• Rosie Weston

9 Male Fertility Myths BUSTED!

In this blog I am going to BUST through some of the common myths you might have heard about male fertility. Is age a factor? Do men even need to worry about their fertility and do things like using a laptop, hot tub or bicycle have an effect on your fertility?

Myth 1: Age does not affect male fertility

Anyone you speak to will tell you that a woman’s fertility declines with ages, but what about a man’s? It’s common knowledge that men can have children well into old age (look at the likes of Hugh Hefner etc.) but does age affect male fertility? Well the truth is it does. Just as age affects female fertility it's much the same for men. Women only have a certain amount of eggs with which they are born and men can produce sperm throughout their life; but the quality of that sperm does decrease with age much the same as a female’s eggs decline with age. Sperm which is from an older male can be of a lower quality and have many more abnormalities which can cause abnormal chromosomes in embryos which often leads to miscarriage. This isn’t to say that always happens and there is much we can do through diet and lifestyle to improve the quality of sperm, which leads us onto the next myth!

Myth 2: Only women need to take supplements to improve fertility

This is absolute nonsense! 50% of the genetic makeup of the embryo is from the dad too. It is equally important for the male in the relationship to take care of himself and improve his health as well as the women and this is where supplements come in along with diet and lifestyle changes. There are many supplements that may be prescribed which can not only improve the male’s health but also the health of his sperm. For instance, quite often antioxidants are recommended as free radical damage from toxins and other sources can damage sperm, antioxidants mop up the free radicals helping to limit the damage. Zinc and Selenium are some of the top nutrients for sperm health and may also be recommended. A Nutritional Therapist will however look at your body as a whole and determine whether there are any other systems which may need additional support through supplements. Supporting the body as a whole will in turn support the reproductive system as the body strives for balance between all the systems.

Myth 3: Smoking, marijuana and alcohol don’t affect male fertility.

This is like saying that cigarettes don't cause cancer. Of course they do and there are plenty of studies to back it up. Cigarettes are full of harmful substances that the body needs to try and detoxify putting additional strain on the liver. But not only that Nicotine and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in cigarettes block spermatogenesis (production of sperm). Marijuana also decreases the sperm count and quality. Alcohol can interfere with the production of testosterone in males which is a massively important hormone in male fertility, it can also impact the sperm concentration but also chronic use is not good for sexual response and can cause impotence. This isn’t to say that a glass of wine or beer at the weekend is a bad thing, it’s all about moderation.

Myth 4: Cell phones, laptops, hot tubs and bicycles don’t have an effect on semen quality.

Well where do I start with this one? There was a small study done on men who carry mobile phones in their trouser pocket and although the study was small it did show that the radiation from mobile phones negatively affected sperm! Something to think about!

The Testicles are located outside of the body for a reason, this is because they like it cool!! The testes function best when 2°C lower than body temp. There are various studies that prove heat can negatively affect sperm motility and cause DNA damage if it is prolonged. So, although hot tubs are wonderful, its best to not stay in them for too long and the same goes with using a laptop on your lap.

Now what about cycling? There is a lot of information out there saying that cycling will negatively affect your fertility and might some of it be true? There is a bit of a craze now for cycling but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. I think it depends on you as an individual and the type of cycling you do and how often etc. There are plenty of variables for this one.

Things to consider:

1. Tight Lycra may affect blood flow to the groin area which means less oxygen and nutrients.

2. How hard is the bicycle seat, how much impact is this having on you? Are you wearing padded trousers? Is the road flat or bumpy?

3. Are you cycling around the city and roads breathing in pollution from car and bus exhausts or are you cycling through the countryside?

Is there anything you can do to make your cycling healthier? Can you wear a mask if cycling in the city? Can you change your weekend cycle to the countryside or your route to one which has less impact?

Really the way to use this information is to create better habits. Carry your phone in your bag, use your laptop on a table, don’t stay in the hot tub for hours on end and wear a mask if you are cycling in London.

Myth 5: Diet does not affect male fertility

Well this is 1000% a myth if I ever read one. Male fertility isn’t immune from the effects of a bad diet. Just as a bad diet can affect your cholesterol levels, heart health and gut health it can affect your fertility! Everything you eat is used to regenerate and rebuild your body, so not having the optimal levels of protein, vitamins and minerals will affect more than just your fertility. Often the supplements which are used in fertility treatments are certain nutrients which have been lacking from the diet like zinc and selenium for example. Not only that many processed foods have inflammatory effects on the body, think back to that free radical damage, this is what I’m talking about.

Myth 6: Only people over 40 have fertility issues.

1 in 7 couples in the UK have fertility problems, let me say that again 1 in 7 couples! This is around 3 million people and definitely not just the over 40s. In fact, more women than ever before are now having children in their 40s! But unfortunately, many couples in their 20s are experiencing fertility problems. Fertility problems are not just caused by age, it can be due to many reasons for example conditions like PCOS and endometriosis which affect female reproductive hormones. Conditions like varicocele (enlarged veins in the testicles), certain infections like mumps and also STIs may also cause fertility issues in men. And unexplained infertility is also a problem in this age group.

Myth 7: Infertility is a woman's issue

As I mentioned earlier, 50% of the genetic makeup of an embryo comes from the dad. It’s equally as important for both mum and dad to be healthy and the responsibility shouldn’t just fall on the woman.

Many modern-day fertility treatments concentrate all efforts on the woman, if you look at IVF for instance it is the woman who has to take the drugs and have all the procedures yes, but without that sperm the process is impossible and boy do they have an important job to do! Those swimmers have to make their way into the uterus, swim in the correct direction to the fallopian tubes to meet the egg, they may have to survive for a few days if ovulation hasn’t occurred too. Then the race is on to see who can get into the egg first and it’s not as easy as it sounds, they have to breakdown the outside of the egg with enzymes, once they are through the head and tail of the sperm separate and the head goes in and shares its DNA with that of the egg. So why not do all you can to improve your health and that of your sperm to give them the best possible chance of fertilising the egg?

Myth 8: Having sex daily with your partner will increase your chances of conceiving.

Yup we need to have sex to make a baby. We all know that, but does having sex everyday increase our chances of success? Well really the answer is no. Sperm can survive in the vagina and uterus for up to 7 days. Once the egg has been released it can survive only 24 hours. So, it’s pretty important to try and work out when ovulation is going to occur. Then to have sex every day for the 5 days leading up to ovulation and 2 days after. Toping up with fresh sperm every day for those 6-7 days is the best way.

Myth 9: Stress isn’t a factor. 

Stress means cortisol and cortisol is our master hormone. Why is it our master hormone? Well because it can affect all other hormones in our body. The body is a damn clever thing, our stress response was created when humans were created and the things we used to get stressed about are completely different to what we get stressed about now. For instance, now we might get stressed if our train is cancelled and we are going to be late to a big work meeting. 1000s of years ago got stressed when we had to survive, like when we had to run away from a sabre toothed tiger! But our body responds in much the same way. With cortisol and adrenaline. So, what does cortisol do? Well it keeps blood sugar (glucose) circulating around the blood stream so that the muscles and brain have quick access to it. This can cause unbalanced blood sugar levels which can make our energy feel up and down throughout the day. One of its other main roles is to shut down systems like the reproductive system which it doesn’t need right now. I mean who is trying to make a baby whilst running away from a tiger? My guess is no one.

But cortisol is amazing at what it does, and should we need to survive, it’s going to help us, but the problem is we are stressed on a chronic level now and the body is always trying to ‘survive’. So, we chronically have high cortisol levels and imbalanced blood sugar levels which means chronically our reproductive systems aren’t getting what they need.

So, is it really any wonder that sperm counts have halved in the last 40 years in the Western world? It seems obvious to me and hopefully now to you that we are doing something very wrong. Infertility now affects 1 in 7 couples in the UK and no doubt that number is going to keep climbing. Is the Handmaid’s Tale such a farfetched idea now? Who knows, but what I do know is that there is so much we can do to improve our health and wellbeing through nutrition and lifestyle medicine and for that I am thankful.