It takes two to tango, and it takes two to make a baby! We’re often confronted with stories about women’s reproductive health and all the ways in which female fertility can be hindered. But understanding and protecting male fertility is just as important.
Below, we review everything you need to know about male fertility, including how it changes with age, causes of infertility, and ways to boost it naturally and with professional help.
Age Affects Male Fertility
It’s normal to hear about women’s ticking biological clock, but there’s not as much attention given to the impact of age on male fertility. While male fertility does not decrease as significantly with age as it does in women, it still has an effect.
Extend Fertility explains that research has found male fertility starts to decline once he’s past the age of 40, but it’s not a significant drop. Sperm motility and health decrease by only about 1-2%, on average, though it can still make conception trickier.
For example, one study found that men over 40 were 30% less likely to get a partner pregnant than men under 30. Another study found it took 5 times longer for men over age 45 to get a partner pregnant than those under 25-years of age.
The causes for the decline in male fertility are often attributed to:
- Decreased sperm motility: this refers to how quickly and efficiently sperm can swim through the male body and into the female one in order to reach and fertilize the egg
- Decreased sperm shape: sperm tends to decrease its size and change its shape over time, which can hinder its ability to fertilize an egg
- Decrease sperm quantity: many men tend to produce less sperm with age, making conception less likely
Causes Of Infertility In Men
Women are not the only ones who can experience infertility. Men are just as likely to encounter difficulty getting a partner pregnant for various reasons. Male infertility can be caused by the following:
There are a variety of lifestyle choices that can hinder fertility, in both men and women. For example, a history of alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and substance abuse can lower fertility. The same goes for carrying extra weight, having irregular sleeping patterns, exposure to toxins (like industrial chemicals, heavy metals, or radiation), and overexercising.
This occurs if there’s an obstruction that’s preventing the sperm from leaving the testicles during ejaculation. The blockage can happen at any part of the male reproductive tract. Urology Health explains that a history of repeated infections, surgery (like a vasectomy), and swelling or developmental defects can result in a blockage.
Low sperm production
For some men, their bodies may not produce an average amount of sperm, thereby lowering the chances that pregnancy will occur. Low sperm production can be attributed to certain lifestyle choices but can also be the result of long-term illnesses (like kidney failure), childhood infections (like mumps), or even chromosome and hormone problems.
A past illness or injury
Any sort of testicular trauma can interfere with the male body’s ability to produce a strong amount of healthy sperm. You may experience trauma to the genital region during an accident or a sports activity.
Certain infections can have a similar effect, too, including epididymitis, orchitis, mumps, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted infections such as HIV and gonorrhea. These infections can interfere with sperm production or cause scarring that will interfere with the passage of sperm during ejaculation.
Additionally, some research has found that early life trauma and stress can negatively impact sperm health in men later in life.
Chronic health problems
Certain long-term health problems have also been linked to a decrease in male fertility, including liver and kidney disease as well as genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis or hemochromatosis. Additionally, some medications and treatments can also have a negative impact, including meds for seizure disorders and radiation like chemotherapy used to treat cancer.
Abnormal sperm function
There are many ways in which the sperm may be developing or functioning abnormally. It can be caused by lifestyle choices, medical history, or even a genetic predisposition. Urology Health explains they may not be fully grown, may be oddly shaped, or may not move the right way, hindering their ability to fertilize an egg. In cases of azoospermia, however, the male body may not be producing any sperm at all.
Signs Of Male Infertility
The symptoms of male fertility will vary depending on the case of the issue. Even more, some men with fertility problems don’t even exhibit any signs. They may not realize they’re having an issue with fertility until they try with no success to get a partner pregnant.
Aside from an inability to conceive, Mayo Clinic says some common signs of male infertility include:
- Low sperm count
- Trouble with smelling
- Abnormal breast growth
- Regular respiratory infections
- Pain, swelling, or bumps in the groin
- Decreased facial or body hair (can be a sign of a chromosomal or hormonal abnormality)
- Issues with sexual function (ie inability to get or stay erect, only small volumes of sperm ejaculated)
In general, a couple is considered to be infertile if they’ve been having frequent, unprotected sex for a year or more with no success in conceiving. In such instances, it is recommended to consult a fertility specialist to determine the cause of the issue.
How To Boost Male Fertility
There are a variety of tests your doctor may order to determine the cause of your infertility. Once the reason is determined, your healthcare practitioner will be able to recommend a course of treatment to improve your chances of conceiving.
This can include the following options:
- Reproductive assistance (ie IVF)
- Treating the infection (ie with antibiotics)
- Treating the sexual intercourse problem (ie through medication or counseling)
- Hormone treatments and medication (if a hormonal issue is a cause)
- Surgical procedure (ie to repair a problem with the male reproductive tract, like a blockage, or to reverse a prior vasectomy)
There are also ways to boost male fertility naturally and prevent its future decline. You’ll likely be advised to implement the following in addition to any other treatment course your doctor recommends:
- Minimizing stress
- Getting enough sleep
- Losing excess weight
- Limiting your alcohol intake
- Getting regular exercise (this can increase testosterone levels, thereby improving the health of the sperm)
- Taking certain supplements (ie zinc, fenugreek, Tribulus Terrestris, D-aspartic acid, vitamin C, vitamin D)
- Reviewing your diet (certain foods have been linked to improved male fertility, like walnuts and those rich in folate, whereas other food products can hinder it, like soy)
For more information on male fertility, please reach out to your healthcare practitioner.
Sources: Carolina’s Fertility Institute, Urology Health, NCBI, NCBI, NCBI, Genital Infections and Infertility, Science Daily, Extend Fertility, Mayo Clinic, Healthline,