What Kills Sperm Cells in a Man?

Men are often concerned about their sperm count and quality. But many of the myths and rumors about what can harm fertility are untrue.

Some medications, lifestyle choices and genetic conditions can decrease sperm production and cause infertility. Some of these include: a high BMI, stress, and eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables.

1. Heat

If you’re trying to have a baby, you’re probably aware that your sperm count and quality are important. You may have heard rumors about some activities that are bad for sperm, but these rumors are mostly false.

High temperatures cause sperm damage by killing sperm cells, and this leads to infertility. The testicles need to stay a few degrees lower than body temperature to produce healthy sperm, but too much heat causes them to overheat. The problem can be caused by medical and environmental factors. Medical conditions like inflamed testicles (orchitis) and infections can reduce sperm production. The use of certain medications, including antidepressants, can also affect sperm count and quality.

The environment can also contribute to a lower sperm count and quality, such as the high temperatures of hot tubs and saunas. Clothing that hugs the scrotum too tightly can also overheat the testicles. It’s best to avoid these environments and to wear loose-fitting clothes, such as jockey or boxer shorts, so the scrotum has room to regulate itself. In addition, a diet high in antioxidants can improve sperm quality. These foods include berries, nuts, dark chocolate and leafy greens.

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2. Chemotherapy

Men who undergo cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, may have lower sperm counts and motility after the treatment. These treatments can damage the cells that make sperm, causing infertility. These cells are called Leydig cells and they produce testosterone, a sex hormone that is important for male fertility.

Radiation therapy that’s aimed directly at the testicles or other body parts near the testicles can destroy these cells. This type of radiation is called ionizing radiation. Its impact on fertility depends on the location of the testicles, how much radiation is received and whether or not shielding is used. Higher doses of radiation are more likely to affect fertility than lower ones.

Some types of chemotherapy, including alkylating agents (such as busulfan), can also harm these cells. This can lead to azoospermia, which is the complete absence of sperm in the semen. Men who need these cancer treatments are often recommended to wait at least 24 months before trying to conceive. Fertility specialists can collect and freeze sperm before cancer treatment to preserve fertility.

3. Opioids

Many drugs used to treat conditions like seizures or high blood pressure can cause sperm production to take a nose dive. If you are taking any of these medications, it is important to speak to your doctor about how they may impact your fertility.

Opiate use can also decrease semen quality by affecting the morphology and concentration of sperm, and altering the DNA within sperm. This can lead to a low sperm count and infertility. In addition, long term morphine abuse can increase oxidative stress and sperm apoptosis.

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A recent study showed that long term morphine abuse decreased the number of Leydig cells and sperm chromatin integrity in the testis. It is therefore crucial to determine whether morphine-dependent males can reproduce and whether detoxification protocols with methadone or buprenorphine have different preclinical outcomes for sperm parameters. The findings indicated that morphine significantly reduced sperm number, while detoxification with methadone and buprenorphine improved sperm chromatin integrity and mitochondrial activity and decreased sperm apoptosis. This was attributed to a decrease in the nitric oxide level.

4. Alcohol

If a man is concerned about his fertility, he should limit his alcohol consumption. Alcohol can lower testosterone levels, reduce sperm count, and affect the quality of sperm that is produced. It also decreases libido and makes it harder to get an erection.

Heavy drinking can also reduce sperm count and increase the number of abnormal sperm cells. This can make it more difficult for couples to conceive and may require medical intervention such as in vitro fertilization.

Some people are under the impression that consuming Mountain Dew can cause low sperm count, but research has found no link between this beverage and low sperm count. However, there is a connection between drinking and other factors that can impact fertility, such as smoking and a poor diet. Smoking can lower testosterone and lead to decreased sperm production, while obesity can lead to hormonal changes that decrease fertility. These factors can also raise the temperature of the scrotum, which can damage sperm. Likewise, using hand sanitizers that contain the antibacterial agent triclosan can decrease sperm count.

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5. Smoking

Many studies have reported that smoking reduces semen volume, sperm concentration, and sperm motility. This is likely caused by the oxidative stress and damage to the mitochondria of the sperm cells. Additionally, nicotine can enter the sperm cell and act as a mutagen and an aneugen (Pereira et al. 2014).

Other factors that can lower a man’s sperm count include excessive alcohol use, recreational drug use (including anabolic steroids), and occupations that require prolonged sitting, such as truck driving. Obesity can also lower sperm count and overall sperm health by impacting hormones needed for fertility.

Men can improve their chances of conception by avoiding these risk factors. Quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a diet rich in folate can increase sperm counts. The sperm count can also be improved by reducing environmental stress, getting plenty of sleep, and staying physically active. Keeping the testicles slightly cooler than body temperature can promote better semen quality, as can taking frequent breaks from prolonged sitting or work in warm environments. If smoking is a problem, talk to your doctor about cessation programs and medications that can help.

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