Don't smoke. Don't drink. Don't do drugs. Lose weight. While these guidelines from doctors aren't likely to go away anytime soon, their relevance for men seeking to improve their sperm quality may soon come to an end. A team of scientists from the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield has found that men don't need to live like monks if they want to become fathers. Rather than putting down the beer can, they should put down the too-tight tighty whities and opt for a pair of boxers instead.
In a study published recently in the medical journal Human Reproduction, scientists found that many lifestyle choices have little impact on male fertility. Over 2,249 men were recruited from 14 fertility clinics around the United Kingdom and were given a questionnaire on job history, lifestyle, and health factors. Only men who had been attempting conception without success following at least 12 months of unprotected sex were eligible for the study, and those with a known medical condition that could be the cause of their infertility were excluded.
While there are several factors that influence semen quality, the researchers chose to use the number of swimming sperm men ejaculated, as this is generally a good indicator of how fertile a man is likely to be, as well as the type of fertility treatment that may be required.
Of the 2,249 men in the study, 929 were found to have low numbers of swimming sperm. The researchers then looked at nine factors that could influence the concentration of the men's little swimmers, six of which were non-modifiable factors such as surgical history and health, and three modifiable factors pertaining to occupation or lifestyle choices. Only five of the nine factor were significantly associated with low concentrations of swimming sperm. Men who had undergone testicular surgery were 2.5 times more likely to have low sperm counts, while men who had previously conceived were less likely to have low sperm counts.
Of the lifestyle choices or circumstances that affect sperm concentrations, only employment status and underwear choice came into play. Men who work in manual labor were 1.3 times more likely to have low levels of swimming sperm. Unemployed men were also at a higher risk for experiencing low concentrations of little swimmers. Men who wore loose-fitting underwear, such as boxers, were less likely to have a low swimming sperm count.
Other potential lifestyle choices such as the use of alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs, as well as high body mass index, were not found to affect the numbers of swimming sperm. While the researchers conceded that these factors may influence fertility through other measures of semen quality, delaying assisted conception to modify these lifestyle choices is unlikely to assist conception and may waste precious time for couples who have little time to lose in the fertility game.
Men should still heed "don't smoke, don't do drugs, and don't consume too much alcohol" as good health advice, but if baby making is what they have in mind, then instead they should perhaps focus on shopping for looser-fitting drawers. Once they achieve fatherhood, then they can focus on cutting down on the vices.