Allan Pacey
Allan Pacey
BSc, PhD, FRCOG, Sheffield University

Lifestyle factors and male fertility – What you should know

Lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, smoking or alcohol consumption have been shown to be important in the development of many diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. Therefore, it is only natural that, following a diagnosis of male sub-fertility many men may wonder if there is something in their past or current lifestyle which could explain their diagnosis. This article will review our current knowledge about what lifestyle choices are thought to be important in male fertility, as well as give some suggestions about what men can do about them.

First, it is important to note that most of the research which has investigated the impact of lifestyle choices on male fertility has done so indirectly by looking at effects on measurements of sperm quality, such as sperm concentration, motility or morphology. This is not the same as investigating whether one or other lifestyle factor reduces a man’s chances of being a dad. Therefore, with this caveat in mind, the following is a summary of what we know about the key lifestyle choices which can reduce sperm quality and therefore the things that men should try and avoid.

Smoking tobacco

Many studies have shown that smoking tobacco can reduce the number of sperm produced. However, we also know that smoking can damage the DNA that sperm contain. Therefore, if you smoke, you should make every effort to quit. Join a smoking cessation programme if you need help.

Alcohol consumption

Drinking alcohol within recommended guidelines probably has little impact on the quality of sperm. But binge drinking should really be avoided. There is no need to cut out alcohol all together, just be sensible about how much you drink per day.
 

Choice of underwear

There is some evidence that men who wear tight underwear generally have poorer sperm than men whose underwear is loose. This is probably because tight underwear can heat up the testicles too much. Therefore, the best advice is to wear loose underwear if you can.

Hot baths, heated car seats and laptop use

Anything which can heat up the testicles has the potential to reduce the quality and quantity of sperm produced. Therefore, its preferable to take a shower, switch off those heated car seats and put your laptop on a table.

Mobile phones

Studies have shown that sperm are sensitive to the radio waves emitted by mobile phones. Thus, there has been concern about the fertility of men who keep their mobile phone in their trouser pockets. However, as yet, the jury is out so perhaps it is wise to put your mobile phone elsewhere until we know more.
 

Exercise

Regular exercise has many benefits for men’s health, and it has been shown that sperm quality is generally better in men who are active compared to those who are not. However, too much exercise (e.g. doing triathlons) can cause a problem for sperm production in some men.

Recreational drugs

Studies have shown that cannabis can reduce sperm quality. The effect of other recreational drugs on sperm has not been well studied but its good advice to avoid them.

Diet

Men who have a healthy (Mediterranean style) diet with lots of fish, chicken and vegetables generally have better sperm than men who eat lots of red meat and processed food. Therefore, its good advice to try and eat a healthy diet. This may also improve other aspects of your health too.

Unfortunately, there have been relatively few studies which have shown that if men make any changes to their lifestyle that their sperm quality (and therefore their fertility) will improve. However, it seems logical that it should. However, because it takes 3 months to produce a sperm from start to finish, any lifestyle change should be sustained over many months to maximise any chances of pregnancy.