It’s common knowledge that many health problems can be traced back to an unhealthy lifestyle. The problem is that not everyone agrees on what makes a lifestyle unhealthy. For instance, many people consider moderate drinking as alright. But did you know that moderate drinking can still lead to diminished fertility?
Alcohol consumption is not the only thing that destroys male fertility. Smoking also causes damage to a man’s sperm quality. Drug use, even if it’s only recreational, not only leads to impaired fertility, it can even cause testicular damage. Read on to learn more about vices that reduce a man’s fecundity.
Prevalence of tobacco smoking in the United States is as high as 30% in those who are of reproductive age. This means that 3 out of 10 young people are smoking, despite the campaign against tobacco use and the rising awareness of the dangers of smoking on reproductive and general health. In fact, tobacco smoking is a factor in many diseases, causing millions of deaths every year.
Impaired fertility is one of the deleterious effects of tobacco smoking. Chemicals and heavy metals like lead and cadmium in tobacco smoke not only cause oxidative stress but also increase the risks of male infertility.
In fact, studies that compare men who are heavy smokers and men who never smoke have revealed that smoking significantly reduces the sperm quality of heavy smokers. Lower sperm concentrations, decreased sperm motility and viability, and poor sperm morphology are just some of the results of heavy tobacco smoking.
It’s not only the heavy smokers, though, who are suffering from impaired fertility. Even those who are mild smokers at one to ten cigarettes per day have also been found to have lower semen quality compared to men who never smoked. Nevertheless, the semen quality decline is more pronounced in those who smoke more heavily, especially in men who smoke more than 20 cigarettes per day.
A scientific review of 57 past studies concluded that smoking is a risk factor for 5 sperm parameters, namely semen volume, total sperm count, sperm density, normal sperm, and sperm progressive motility rates. When these conditions occur simultaneously, the risks of infertility increase.
Just like tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption is also associated with poor sperm quality. Past studies have shown that heavy alcohol drinking leads to lower sperm concentration and testosterone levels, but scientists are still figuring out exactly how it works.
One of the reasons why drinking alcohol causes reduced sperm concentration is that ethanol, which is the compound found in liquor, wine, and beer, actually causes the death of spermatogenic cells.
Spermatogenic cells are found in the testis where they develop to become spermatocytes, which then become sperm cells when they fully mature. Thus when spermatogenic cells die due to alcohol, fewer spermatogenic cells left will be able to develop as sperm cells, which will then lead to low sperm count or low sperm concentration.
The other problem with heavy and chronic alcohol consumption is that it causes spermatocytes to stop developing. This means that they don’t fully mature into sperm cells. Aside from preventing the full maturation of sperm cells, alcohol consumption is also associated with the formation of DNA adducts in the sperm.
DNA adducts are formed when compounds bind with the DNA material and cause damage. When these compounds do not get removed from the DNA material, it can lead to mutations and can cause cancer.
Teratospermia or teratozoospermia is a fertility-related condition that is characterized by the having many sperm cells that have abnormal morphology such as having two tails. One study reported that teratospermia is highly prevalent in heavy alcoholics and even in moderate alcoholics. Moreover, heavy alcoholics had higher risks of low sperm count, poor sperm motility, and abnormal sperm morphology.
Cannabis smoking, the use of cocaine, opioids, and ecstasy have all been linked to negative effects on male fertility. Cocaine use, in particular, can lead to testicular cell apoptosis. This means that using cocaine can kill the cells in the testicles, which can then cause many fertility-related issues such as low sperm production.
Regular marijuana smoking can affect sperm production and reduce sperm volume, lower sperm motility, as well as decrease fertilization capacity. Cannabis smoking can also lead to abnormal sperm morphology, meaning the sperm cells have large or misshapen heads, or crooked tails, or have double tails.
When the percentage of abnormal sperms in the semen is high, if coupled with poor sperm quality, it can lead to infertility. This is because there are not enough healthy sperm in the semen to ensure fertilization.
In one study involving more than a thousand Danish men between 18 to 28 years old, researchers found that smoking marijuana more than once per week can lead to almost 30% reduction in sperm concentration. Moreover, for men who had multidrug use more than once per week, the reported sperm concentration was lower by more than 50%.
The Bottom Line
Although the mechanisms are not yet fully clear, what is certain is that smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug use do impair male fertility. Reduced sperm production, poor sperm quality, and low reproductive hormone levels are just some of the effects of these unhealthy lifestyle habits.
Poor sperm quality may not be an urgent concern for young people who are not yet interested in marriage or having children, but the thing is, the effects of smoking, alcohol, and drugs on fertility are not just temporary. In some cases, testicular damage is even reported, which can lead to permanently impaired fertility. Moreover, there have not been many studies on how fertility would be affected by the cessation of these unhealthy practices.
At the end of the day, smoking, alcohol use, and drug use do a lot of damage to the body than just destroy one’s fertility, thus, cessation is always recommended. Although this may be difficult to achieve, many interventions are now available to help those who would like to quit smoking, drinking, or taking drugs.