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The Blame Game: Male Infertility and Its Causes

So you and your partner have been trying to have a baby for six months? Who is to blame? 

Having a baby is a joint endeavor and the word blame should never come into the conversation. While the common assumption is that it is usually the woman who has a fertility issue, statistics indicate male infertility accounts for 40-50% of infertility doctor visits and affects 7% of all men.

Those statistics surprise most people, probably because so much has been published and shared about the female infertility experience. But male infertility should not be ignored and is an important part of the conception conversation.

Here is the back story on male infertility.

Unlike women who have cyclical periods of fertility, men have a continuous process of sperm production. With every heartbeat, there are 1500 sperm produced. Typical causes of male infertility are low sperm count and abnormalities that affect sperm production, transport, or delivery. Here are some other factors which affect sperm production and quality:

  • Reproductive Aging: The concept of reproductive aging applies to men too. Semen parameters decline after age 35, and even more after 50.
  • Varicoceles: Varicoceles, or enlarged veins (similar to varicose veins) within the scrotum, are a common cause of sperm production problems, affecting 40% of men who are infertile.
  • Hormone Imbalance: Men are not immune to hormone imbalances either. Too much estrogen, low testosterone or thyroid problems can cause infertility.
  • General Health Conditions: Obesity, infections, chemotherapy or radiation and diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease or liver disease can affect sperm production. Even having the flu within three months of the fertility testing process can give a man an abnormal semen analysis result.
  • Environmental Toxins: Some studies show a negative effect of environmental exposures such as pesticides, lead, industrial microwaves and prescription as well as OTC drugs on semen.  Cigarette smoking has been shown to decrease sperm density, motility and results in abnormalities in the shape (morphology) of sperm. Exposure to environmental pollutants and toxicants is being recognized as a potential cause of infertility. There are some studies suggesting even eating food contaminated with pesticides can affect the quality and quantity of sperm. Interestingly, studies have shown no significant effect on sperm from alcohol, caffeine consumption or marijuana use. Nor has the literature documented damage caused by heat to the testicles. However, just because there is no study proving an adverse effect, does not mean it does not exist. As a fertility specialist and a researcher, I am aware of how difficult it is to assess the dangers of environmental exposures. But I strongly suggest male partners avoid drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day and stop all use of recreational drugs when they are trying to conceive.

Notice my use of the term they. Conceiving a healthy baby is a joint shared process.

The question of cell phones often comes up in conversations with patients. Cell phones use is a source of low-level radio-frequency electromagnetic fields. The research on the effect on cell phones on male fertility is scarce with conflicting results. The best study published so far in my opinion is from Harvard where cell phone use pattern and semen analysis parameters were assessed over time. No association was found but that doesn’t mean there is no relationship. While it is impossible to disconnect from our phones, it probably behooves someone experiencing infertility issues to limit cell phone use when possible, and never leave your phone or computer on your lap or in your front pocket for extended periods of time.

If you are diagnosed with male infertility, don’t be discouraged. Once we know the cause of the infertility, we can set up a treatment plan. There are so many resources available including medication or hormone therapy to increase testosterone or reduce estrogen as well as minimally invasive surgical techniques to correct a varicocele or other blockage.

And definitely don’t assign or accept blame. Just seek treatment. Conceptions Florida is here to help with all your infertility needs- male and female.

Dr. Sinem Karipcin is a Board certified infertility specialist. Dr. Karipcin takes a holistic approach with her patients to help them achieve their goals of having a baby. She practices in Miami (Coral Gables) at Conceptions Florida.

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