How to Stay Fertile

Know the 7 major threats to sperm count
Over the past 30 years, fertility among married couples in the U.S. has dropped dramatically. During the '60s, between 7 and 8 percent of couples reported problems conceiving; today that number has risen to between 25 and 30 percent.

No single cause can explain this decline, but it appears that average sperm counts have been falling over the past couple of decades. Again, medical science can't say exactly why sperm counts might be dropping, but we do know a number of things that can affect them:

Damage to your testicles
Undescended testicles should be corrected by age two. Testicular torsion, a painful twisting of the tubes suspending the testicles, should be repaired within four hours of onset. Don't delay! Varicocele, a swelling of the tubes that suspend the testicles, should also be fixed promptly. And any male participating in a contact sport should wear protective gear to prevent injury to his testicles.

An infection in the testicles, the tubes connecting the testicles to the penis (called the epididymis), or the prostate gland can obstruct the reproductive tract. Often, these infections are caused by sexually transmitted diseases. Protect yourself by using a condom or abstaining, and if you develop a problem, get help right away.

Cigarette smoke can reduce sperm count, the robustness of the sperm, and even the volume of semen ejaculated. It's just one of many reasons to quit.

Illicit Drugs
Marijuana can reduce sperm count and robustness, and it can increase the number of abnormal sperm. Anabolic steroids are a proven path to infertility.

Talk to your doctor if you're taking inflammatory bowel disease medication; methasalazine is a good choice. Some blood pressure and gout medications also interfere with fertility, and common antibiotics, such as tetracycline and erythromycin, can cause temporary declines. Finally, any man in his reproductive years who receives chemotherapy or radiation therapy should consider banking sperm.

Any man who works around pesticides or heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead and manganese, should wear protective gear.

When your testicles get too warm, sperm counts drop. Although there's lots of talk about the effect of briefs, as opposed to loose-fitting boxer shorts, no scientific evidence shows a difference. We do know, however, that frequent excursions in a hot tub can cause temporary declines in sperm production.

I know. Fertility is close to the last thing on the minds of most young men. Someday, though, you may be glad you took steps to ensure your future as a father.


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