Infertility in Men: Age & Lifestyle Factors

Some men are born with the problems that affect their sperm. But more often, infertility in men can develop later in life due to illness, injury or lifestyle.

The number and quality of a man’s sperm can be affected by his overall health and lifestyle. Behavior that may reduce sperm number and/or quality include:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Drug usage
  • Tobacco usage
  • Certain medicines
  • Radiation treatment and chemotherapy for cancer
  • Age
  • Environmental toxins, including pesticides and lead
  • General health problems

Of course, it’s accepted widely that a woman’s fertility declines with age. And in recent years, evidence has suggested that men, too, may be affected after age 40.

The factor of a man’s age in reproductive ability is of sufficient concern that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine now recommends sperm donors be men who are “ideally less than 40 years of age to minimize the potential hazards of aging.”

The impact of age may go beyond just fertility for men. Some evidence suggests that older men have greater chances of fathering offspring who are at higher risk for birth defects and developmental disorders.

Men do not face the same problem as women, who are born with all the egg cells they’ll ever have – men’s bodies are constantly making new sperm cells. However, time and lifestyle have an impact on the parts that manufacture the cells. The result is more sperm are impaired from a DNA perspective, possibly putting a pregnancy at greater risk for miscarriage and children born with increased health risks.

Smoking, drinking alcohol, use of legal and illegal drugs, radiation exposure are some of the most common environmental assaults on the integrity of a man’s sperm cells. Oxidative damage, too, can cause sperm break down at the DNA level.

With this in mind, men should take the following steps to enhance their odds of fathering healthy children:

  • Participate in regular cardiovascular exercise
  • Reduce alcohol intake, especially in the several months prior to conceiving
  • Control blood pressure, but be aware that certain blood pressure medications can be detrimental to sperm
  • Avoid use of steroids
  • Avoid regular and prolonged exposure of the groin area to sources of high heat, such as hot tubs, Jacuzzis, and even laptops
  • Avoid exposure to heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, as well as radiation and toxic chemicals, including some pesticides