When a couple finds themselves dealing with fertility issues, it seems like it’s the female half whose body and behavior are scrutinized most. Which is totally unfair, considering that 50 percent of the time, the problem lies with the guy’s equipment and habits, says Joseph Alukal, M.D., assistant professor of urology and director of male reproductive health at NYU Langone Medical Center.
And lately, there’s been an uptick in research uncovering just how a man’s lifestyle can affect the quality and quantity of his little swimmers. Case in point: A new animal study ID’d a link between disrupted sperm production and the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in plastic bottles and food cans. The study, from PLOS Genetics, lends support to the prevailing theory that BPA is an endocrine disruptor, lowering sperm count and quality by mimicking estrogen, which in turn alters levels of male sex hormones.
Officially, BPA has been deemed safe by the FDA. But if fatherhood is in your partner’s future, you may want to steer him away from BPA products—and also clue him in to these other sperm saboteurs:
Carrying His Phone In His Front Pocket
A recent review of 10 previous studies found a nine-percent drop in live sperm per semen sample due to the radiation a mobile phone emits so close to his family jewels. The jury is still out, but it can’t hurt to ask him to carry his cell in his briefcase or back pocket.
Becoming a Stress Case
Stress makes a dent in every body function, including sperm production, says Alukal. A recent study backs this up, finding that anxious men tended to have abnormally shaped sperm and sperm with mobility issues (a big deal, since those boys have to swim far to reach an egg!).
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“It’s clear that any level of smoking has a negative impact on sperm quality,” says Alukal. The good news: The sooner a guy quits, the sooner his system will start generating healthier swimmers, he says.
Gaining Excess Pounds
Being overweight or obese lowers sperm production, says Alukal, possibly because fat produces estrogen. Not watching the scale poses another male fertility threat: Men who carry extra pounds are more prone to erectile dysfunction.
Spending Time in the Heat
You’ve heard that sperm can get fried if a guy sits too long in a hot tub or sauna. There’s some truth to this, says Alukal. But for heat to really have a sperm-killing effect, a man needs to be exposed to it regularly and often—for example, if his job requires him to work with hot materials, as in the case of a welder, he says. Why is heat harmful? A man’s testicles can’t function properly unless they’re a few degrees cooler than the rest of his body.
Pounding Back Booze
Guys who drink heavily tend to be less healthy overall, says Alukal, and that affects sperm count and quality, too. The effect may take fewer drinks than you think: A recent study from the British Medical Journal suggests that men who had as little as five drinks per week racked up “adverse effects” to their semen quality.