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Nine Common Actions and Habits That
Can Lower Men's Sperm Count

Though you may not think about your (or your partner's) sperm count very often, it can obviously become center-stage when trying to have a baby. While a normal sperm count is 20 million or more sperm per milliliter of semen, many factors can decrease this amount to 10 million or fewer sperm per milliliter of semen, which indicates low sperm concentration.

male infertility

Low sperm count is a leading cause of male infertility in America.

Low sperm count is one of the leading causes of male infertility, and about 10 percent of Americans of reproductive age experience infertility (that's about 6 million couples), so this is a major issue.

Whether you are planning to conceive in the near future, or have had trouble getting pregnant in the past, take a look through these common activities that lower men's sperm count (and pass them along to your friends who may also benefit).

1. Exposure to Phthalates

Phthalates are widely used industrial compounds used as plastic softeners and in hairsprays, perfumes, cosmetics, toys, shower curtains, wood finishers, lubricants, certain medical devices and more. These chemicals have been linked to low sperm count, low sperm motility, and an increased percent of abnormally shaped sperm, according to a study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health's Occupational Health Program.

In fact, men with the highest levels of phthalate exposure were three to five times more likely to have a low sperm count or low sperm motility than men with the lowest exposure.

2. Smoking, Drinking or Taking Drugs

Men who smoke cigarettes, take drugs like steroids or marijuana, or drink alcohol excessively tend to have a lower sperm count, lower sperm motility and increased abnormalities in sperm shape and function, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).

3. Intense Exercise and Mountain Biking

Extreme exercise (like running a marathon or participating in a triathlon) has been linked to low sperm count because it can overheat the testicles. Meanwhile, mountain biking has also been linked to low sperm count.

About 90 percent of mountain bikers who rode more than two hours a day, six days a week (or 3,000 miles or more a year) had lower sperm count, decreased sperm motility, and scrotal abnormalities, according to a study. On average, extreme mountain bikers had one-third the sperm count of non-mountain-bikers.

4. Hot Tubs (and Other Excessive Heat Exposures)

Exposure to high heat, including going in hot tubs or saunas, has been found to lower sperm production because of the excess heat in the scrotal area, according to ASRM.

sauna low sperm count

Exposure to excessive heat, such as that from saunas, hot tubs, wearing tight underwear -- even sitting for too long -- are well-known contributors to low sperm count.

5. Wearing Tight Underwear

Though often considered a myth, it's true that wearing tight underwear can contribute to decreased sperm production, according to ASRM. This effect occurs because of the extra heat produced.

6. Sitting for Long Time Periods

Also due to excess heat production, sitting for long time periods (such as at your job) can also decrease sperm production.

7. Exposure to Pesticides and Solvents

Men who are exposed to high levels of pesticides or chemical solvents tend to have lower sperm count and lower sperm quality than men who had low exposure, according to a study published in Human Reproduction.

8. Using a Mobile Phone

Though there is some controversy surrounding this one, a study by Hungarian scientists found that the using a mobile phone, and even just keeping it in a pocket while the power is on, has a negative effect on sperm. Those who were classified as heavy mobile phone users had sperm counts up to 30 percent lower than those who did not use a mobile phone at all.

"The prolonged use of cell phones may have a negative effect on spermatogenesis and male fertility, that presumably deteriorates both concentration and motility," the researchers said.

9. Taking Certain Prescription Medications

Certain medications have been linked to low sperm count. These include some antidepressants and drugs for heart disease and high blood pressure. Likewise, treatments for cancer, such as radiation and chemotherapy, are known to frequently damage sperm-producing cells (for this reason, men about to undergo these treatments are sometimes encouraged to bank their sperm).

Recommended Reading

Who is Better at Revenge, Men or Women?

Married Men Really are Healthier & Respond Better to Certain Treatments


Harvard School of Public Health

American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Human Reproduction 2001 Aug;16(8):1768-76

Guardian Unlimited

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