Monday, June 30th, 2014
Many men who are facing “male factor infertility” because their sperm’s size and shape is not of a high enough quality to fertilize a woman’s egg and help her become pregnant turn to lifestyle changes like losing weight or quitting smoking or drinking alcohol. But a new study published in the journal Human Reproduction has found that those lifestyle adjustments–while a good idea for men who want to be healthier and lower their risk of other health conditions–aren’t likely to help solve their sperm quality issues.
Other factors, including smoking marijuana, were found to lower sperm quality, as was collecting samples during the hot summer months. And the size and shape of sperm–known as “morphology”–was better among men who had abstained from sexual activity for a few days before collection. Reuters has more:
The researchers found that men were about twice as likely to have abnormal sperm if the sample was collected during the summer. They were also more likely to have abnormal sperm if they were young and smoked marijuana.
Although most other medical and lifestyle factors, such as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption, didn’t seem to be linked to sperm morphology, Smith said he still would advise his patients to be as healthy as possible.
“Marijuana is certainly a potential worrisome risk factor for hurting sperm quality,” he said. “I’d tell my patients to stop smoking marijuana. I wouldn’t say to my patient to go out and do whatever you want because it won’t make a difference. To me, that would be overstating those results.”
The researchers also caution that the men included in the study may not be representative of all couples with fertility problems.
Smith said a better study would be to focus on whether the couples went on to conceive a child.
Image: Man eating a salad, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, June 12th, 2014
Men who routinely carry smartphones in their pants pockets may end up with a lowered sperm count and lessened sperm quality, according to a new British study that examines the effects of the phones’ low levels of electromagnetic radiation. More from Time.com:
Even while the debate over whether cell phones cause cancer rages on, researchers are starting to explore other potentially harmful effects that the ubiquitous devices may have on our health. Because they emit low-level electromagnetic radiation (EMR), it’s possible that they can disturb normal cell functions and even sleep.
And with male infertility on the rise, Fiona Mathews at the University of Exeter, in England, and her colleagues decided to investigate what role cell phones might play in that trend. In their new research, they analyzed 10 previous studies, seven of which involved the study of sperm motility, concentration and viability in the lab, and three that included male patients at fertility clinics. Overall, among the 1,492 samples, exposure-to-cell-phone EMR lowered sperm motility by 8%, and viability by 9%.
Image: Man with phone in pocket, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
A group of common chemicals called endocrine disruptors are being connected to fertility problems in men, as CNN reports:
Researchers found endocrine disruptors can interfere with human sperm’s ability to move, navigate and/or penetrate an egg. Their study results were published Monday in EMBO reports.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with your endocrine system – the system in your body that regulates hormones. These hormones control everything from your metabolism to your sleep cycle to your reproductive system, so messing with them can cause serious issues.
Scientists have a long list of potential endocrine disruptors, including bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, dioxin, mercury and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). They can be natural or man-made and are virtually “omnipresent,” the study authors write, in our food and in common household and personal care products.
This isn’t the first time scientists have linked these chemicals with fertility issues in humans. For example, in 2010, a study of Chinese factory workers found exposure to BPA can reduce sperm counts. More recent studies have shown BPA and chemicals called phthalates can hinder a couple’s ability to conceive and carry a healthy baby to full term.
Scientists in Germany and Denmark tested 96 endocrine disrupting chemicals on human sperm – both individually and in various combinations. Around one-third of the chemicals had a negative effect.
The researchers found these endocrine disruptors increased the amount of calcium found in sperm cells – although BPA was found to have no effect. Calcium ions control many of the essential functions of sperm, study author Dr. Timo Strunker explains, including the flagellum – the tail that propels sperm forward. So changing the calcium level in a sperm cell can impact its motility, or swimming ability.
Image: Sperm, via Shutterstock
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Friday, November 1st, 2013
A team of researchers from a number of top Boston medical institutions are working together on new research that could help the best sperm from a man’s sample travel better through fluid, increasing its chances of successfully finding and fertilizing a woman’s egg. The research, if successful, could increase the chances of success for couples who undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF). More from Boston.com:
Physicist Erkan Tuzel works in a field that seems just about as far removed as possible from delicate questions about human reproduction; his lab at Worcester Polytechnic Institute develops algorithms to describe the behavior of complex fluids. But after he heard a talk by Harvard Medical School bioengineer Utkan Demirci, who carves microscopically small channels and then allows fluids to flow through them, the two began to talk about collaborating. Their common ground? Designing technology that could cull the healthiest, fastest-moving sperm from the slowpokes.
Doctors trying to help couples reproduce through in vitro fertilization would like to have an easy way to identify and isolate the sperm most likely to result in a baby. Figuring out how to reliably do that, however, may have as much to do with physics as it does with biology.
In real-world experiments, sperm can swim through tiny channels created by Demirci at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Computer modeling by Tuzel could be used to understand how to design those channels so that they select the right sperm.
“Sperm cells interact with each other when in confined geometries,” Tuzel said. “Just like birds when they fly in formation like a flock, similarly through the fluid, the sperm cells interact with each other and they synchronize their tails—they start beating in phase. … How can we use this information to learn from it and utilize it?”
Tuzel was recently awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to build computational tools that could help design systems that sort sperm in real life.
Image: Sperm collection container, via Shutterstock
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Friday, October 18th, 2013
A diet heavy in bacon and other processed meats may raise a man’s risk of having poor sperm and semen quality, whereas a diet rich in fish could boost male fertility, according to a new study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. More from CNN:
Myriam Afeiche, research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, and her colleagues looked at how types of meat could be associated with semen quality. They took samples from 156 men at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center in Boston and had the men answer a questionnaire about their eating habits.
What does semen have to look like to be considered high-quality? The researchers considered four main parameters:
The concentration of sperm is one part of it. So is motility, or how fast the sperm move. The shape of the sperm also matters, as does the total sperm count – that’s the concentration multiplied by volume.
The researchers did not look at individual kinds of processed meat, so this study won’t tell you if bacon could be more sperm-stunting than hamburgers, or vice versa. But higher intake of processed meat appeared to be related to a lower percent of “morphologically normal” – or well-shaped – sperm.
Regarding fish, it seemed that men who ate more dark meat fish – such as salmon, bluefish and tuna – had higher total sperm count; more white meat fish – such as cod and halibut – was associated with normally-shaped sperm.
The researchers only looked at associations, not causes. It is unclear whether processed meat actually causes changes in sperm, or if it does, how that would happen. It’s possible men who eat more processed meat have an unhealthier diet overall, which could affect their semen. Same goes for fish intake and sperm; researchers don’t know what about fish may benefit the littler swimmers.
“There might be something else going on, but we’re not sure what it is,” Afeiche said.
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Image: Bacon, via Shutterstock
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