drugs, look for a support network. Your GP may be able to help.)
Sitting for long periods of time, or regular hot baths can raise the temperature in the testicles reducing sperm production. However, contrary to popular belief wearing tight underwear does not affect sperm production. (A study comparing men wearing tight briefs with men wearing loose boxers showed no difference in sperm counts.)
Certain jobs can affect fertility, for example the pesticides used by agricultural workers or even the vibrations felt by engine drivers. If you are concerned that your job may be affecting your fertility ask your GP.
Stress, be it physical or emotional has wide ranging effects on the body. It is well known to affect erectile function and may well affect fertility. Over 80% of couples conceive after one year and over 90% of couples conceive after two years of unprotected sex. Set aside time for you and your partner to relax. Enoy yourselves.
Philippa Kaye works in general practice in North London. She is the author of 'The Fertility Handbook' by Sheldon Press.
|This article reflects the experience of the individual. It is not health information from the MHF under the terms of the NHS England Information Standard. It was last updated in 2007.|
Page created on October 1st, 2007