By Dr. Ellen Goldstein
Infertility can be a challenging and emotional experience for couples trying to conceive. It is estimated that approximately 15% of couples are unable to conceive after one year of trying, and male factor infertility is a contributing factor in approximately 50% of infertility cases, according to the National Library of Medicine. Male infertility can be caused by a variety of factors, including hormonal imbalances, genetic factors, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors.
Cause of male infertility
Low sperm production is a common cause of male infertility. This can be due to a variety of factors, including hormonal imbalances, genetic factors, and lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol use, and drug use. Abnormal sperm function is another common cause of male infertility, which can include poor sperm motility, abnormalities in the shape of the sperm, or poor sperm count. Additionally, blockages preventing sperm transport can contribute to male infertility, which can be caused by a variety of factors, such as infections, prior surgeries, or congenital abnormalities.
Sperm quality has been decreasing globally over the past century, with lifestyle and environmental factors suspected to be the driving factors. Exposure to environmental toxins, such as pesticides and heavy metals, can negatively impact sperm quality. Additionally, lifestyle factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress can also contribute to decreased sperm quality.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) also play a role in male infertility. STIs with asymptomatic phases that delay diagnosis and treatment, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, can cause problems with fertility. These infections can lead to inflammation in the epididymis and/or testes, which can negatively impact sperm quality and decrease the likelihood of conception. It is important to note that not all STIs cause male infertility, but those that do can have serious consequences. If left untreated, STIs can also lead to scarring or blockages in the male reproductive tract, which can further impair fertility.
How to improve male fertility
Fortunately, there are steps that men can take to improve their sperm health. Eating a balanced diet with an emphasis on antioxidants, regular exercise, discontinuation of tobacco and marijuana use, and minimizing alcohol use are all lifestyle changes that can improve sperm quality. With these changes, it takes about three months for the full life cycle of sperm to pass and see healthier sperm.
Fertility treatments can improve a couple’s chance of conceiving per month and have the ability to overcome many causes of male-factor infertility. Non-IVF treatments, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI), allow for sperm to be placed in the uterus closer to the egg it needs to fertilize. For severe male factor infertility, IVF treatment allows for the selection of only the best sperm for fertilization and the injection of one sperm per egg. A qualified Reproductive Endocrinologist can discuss options for couples struggling to conceive as a result of male infertility.
In conclusion, male factor infertility is a common contributing factor in infertility cases. Low sperm production, abnormal sperm function, and blockages preventing sperm transport are common causes of male infertility. Lifestyle factors and environmental toxins can negatively impact sperm quality, and sexually transmitted infections can also play a role. Fortunately, there are steps men can take to improve their sperm health, and fertility treatments can help couples overcome male factor infertility. A qualified healthcare provider can discuss options for couples struggling with infertility.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Ellen Goldstein is a Fertility Specialist at Beverly Hills Fertility and is a partner of Innovative Health Diagnostics, a medical lab company that offers at-home testing services for consumers, clinics, and telehealth platforms.