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Lifestyle Factors Effect on Fertility

Conversely, malnutrition is thought to decrease fertility as well. Deficiencies in certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, selenium, zinc, and folate, may be particular risk factors for infertility.

Smoking

Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can reduce sperm counts, decrease sperm lifespan, impair motility, and cause genetic changes to the offspring (resulting in congenital abnormalities and childhood cancer). One study at the University of Buffalo also found that nicotine and tobacco impair the ability of sperm to bind to the outer layer of the egg, preventing fertilization. Men who smoke have been shown to have lower sex drives and less frequent sex, and men and women who smoke also have lower success rates with assisted reproductive technologies.

Heat

The optimal temperature of the testes for sperm production is slightly lower than body temperature, which is why the testes hang away from the body in the scrotum. High temperatures are believed to decrease sperm production, so while it's okay to take hot showers, you should avoid saunas, hot tubs, and hot baths, and do not use an electric blanket or sleep on a heated waterbed. For the same reason, you should avoid wearing bikini-style underwear and tight-fitting pants, which can hold the scrotum too close to the body and increase internal temperatures.

A more recent threat to male fertility comes from the increasingly widespread use of laptops. According to a study published in the February issue of the journal of Human Reproduction, scientists from the State University of New York at Stony Brook found that laptops can reach internal operating temperatures of over 70 degrees C (158 degrees F), and since they are frequently placed close to the scrotum, may overheat the testes and reduce sperm production.

Chemicals

Exposure to certain chemicals such as lead, pesticides, anesthetic gases, and radiation has been associated with decreased sperm production and motility. According to the Mayo Clinic, certain chemicals may cause estrogen-like effects in the male body that can reduce the number of Sertoli cells (sperm-generating cells) in males. The following chemicals are currently under study for their effects on fertility:

  • Bisphenol A - commonly used in plastic food containers and bottles. It has potent estrogen-like effects in low doses and produced prostate abnormalities in animal studies; however, more research is necessary to determine if it has the same effect in humans.

  • Phthalates - used to soften plastics. In animal studies, exposure to this chemical has significantly impaired sperm count and caused abnormalities in their reproductive structures, such as the testes.

  • Pesticides with estrogen-like effects - such as DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, PCPs, dioxins, and furans. A 1999 study showed decreased fertility rates in men who had moderate or high exposure to pesticides.

  • Plant-based estrogens (phytoestrogens) - such as isoflavones found in soy and other legumes. However, one study of men who took isoflavone supplements for two months found no negative effects on their reproductive health.

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