Male Infertility Is Becoming a Global Health Concern, Researchers Argue

It's not just a female issue.

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So you already know about the obesity epidemic. You know that one-third of U.S adults (approximately 78 million people) are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And you know that obesity is associated with a host of other serious health conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and sleep apnea.

But there's one thing you probably don't know about obesity because it keeps getting overlooked, according to the authors of an April 2016 editorial published in Current Pharmaceutical Design: Obesity affects fertility, and the University of Porto researchers write that male infertility due to obesity has become its own global health problem.

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How Obesity Relates to Infertility

"We've known for quite a long time that obesity affects male fertility for a number of different reasons, just like it affects female fertility," says Philip Werthman, MD, a vasectomy reversal surgeon, male fertility specialist, and director of the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine and Vasectomy Reversal in Los Angeles. "Obesity is a global issue, so it's just following the trend."

Dr. Werthman explains that when a person's body mass index (BMI) reaches between 30 and 35, hormonal shifts begin to occur. "Then when a patient's BMI goes over 35 and 40, they'll get what's called metabolic syndrome... it changes the hormone environment, and hormones are certainly quite important for fertility. Hormones control fertility."

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He adds that obesity can put the male reproduction system — and the body in general — into the fight-or-flight response: "The body uses its resources to save itself, so when the body is under stress, it mobilizes its resources to get out of the stress and not to reproduce."

Other Causes of Male Infertility and Potential Solutions

Along with obesity, other risk factors that can jeopardize sperm include heat (such as hot tubs, saunas, and extra-hot conditions, i.e. Bikram yoga), excess alcohol consumption, and smoking. "Whether it be cigarettes, pot, or any other organic-type material that someone wants to burn and inhale, smoking causes a lot of toxins in the body, which is horrendous for sperm."

And yes, there are fertility drugs for men on the market. "Many of the same drugs that work for women, in terms of helping them ovulate, can be used to help with sperm production under certain conditions," Werthman says.

Will losing weight greatly increase a man's fertility? Perhaps.

"We can't make the assumption that if someone has trouble conceiving that it's lifestyle in and of itself, but I think it's a start," states Werthman. "When someone is trying to conceive, it may make sense for someone to clean up their habits. I have a general rule: Healthy body, healthy sperm."

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