Low sperm count linked to problems with general health

Published on 19 Mar

Low sperm count and quality effect 1 in 3 couples who are struggling to get pregnant.

However, new research suggests that decreased sperm production is also associated with a number of general health issues.

In a study of 5177 men with low sperm count, it was found that they were 20% more likely to have increased body fat, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol and decreased testosterone levels than a man with high sperm count.

Particularly, these men had metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors such as high Body Mass Index (BMI) and high blood pressure which can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and a stroke. These men were also 12 times more likely to have low testosterone levels which may result in lower body mass and bone density and can also be a precursor for osteoporosis, a disease which weakens our bones causing them to break more easily.

There are a range of causes of low sperm count such as:

  • Drug use – the use of anabolic steroids, which are often taken to increase muscle strength and growth, can decrease semen production. The use of cocaine or marijuana can also reduce the number and quality of sperm.
  • Alcohol use – excessive alcohol use has been found to lower testosterone levels and sperm quality.
  • Smoking –  smoking tobacco can decrease sperm production by decreasing the antioxidant levels in semen. Antioxidants protect sperm from damage, damage of which can affect their motility and ability to fertilise an egg.
  • Weight – being overweight can impair fertility in several ways, including directly impacting sperm and by causing hormone changes that reduce male fertility. A study has found that obese men were 42 percent more likely to have a low sperm count than their normal-weight peers and 81 percent more likely to produce no sperm [1].
  • Emotional stress – Experiencing severe or prolonged emotional stress can decrease sperm quality and concentration.

Scientists have warned that the research does not prove that low sperm count is a cause of decreased general health, only that there is a correlation between the two.

[1] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/excess-weight-sperm-fertility/

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