What Causes Infertility: Tips for Men
For you men out there—if you think you can sit on the sidelines and let your partner do all the work, you’re very wrong. There is much evidence that your choices have a strong impact on fertility as well.
This is besides the “indirect” effects of making positive lifestyle changes along with your partner. If her choices are leading her towards diabetes, there’s a good chance you’re right alongside her.
What Causes Infertility in Men: Clothing Choices
When viewing what causes infertility from the man’s standpoint one of the most important factors to consider is environmental toxicity–just as much as it is in women.
While it may seem hard to believe that chemicals that are commonly used in society could be unsafe, consider this: the EPA registers around 83,000 chemicals for use in the US.
Most of these environmental chemicals have never been checked for their health effects. Unfortunately, whenever a class of chemicals have been evaluated more fully the picture is rarely a positive one.
Believe it or not, there are chemicals in the clothes you may wear to work every day that will affect sperm quality and count.
From your mattress to your clothing to your furniture to your dog’s bedding. One would think our lives are under constant pressure to undergo spontaneous combustion.
Research has already shown that these compounds effect the thyroid gland and increase cancer risk. So why not infertility?
Researchers looked at the presence of flame retardants on the house dust of men who were looking for help in a fertility clinic (specifically tris(1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCPP) and triphenyl phosphate (TPP)).
On the scary side, these chemicals were so common they were found in almost all of the households. But as the levels of the flame retardants increased sperm quality decreased.
While this study was done on house dust, rest assured that dusting won’t solve the problem. Exposure to these compounds likely comes from many sources, including those mentioned above.
The best option is to reduce your overall exposure to these compounds by replacing old cushions, buying clothing without flame retardants and not sleeping on a flame-retardant mattress.
In addition to the flame retardants, chemicals like BPA have also been shown to act like estrogen in men and could lead to reduced sperm quality and quantity. Quitting smoking will drastically lower the chemicals that destroy male fertility and will have a positive effect on the likelihood of a successful pregnancy
Could Monsanto Be to Blame for Causes of Infertility in Men?
Could exposure to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) cause infertility?
Monsanto, the archetypical evil corporation, makes (among many other toxins) the herbicide Roundup. Roundup indiscriminately kills things that grow—whether they are the crop or the weed.
This means that, if a farmer coated his or her crops with Roundup, everything would die. Since this is clearly not the goal of farming, Monsanto scientists twist Mother Nature, splicing a gene into the seed so that the plant is not wiped out by Roundup.
Now the happy farmer can coat his fields in Roundup without having to worry about his crops dying.
These GMO seeds are commonly found in crops like wheat, corn, soy and alfalfa, although there seems to be a constant attempt to creep GMO into other crops.
So why all the hubbub over GMO crops? Just because it is completely messing with Mother Nature’s design shouldn’t have anyone worried, should it?
Said no science-fiction fan ever.
The main chemical in Roundup is glyphosate. Since glyphosate is so widely used in the US, you can be pretty sure that you’re getting a hefty dose of it, although eating organic will lower your exposure.
- Roundup exposure was given at low doses (36 ppm) for 30 minutes.
- The Roundup created damage to the testis, leading to Sertoli cell death. Sertoli cells are the cells that basically make sure that any sperm formed stays viable until needed.
- Roundup basically led to disruptions in calcium movement into cells, which ultimately killed off these important cells.
- Specifically, Roundup decreased the levels of reduced glutathione (GSH) and increased the amounts of thiobarbituric acid-reactive species (TBARS) and protein carbonyls.
- Roundup stimulated an attempt by the cells to protect themselves (as measured by the activity of glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductase, glutathione S-transferase, γ-glutamyltransferase, catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, supporting downregulated GSH levels.
While your first thought may be that this was a study done on rats with direct application of a weed killer and this doesn’t apply to you, consider this.
There have been direct studies on human sperm cells demonstrating the same cell-damaging effects.
Combine that little tidbit with the solid research that glyphosate levels in the blood of humans has increased greatly along with the increasing use of Roundup should put the avoidance of GMO foods on your list of things to do to increase the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy.
What Causes Infertility in Men: Pesticides
Have I mentioned that chemicals you are exposed to in the environment are bad for you?
It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about the chemicals used around your home, the exhaust fumes from a 1982 VW Rabbit or the BPA from that plastic water bottle you’re nursing—they all somehow effect your health and a couple’s fertility prospects.
Pesticides in produce are no difference. And it doesn’t stop at solid foods—coffee and tea are notoriously high in pesticides as well.
Some produce is higher in pesticide residues than other types of produce. This means that spending extra on some types of produce, like bell peppers (which are generally very high in pesticides) makes sense. But spending money on organic pineapples or avocados (which are generally very low in pesticide levels) doesn’t make as much sense.
The Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticide Exposure in Produce is the best guide you can find to get this information and decide when to spend the extra money on organic and when to not worry.
So, what does this have to do with what causes infertility in men?
Researchers looked to see if the level of pesticides in fruits and vegetables was linked to sperm quality in 189 men aged 18-22.
Produce was labeled as having high [Pesticide Residue Burden Score (PRBS) ≥4] or low-to-moderate (PRBS <4) pesticide residues on the basis of data from the USDA Pesticide Data Program.
Here’s what they found:
- Eating more fruits and veggies did not affect sperm quality.
- Those eating at least 2.8 servings / day of fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticides had a 169% higher sperm count and a 173% higher sperm concentration.
- This benefit to the sperm did not come from improvements in hormone levels.
While eating more fruits and veggies is important for your health, it is equally important to pay attention to eating organic foods that are known to have higher pesticide levels.
But only if you really care about have an army of healthier sperm fighting to achieve a healthy pregnancy.
What Causes Infertility in Men: Vitamins
When someone talks about vitamins and fertility, a prenatal vitamin for the woman is typically where the discussion stops (for a full review of what makes up a good quality multivitamin, check out my article here).
But I hope you see that it is just as important for the man to step up and take care of himself to ensure a healthy pregnancy and child.
While I am a strong supporter of a daily vitamin supplement for everyone, there are certain nutrients that likely play a stronger role in conception from the man’s standpoint.
Zinc is the obvious first choice because it has been shown to play a strong role in sperm quality.
Studies have also shown that men with higher vitamin C intake increased the odds of fertilization occurring by 12% in couples attending a fertility clinic.
In the same study, higher beta-carotene (think orange and yellow veggies like carrots and peppers) intake led to higher fertilization rates during the more complicated intracytoplasmic sperm injection procedure.
Lycopene is in the same family as beta-carotene (carotenoids), so it would make sense that eating fruits and veggies higher in this red pigment (tomatoes, watermelon and grapefruit) would also be what helps fight infertility in men.
Further supporting this is the fact that lycopene has a strong effect on the entire male reproductive system and is a strong player in lowering the risk of prostate cancer.
In one study, researchers in India found that in a group of infertile male patients taking 2 mgs of lycopene twice a day for 3 months, 67% had improvements in sperm quality.
They chose lycopene because it is one of the many carotenoids found in high levels in the testes and lower levels of lycopene are found in the testes of infertile males
The bottom line is that, for those men who are a part of an infertile couple, it is not merely your job to just sit patiently at the “infertility” clinic appointment for your partner. You must take an active role in improving your health as well.
I’ve covered infertility first because it is the one topic that requires lifestyle changes that are going to take months to have an impact on infertility. In the next part of the article I’ll cover factors that relate to drastically lower your risk of miscarriage, preterm birth and other negative things that can happen once conception occurs.