When a couple struggles to get pregnant, their first thought is often that there must be something wrong with the woman. Infertility, however, affects both men and women. In fact, male infertility is the sole cause of a couple’s infertility about 20% of the time, and a contributing factor in another 30-40% of cases.1 To best know what is causing a couple’s infertility, it is important to educate yourself on male infertility, so you are able to rule it out, or take the necessary steps to address the issue.
How to Test for Male Factor Infertility
Male fertility is usually tested by a semen analysis. Semen is evaluated for three factors: the quantity of sperm (concentration), motility (movement), and morphology (shape).
A slightly abnormal semen analysis is not a reason to panic and does not mean that a man is infertile. A semen analysis helps doctors assess if and how the man’s fertility is impacting the couple’s difficulties with getting pregnant.2
What Causes Male Factor Infertility
Varicoceles are one of the most common causes for male infertility. This is a condition where the veins on the testicles are too large, causing the testicles to overheat, which can affect the number or shape of the sperm.3 Certain medical conditions, including cystic fibrosis, diabetes, mumps, kidney disease, and hormone imbalances, can also contribute to male infertility.1-3
What Increases the Risk of Male Factor Infertility?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the following factors can also increase the risk for male infertility:3
- Heavy alcohol use
- Smoking cigarettes
- Environmental toxins, including pesticides and lead
- Side effect of medications
- Radiation treatment and chemotherapy for cancer
What Can a Man Do to Improve His Sperm Quality?
Just as overall health can impact female fertility, overall health can affect male fertility, too.3 Lifestyle factors, such as avoiding heavy alcohol use, drugs and smoking will also improve sperm quality.
One recent study found that eating a healthy diet improved semen quality, especially in men with a low sperm count.4 A suggested healthy diet consists of eating lots of fruits, cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes, leafy green vegetables, legumes, healthy fats, fish, chicken, and whole grains, and limited amounts of sugar and saturated fats.4
- University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Male Factor Infertility and Sexual Health. Accessed June 13, 2017. Available at: http://www.urology.wisc.edu/specialties/male-factor-infertility-and-sexual-health/male-factor-infertility/.
- Centers for Disease Control. Infertility FAQs. Updated March 30, 2017. Accessed June 13, 2017. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/
- gov. “Infertility Fact Sheet.” Updated June 12, 2017. Accessed June 13, 2017. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/infertility.html#h
- Oostingh, Elsje C. et al. Strong adherence to a healthy dietary pattern is associated with better semen quality, especially in men with poor semen quality. Fertility and Sterility, Volume 10, Issue 4, 916 – 923.e2. Accessed online June 13, 2017. Available at: http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(17)30222-4/fulltext.