We recently spoke to a leading urologist, Dr. Paul Turek, to get an overview of the causes of male infertility and what lifestyle changes men can make to avoid it. In this follow-up, we’ll cover some of the stranger causes of male infertility that men might encounter every day.
Tight pants and underwear
WebMD, one of the most respected online health sources, says that: “Boxer shorts and loose pants can boost sperm count,” and that for couples experiencing male infertility problems, something as simple as changing the kind of underwear a man wears can make a difference.
The reason tight pants and underwear cause male infertility is related to a problem Dr. Turek previously laid out – taking hot baths – and to one later in this list. In all cases, the issue is overheating.
“That is why (testes) are located outside of the body,” explained Celia E. Dominguez, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Center for Reproductive Medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine. “Testes were made to be out in the breeze.”
Sperm count is affected for up to 11 weeks by lifestyle factors, and so for couples trying to conceive, the avoidance of tight clothing in the area concerned is something which will need to happen over a period of weeks.
Dr. Amos Grunebaum, director of clinical maternal-fetal medicine at the New York Hospital-Cornell Weill Medical Colleges,also suggests not wearing pants at all when at home. Make it sort of a no pants zone.
“It will not only help reduce testes temperature, but it might also turn her on,” he suggests. (This advice does not extend to dinner parties, we assume.)
As discussed, raising the temperature of the testes too much can have a negative impact on sperm count. In fact, the temperature of testes must be lower than core body temperature, according to WebMD.
Referencing a study from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Reuters reported that laptop use may have a negative impact on sperm count because it raises the temperature of the testes.
“Within 10 or 15 minutes (men’s) scrotal temperature is already above what we consider safe, but they don’t feel it (when using a laptop),” said Yelim Sheynkin, a urologist who led the study.
Using a lap pad did not improve the situation, however using a laptop on a desk or table, or simply using a laptop less (and having more naked dinner parties) are also options.
Caution, not fear
Not everyone who uses a laptop will become infertile, and the study did not examine a direct link between laptop use and infertility. Rather, it implied that laptops raise the temperature of testes above a safe level.
We should also point out that the experts in this report had a different opinion on whether tight underwear is a risk factor. The take-away message should be that for men trying to conceive, actions that could overheat the testes should be carefully considered, especially ones that aren’t necessary (i.e. using a laptop in your lap).
The message is not that every day activities are guaranteed to cause male infertility problems, and certainly not permanent ones.
Reporting in 2014 from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s annual meeting in Hawaii, The Telegraph suggested that “Vegetarians have much lower sperm counts.”
“We found that diet does significantly affect male infertility,” said Dr Eliza Orzylowska, an obstetrician at Loma Linda University Medical Centre in California which conducted a four-year project on how diet affects sperm count. “Vegetarian and vegan diets were associated with much lower sperm counts than omnivorous diets.”
“Although (vegans and vegetarians) are not infertile, it is likely to play a factor in conception, particularly for couples who are trying to conceive naturally, the old fashioned way,” she added.
“The theory that we have come up with is that vegetarians are replacing meat with soy, which contains phytooestrogens and could be affecting fertility. It’s hard to tell people not to be vegetarians if they are trying to conceive, but I would caution against using soy, at least for 74 days beforehand, which is the time it takes for sperm to be replaced.”
Separate research from Harvard University pointed to the high quantities of pesticides that men who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables may be consuming.
Harvard’s Jorge Chavarro said: “On the one hand, fruit and vegetables may have a positive effect on fertility, especially fruits very high in antioxidants,” but that “we found men who had the highest intakes of fruit and vegetables high in pesticide residues tended to have lower sperm quality, specifically lower total normal count, and mobile count.”
Again, the message is not that all vegetarian or vegan men will experience fertility problems, but that if trying to conceive then eating soy and the source of fruit and veg should be carefully monitored.
Men could also investigate the varying degrees to which different fruit and vegetables contain pesticides, for example celery is considered to be high in pesticides, while avocados are quite low.