Male Infertility: Fact from Fiction

If you’re longing for a baby and to become a dad, Father’s Day can be a tough day to endure.

While the male role is smaller in the entire spectrum of the baby making process, it is critical nonetheless. Yet male fertility is rarely discussed. Infertility affects men and women equally, so it’s important that both partners pay attention to their health.

A quick online search can yield thousands of articles offering advice to those who want to conceive. But articles on infertility often contradict each other. How are you to know what advice to follow – or if the information is accurate? At Fertility Centers of Illinois we have heard all of these questions many times have a Center of Excellence dedicated to Male Fertility issues. We’d like to share some helpful information to set the record straight.

FACT: Wearing Sunscreen for Extended Periods of Time Can Affect Male Fertility

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology tested the effects of UV filters on the fertility of men and women. Data was collected over the course of a year, and the study monitored urine samples along with various environmental factors. The results showed that men exposed to specific chemicals called BP-2 or 4OH-BP had a 30% reduction in fertility, although it was unclear if the man’s sperm count or another factor were inhibited.

Wearing sunscreen to protect the skin is a must, but lengthening exposure to chemicals can inhibit conception. After your day at the beach is done, rinse sunscreen off after coming indoors.

FICTION: Only Women Need to Take Vitamin Supplements

Women aren’t the only ones who benefit from vitamins – men can benefit as well. A wide variety of vitamins can increase sperm quality, potency, and a man’s overall health. For example, Zinc increases sperm count and function, Folic Acid can reduce sperm abnormalities, Vitamin C boosts sperm motility, Vitamin D assists in healthy sperm development and libido, and Coenzyme Q10 can improve sperm count and motility.

Men can buy an all-in-one daily vitamin supplement or look for special foods such as lamb, spinach and shellfish that contain these vitamins.

FACT: Drinking Alcohol Can Harm Sperm Quality

A study on alcohol and the male reproductive system found that alcohol use affects the glands and hormones associated with male reproduction, and also reduces sperm quality. It is associated with low testosterone and altered levels of other reproductive hormones.

Although cutting out alcohol altogether is the healthiest way to go, it may be hard to cut out your favorite craft IPA while watching the game. The good news is that moderate consumption of one to two drinks per day is safe, so you can have the best of both worlds.

FICTION: Soy Products Can Cause a Drop in Sperm Count

A small scale study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health concluded that men who eat soy had a lower sperm count. However, the study was based on recollected intake of soy foods and not on specific diets containing soy foods, and thus provided vague results. The data also did not show a negative relationship between soy and sperm quality nor did it take into consideration the many other factors that could have caused the drop in sperm count.

The National Institute of Health conducted a study in which controlled amounts of soy were distributed to men and found no harmful effect on quality, quantity or motility of sperm. In fact, the soy intake showed help benefits as a preventative measure for prostate cancer.

FACT: Eating Processed Meats...Specifically Bad for Sperm Quality

Bacon lovers beware — research presented to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine concluded that men should stay away from bacon and other forms of processed meat if they are facing fertility problems. The study found that men who consumed less than half of a 3oz. portion of processed meat a day had 7.2% “normal” sperm, while men who ate half a portion or more a day had just 5.5%. Generally, a healthy sperm count contains around 15% “normal” sperm.

A healthy and balanced diet is always essential to maintaining proper health. Instead of chowing down on bacon in the morning, opt for more fruits and vegetables.

FICTION: Keeping Your Phone in Your Pocket Can Negatively Impact Sperm

Men are often told that keeping their gadgets in their pockets can cause harmful levels of radiation to alter their sperm quality. However, the thermal effects from this type of "radiation" are around 0.1°C — far too low to cause any adverse biological effect.

It’s also important to note that mobile phones do not emit anything while not in use (standby) with the exception of a brief signal roughly every hour to signal a status to the base station. Men can rest assured that carrying a mobile phone does not cause constant exposure.

The Takeaway?

For couples trying for a baby, keep these items in mind on your journey. Also, be patient — the average couple needs six months to achieve a pregnancy. For those wondering when it would be best to speak with a doctor, this will depend on the age of the female partner and individual medical history.

If the woman is under 35, it is best to try for one year before contacting your physician. For couples in which the woman is over 35, it is recommended to speak with a doctor after six months of trying.

If a male partner has undergone cancer treatment, experienced testicular injury, or suffers from erectile dysfunction, it is best to seek the guidance of a doctor immediately.

Don't forget to have fun trying for a baby! With patience and time, Father’s Day will take on a new meaning.