What you do at work, how you use your mobile phone, when you unwind and even where you sit can have a significant effect on your fertility. The wrong lifestyle could take you longer to get your partner pregnant, or even prevent you from conceiving entirely if you are already borderline infertile. But there is good news.
It is rare for lifestyle choices to cause any permanent damage to fertility and with a few simple changes, you can increase your baby making potential.
Join me as we explore the most common lifestyle factors that affect your chances of becoming a father and learn what you can do about them. I’ll even answer the age old question of whether your underpants actually affect your sperm or not.
Occupation and Hobbies
You may be at risk of reduced fertility if you have a job or hobby that regularly exposes you to any of the following: chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, heat, stress, vibrations or radiation.
Examples of occupations and hobbies that involve these include:
• Keen gardeners and people working in agriculture can have an increased contact with pesticides
• Crafters who make jewellery can be exposed to heavy metals
• Builders, painters, dry cleaners and DIY enthusiasts can come into contact with chemicals
• Factory workers that produce or use chemicals or heavy metals
• Kitchen workers, mechanics or foundries can work in temperatures that reduce sperm production
• Office staff can be exposed to high levels of stress and sitting down for long periods of time
• Nuclear power plant workers, radiologists and manufactures of smoke alarms can be exposed to radiation
• Drivers of heavy vehicles or operators of machinery who experience constant vibrations
Obviously you can’t just give up your job, but there are preventative measures that you can take to help minimise your exposure to harmful substances and other factors affecting fertility at work:
• Always follow the safety regulations of your profession or the safety instructions of your hobby
• Wear protective clothing such as gloves, overalls and dust-masks
• Wash your hands thoroughly before eating
• Make sure your work area is well ventilated if you are a painter or work with chemicals
• Shower and change your clothing immediately after you finish work or your hobby
• If you work in a hot environment, wear loose clothing
• If you suffer at stress from work, speak to your manager about it
If you have been trying for a child for a while and are worried about your current occupation or hobby’s effect on your fertility, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your specific situation.
Mobile Phones and Fertility
While not yet conclusive, there is growing evidence to show that the radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) emitted by mobile phones can have a detrimental effect on sperm. You don’t even need to be on a call for this to affect you, as mobile phones constantly send and receive signals to the network. You may even have the Bluetooth constantly on if you have wireless headphones or a smart watch.
So far the effect is thought to be limited in range, so stop carrying your mobile phone in your trouser pocket if you want to limit the effect.
In addition, some mobile phones run hot (though this is not necessarily the phone’s fault, but often inefficient apps running in the background) and as we’ll see later, a warm device in a pocket next to your testicles, heating them up, is not going to improve their sperm production abilities.
Stress and Fertility
Stress can be caused by your job, social pressures, significant life events and simply by the worry of your partner not becoming pregnant. I’m sure you’ll have heard anecdotal stories of people who had been trying to get pregnant for years and when they give up trying for a baby, they conceive within a few months.
However, how stress impacts on male fertility is not precisely known, probably because it is so difficult to measure. Some studies indicate it may have an impact on sperm quantity and quality, while other studies have not been able to find a link at all. What we do know is that stress can affect your relationship with your partner, lowering your libido and making you less inclined to have sex.
While the scientific evidence is not completely conclusive on stress’s impact on sperm, it is linked to other illnesses such as high blood pressure, depression and irritable bowel syndrome (that last one certainly won’t help with your baby making activities). Not to mention unhealthy coping mechanisms such as heavy drinking and smoking.
If trying for a baby is taking longer than expected, try to cut down on sources of stress where you can.
Diet and Fertility
Modern farming techniques can expose you to chemicals; mercury from pollution makes its way into the ocean where it enters the food chain; and xenoestrogens are found in tap water and soft plastic packaging.
What you eat can have a huge impact on your fertility, but with today’s global food market, it can be difficult to be sure of where your meal has come from, how it was raised or what has been added to it before it gets to you. However, there are some guidelines I can share with you that will help reduce the worst food offenders from your diet and give your sperm the boost they need. It’s so important that I have given it a section all of its own: Foods Men Should Avoid When Trying to Conceive.
Weight and Fertility
If you are either overweight or if you are underweight, then you may be compromising your fertility. Worse still, there is evidence that a man’s weight can change his sperm and detrimentally affect the health of his children in later life. But it can be difficult to know what your ideal conception weight should be.
Your ideal weight is calculated using an equation called the Body Mass Index, simply referred to as the abbreviation BMI. Rather than do the math yourself, use the BMI Calculator on the website.
Overweight Impact On Fertility
Studies have shown that overweight men (a BMI of 25 to 30) have a lower quantity and quality of sperm. It is even worse if you are obese (a BMI over 30) as you are up to three times more likely to have a lower sperm quality than men of a normal weight. If that wasn’t bad enough, obese men are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction (both getting and keeping it up). Obese men also have a higher risk of other health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. In fact, there is research that suggests a man’s weight may affect the information passed by his sperm, leaving his children predisposed to obesity. If you are obese, I recommend you make an appointment with your doctor so that they can professionally assess you and make recommendations specific to your needs.
Underweight Impact On Fertility
It is not just the larger men that suffer from reduced fertility; skinny blokes (a BMI under 19) tend to have a lower sperm count. This is because your body can go into starvation mode and when it does this, it reduces resources to unnecessary functions like sperm production in order to try and keep you alive.
Alcohol and Fertility
Studies show heavy drinking can seriously reduce a couple’s chances of getting pregnant. Excessive alcohol consumption reduces men’s testosterone levels (a hormone essential in the production of sperm), reduces sperm count and increases the number of misshaped sperm.
The good news is that men don’t need to cut out drinking completely and if you cut down the amount you drink, the effects can be reversed in three to four months. So if you want to boost your fertility levels, stick to 14 units or less a week (which is the equivalent of six pints of average strength beer or seven glasses of wine per week).
There is one thing connected with alcohol consumption that does need to come to an end and that is the lack of sleep associated with that lifestyle. Regularly not getting eight hours a night (or at least seven) puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and yes you’ve guessed it; reduced fertility. Make your excuses and leave the pub early if you want to father children.
If you feel you need support to help you cut down or stop drinking altogether, then see your family doctor, or visit Drinkaware for further tips and advice.
Smoking and Fertility
Smokers take on average twice as long to get their partners pregnant as non-smokers. They are also more likely to have other fertility issues such as erectile dysfunction. It affects the man by decreasing sperm motility, increasing the number of abnormally shaped sperm and damages sperm’s DNA. If you smoke and your partner doesn’t, don’t smoke around them as passive smoking is almost as harmful as smoking.
The best thing to do is give up smoking entirely and quitting comes with benefits that will be useful as a new father:
• Within a few weeks you’ll be breathing more easily and have more energy to play with your child
• After a year or so, your risk of heart disease and lung cancer reduce and your life expectancy goes up, so you will be around longer for them
• You’ll have more money and children don’t come cheap
However, if you do continue to smoke, take regular vitamin supplements (especially those with high Vitamin C) to counteract some of the worst damage it is doing to you and your sperm.
If you live in the UK, get help stopping smoking by visiting: NHS SmokeFree Service.
While research shows that e-cigarettes are better for your general health, there isn’t much research on the long-term effects of e-cigarettes specifically on male fertility. At least e-cigarettes don’t contain the tobacco, tar, arsenic and 400 other potentially toxic chemicals that normal cigarettes contain. So on balance, these are far more likely to be better for your fertility than normal cigarettes. Though not as good as stopping smoking completely.
Recreational Drugs and Fertility
No one is going to tell you that taking recreational drugs is good for you, but can they affect a man’s fertility? Unfortunately, there aren’t a great many studies into how recreational drugs affect fertility due to ethical considerations. However, what we do know is not good for your chances of fathering a child if you take them.
Marijuana / Cannabis has been found to decrease sperm count, damage the quality of the sperm and reduce its motility.
Cocaine damages sperm quality and long term users have found that it decreases sexual stimulation, making it difficult to get and maintain an erection and harder to ejaculate.
Heroin and Methadone decrease sperm motility and negatively affects sexual function.
Ecstasy (MDMA) is thought to damage sperm DNA with long term use.
There are plenty of other recreational drugs out there and just because research has not been done to see if they affect male fertility, it does not mean to say they are harmless. If you are serious about having a child, you should consider stopping them entirely.
Anabolic Steroids and Fertility
Anabolic steroids are used by some men to increase sports performance or to build muscle quickly, but taking them is one of the worst things you can do if you are trying to have a baby. Not only can they be a risk to long-term health, anabolic steroids are almost like a contraceptive for men and regular users have little chance of getting their partner pregnant while they are on them.
Anabolic steroids mimic testosterone and by taking them you are overloading your body with the hormone. When you do this, your body shuts down testosterone production in the testicles and they stop producing sperm. This is why many users of anabolic steroids report that their testicles shrink.
The good news is that in most cases, if you stop taking them, your testosterone levels will normalise and your fertility will return in 4 to 12 months. However, in some cases, anabolic steroids can permanently damage your body’s ability to produce testosterone and when this happens, you will need fertility treatment.
Anabolic steroids also have a host of other harmful effects on your mind and body, some of which can become permanent. Regardless of whether you are trying for a child or not, if you have taken anabolic steroids, see your doctor so they can assess your general health for any lasting effects.
Overheating The Testicles
There is a reason the testicles are on the outside of the body and that is because sperm production works best at 34.5 ºC (94ºF) which is 2.5ºC (4.5ºF) lower than the inside of the body. It’s not a great degree of difference and subjecting your testicles to higher temperatures can reduce or even stop sperm production for a while.
The following are some of the most common activities that can heat your testicles to temperatures that affect sperm production:
These may be relaxing after a long day at work, but taking a hot bath for an extended period of time can decrease sperm production. This is also true of saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs and sunbeds.
Tight Underwear and Trousers
Tight fitting briefs or drainpipe jeans can both heat up your testicles and restrict blood flow to them. If you want to maximise the quality of your sperm, start wearing loose boxer shorts and slacks with plenty of room. Ideally you’d wear a kilt, but if you aren’t Scottish I could understand your hesitancy in doing so.
Moderate exercise is good for sperm production, but excessive exercising causes the body temperature to rise to levels that interfere with sperm production. This can be made even worse by wearing tight fitting lycra. Excessive exercise can also increase your adrenaline levels, lowering testosterone production which is essential for healthy sperm production.
While cycling is an exercise, I feel it needs a special mention because of the bad press it has been getting. It does not cause infertility as some scare stories would have you believe. Yes, excessive cycling may impact fertility, but moderate cycling is good for you and your fertility, so there is no need to give it up. Just to be on the safe side, you can wear loose cycling shorts while trying for a baby and make sure you have a padded bike seat as sitting on a hard seat may reduce blood flow to your testicles.
The next time you are sitting on a train, working away with your laptop perched on your lap, bear in mind that some laptops produce a lot of heat that is vented through the bottom of the laptop. Try and get some insulation between it and your testicles. In fact, sitting down too long with your legs crossed is also bad for you, laptop or not.
It would be impossible to list every possible scenario that can cause your testicles to overheat, so while you are trying for a child, use your common sense and avoid situations where your groin gets hot.
What Else Do I Need to Know About My Lifestyle?
You don’t need to live like a monk, in fact I recommend you don’t and not just because monks are meant to be celibate. Stopping all fun activities can make your life very dull and could put you under unnecessary pressure and stress, both of which are bad for your fertility. Keep things in moderation and you should be just fine!
Also remember that because it takes your testicles roughly three months to produce each sperm, any changes you make to lifestyle factors affecting fertility won’t take effect until after the first three months.