Infertility: The worst is yet to come

15. February 2016

Mobile phones cause it, as do bike saddles, saunas and especially alcohol - they all reduce sperm quality and thus fertility. Numerous studies show that male sperm also "knows" if their owner is packing a few pounds too many.

Danish researchers examined the sperm of 13 lean men, and ten obese men with a BMI of over 29.7. They looked for epigenetic markers. The study demonstrates that the sperm of obese men displayed a change in the genetic patterns responsible for controlling appetite. The father’s obesity can thus be transmitted to the children. Thus it was proved that obesity leads to an alteration of the genome.

Weight loss improves fertility

A human being’s characteristics are dependent not only on the sequence of the DNA building blocks, but also on inheritable control mechanisms within the genetic code. These epigenetic factors are based on elements such as methylene groups, which are located on the DNA and influence the activity of certain hereditary dispositions. This raises the question of the “chicken and egg” scenario: Does obesity change the DNA or do DNA modifications cause obesity? To answer this question, the research team epigenetic changes before and after gastric bypass surgery in six men exhibiting a subsequent dramatic weight loss.

Over 5,000 epigenetic changes to the sperm DNA were observed before and after surgery. A study was launched in cooperation with a fertility clinic to perform epigenetic research on embryos procreated by males of various body weights. For a long time now, women hoping to have children have been advised to eat healthily before conception, to avoid alcohol and to substitute certain micro-nutrients. Should the results be confirmed in further studies, the advice for men prior to conception will be: “Don’t smoke, don’t drink and lose some weight”.

Big belly, flabby sperm

Previous studies also showed that body weight exerts an influence on the qualitative and quantitative properties of the sperm: An investigation by Hammiche et al. showed that as body weight increases, the volume ejaculated, sperm concentration and total number of motile sperm decrease significantly. Men with a waist circumference of 102 cm had a significantly worse sperm concentration and lower total motile sperm. One of the six authors has indicated that he received financial support from the pharmaceutical industry. Since the stated work is a baseline study which does not mention or recommend any pharmaceutical products, this indication does not detract from the study’s validity.

Fat cells enzymatically convert testosterone into oestrogen. The more fat cells, the less testosterone is available. A 2012 study observed the habits of 1,683 patients wanting children in the last three months prior to in vitro fertilisation. Eating habits, stress, sexual behaviour, sleeping habits, alcohol and tobacco use, sports activities, state of health, age and BMI were surveyed.

The effects these parameters had on sperm quality were studied, as were the effects on ejaculated volumes according to emissions, sperm concentration, sperm motility and total number of sperm. “Our study shows that the combination of age, weight, sexual abstinence, number of ejaculations and amount of coffee consumption have a significant effect on sperm motility and morphology. To a certain degree, therefore, the patient himself can influence the quality of his semen.”

Stress in the private sphere makes sperm tired

In a study by Janevic et al. the ejaculates of 193 men aged 38 to 49 were examined. The subjects were asked about stress at work and in their private life. Surprisingly, high levels of workplace stress did not affect the sperm. The researchers thought that a possible reason for this lay in oxidative stress. In addition, glucocorticoids, which are released when humans are subject to increasingly heavy burdens, influence the production of sperm. “Men who feel stressed, have a lower concentration of sperm in the ejaculate. In addition, the sperm are bulky and are therefore hindered in their movement,” explained the authors. Men who were unemployed during the study had very poor sperm quality. It did not matter how stressed they perceived themselves to be.

Poor sleep, bad sperm

A Danish study documented the relationship between sleep and quality of sperm. Scientists at the University of Southern Denmark studied 953 healthy young Danish men. Subjects with sleep problems suffered a fall in sperm count by up to 33 percent, a 30 percent reduction in their total sperm count and slightly more weaker sperm than men whose sleep was less disturbed. Even just having regular, 7-hour periods of sleep improved sperm quality considerably.

WiFi nibbling away at fertility

A research team headed by Conrado Avendaño from the Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Cordoba in Argentina investigated the harmfulness of wireless radiation on the reproductive ability of men. The radiation from a mobile phone in one’s trouser pocket or a laptop used on the lap is sufficient to reduce fertility.

In the study, sperm samples from 29 healthy volunteers aged 25 were analysed. The sample was divided into two equal parts, kept in various areas at a controlled temperature. One of the two sperm samples was placed under a laptop equipped with a WiFi Internet connection. In the sperm samples subjected to radiation, 25 percent of the sperm were motionless, whilst this occurred in only 14 percent of the non-irradiated sperm. The irradiated sperm displayed 9 percent damage to the genetic material, whilst this figure was just 3 percent among the non-irradiated sperm.

Micro-radiation causes maximum damage

The research group around Prof. Igor Yakymenko [Paywall] at the Kiev Institute of Experimental Pathology, Oncology and Radiobiology warns that mobile phone radiation causes harmful oxidation processes in cells. From 100 peer-reviewed studies, 93 show that WiFi and mobile phone radiations cause such high levels of oxidative stress that it can lead to cell damage. One cause of the harmful effects is the overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS). “We recommend minimising the intensity and the duration of high-frequency exposure and the application of precaution with regard to wireless technologies in people’s everyday life ,” said the authors.

Do heated seats kill sperm?

Is it myth or reality that the heated seats in cars heat up the testicles to such an extent that there is a change in sperm quality? This matter was investigated by the Head of the Kinderwunschzentrum Goldenes Kreuz, Prof. Andreas Obruca. He surveyed 997 patients regarding their use of heated seats. These data were compared with the results of semen analysis. Of the men who never used a seat heater, 46 percent had inconspicuous semen analysis results. Among occasional users of heated seats, however, this figure was at 53 percent, and as high as 62 percent for frequent users. Thus it was confirmed that the heated seats have no negative effect on sperm quality. Further studies would be required in order to derive a positive effect.

The ideal “sperm producer” should therefore be slim, have no stress in his private life, healthy sleep patterns, use heated seats and not expose his testicles any WiFi radiation. This profile now constitutes a checklist for women looking for a partner to have children with in the near future.

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