The statistics on male infertility make for scary reading. One in five otherwise healthy young men between the ages of 18 and 25 have low sperm counts that put them at risk of infertility. Overall, infertility affects as many as one in 25 men. At an average rate of 1.4% a year, the sperm count of Western men has been falling for decades. Since 1973, sperm counts have dropped by an average of 52%.
There are stories of real people behind the statistics. Millions of people across the world who want a child but must now go through testing, appointments, medical procedures, expenses, delays, dealing with insurance companies, and all the stress that comes with it. It can be an emotional roller-coaster where relationships are stretched to the limit.
But why are sperm counts dropping all over the world? What is causing it? The problem is, we just don’t know. Research and studies are delving into the issue and attempting to come up with answers. There are a lot of theories.
Rather than competing, it seems more likely that many of these theories are in fact contributing factors. It could be this combination of a number of influences that is wreaking havoc on sperm counts. If each potential factor has even a little part to play then it’s easy to see how they could stack up.
There are some causes of infertility that we can’t do anything about. Levels have a genetic factor, inherited and the general lottery of our biological form. Other illnesses or conditions can contribute. But the other factors we will discuss here are not handed down by fate and can, to some degree, be controlled and curbed.
Which is good news, because sperm production is ongoing and can respond to positive changes as well as negative ones. It could also explain why sperm counts are dropping worldwide and have done so drastically in such a short time.
There are many environmental factors, such as the increasing use of plastics, of pesticides, GMOs and so on. Some of them are more obvious: the antibiotics and hormones fed to the animals we consume, for instance. We absorb these chemicals into our body through the meat.
Modern farming practices have become more and more intense which is why we are also seeing a big push towards organics. While the use of harsh pesticides is controlled in many parts of the world it could still have lingering effects. It takes years for soil to become certified organic, even smaller levels of pesticides could be causing health issues and there are some food-producing areas that are less regulated.
But we also absorb plastics and other chemicals as they leach into the water supply or contaminate the food and drink they hold. Tiny amounts can build up in the body and it introduces a whole new array of problems that our grandparents certainly didn’t have to deal with.
Similarly, since the late 1960s, the contraceptive pill has been widely used and there are studies ongoing about how much of the estrogen hormone passes into the general water supply. By drinking tap water we could be exposing ourselves to tiny amounts of estrogen that could cause havoc on a man’s reproductive system. Testosterone is essential for sperm production and estrogen acts in direct opposition. It may only be a tiny amount, but all these contributions stack up.
Male infertility is on the rise all over the world and so is another health problem: obesity. It’s a modern epidemic and can cause poor health in many ways. The modern diet is rich, high in sugar and in plentiful supply. A man’s overall health and fitness has a big part to play in his fertility. Improving the diet and getting in shape are often the first steps in fertility treatment and there are sometimes restrictions on that treatment until certain conditions, like body mass index are reached.
Obesity also has a direct, negative effect on testosterone. It inhibits testosterone production, which in turn inhibits the production of sperm.
If this all sounds very stressful that’s exactly the point too: stress is also linked to male infertility. It’s a vicious cycle because dealing with infertility is also incredibly stressful. But aside from that, our 24/7 highly commercialized modern life is very stressful and stress has become yet another modern epidemic.
Stress causes health problems because high levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol wreak havoc on the body. It disrupts sleep, which is an essential restorative for the body to heal, and means we are operating on high alert all the time which puts other bodily functions on the low-priority backburner. It means we have little time for exercise and are prone to eating badly, linking back to other infertility factors.
There are more cell phones in the world than there are people and they are an essential part of life for most of us. As is WiFi, allowing us to stay connected on the go, and enabling the growing use of wireless technology and the Internet of Things. Which means that the world is fast becoming blanketed in an “electromagnetic smog”.
All the cell phone radiation and electromechanical fields are also contributing to male infertility according to many studies. In one of those studies, mobile phone radiation was described as ‘cooking’ sperm. The radiation passes through the body and damages cells and DNA. There are some very important and delicate cells developing close to where many men carry a cell phone in their pocket or on a belt.
When all these contributing factors come together it’s easy to see how they can stack up. Even if each individual factor – and potentially more that we aren’t yet aware of – was responsible for a tiny percentage decrease in sperm count, together they could add up to a drop that takes a man from a healthy, average sperm count, to infertility.
“Sperm count” is a simplified way of referring to a man’s overall fertility. It’s not just the quantity of sperm, but their health and viability that is an issue.
Sperm motility is the sperm’s ability to move. This has four classifications from strong progress to not being able to move at all and includes sperm that can move but in circles rather than a forward motion. Having sperm that doesn’t move at all or just chase their tails is not any use for conception.
Sperm viability means that the sperm is able to do its job. Some sperm are formed with faults, some have DNA that is corrupted, some are too weak to withstand the acidic environment through which they must travel. Sperm that arrives at its destination but has a fault in its DNA is not going to conceive a viable embryo.
So it’s not just sheer quantity that matters, but also the state of those sperm that are produced. And because sperm are in constant production by the millions it is easy for something to go wrong. On a more positive note, it is also fairly simple to work on the factors we have discussed and give sperm the best chance to do their job, and raise male fertility levels once more.
So what can men, and all of us, do for the best chance of avoiding infertility, or even once a diagnosis has been made?
Each of these issues can be tackled and together could add up to amounts that can hold back the creeping statistics on male infertility.
First off, general health and wellbeing is always important but never more so than when you are on the path to conceiving. Eating well, avoiding too much sugar and switching to organics wherever possible ensure you are getting the best fuel into your body.
Give your body the chance to rest and repair by getting enough sleep – 8 hours a day should be the aim. But also, get active. Take some time for yourself to start an activity you’ve always wanted to try or enjoyed when you were young.
These tips will help with stress-busting too. Exercise produces great hormones to combat the stress-related ones. Getting enough sleep and downtime will help too. If you regularly feel stressed out then maybe look into mindfulness and meditation, try to avoid working after-hours and limit your screen time.
Limiting your screen time on a cell phone, especially in the evening, will help you sleep better and also avoid getting drawn into answering work emails and the like. But what about that cell phone radiation? Some experts described it as “cooking” sperm, which could put back all your hard work in other areas.
An anti-radiation phone case blocks the cell phone radiation from passing through your body, bouncing it back away. You can still use your phone as normal – you don’t need to completely give up your cell to work on your fertility, thankfully. Or protect the specific body parts with special radiation shielding briefs.
Once you understand all these different factors in male infertility you start to see where changes can be made. Most of these changes will also benefit your overall quality of life and thinking about starting a family is just the motivation you need. It’s still possible to buck the trend of dropping sperm counts.