Alcohol, Drugs Don’t Impact Sperm Quality

Male fertility not linked to lifestyle factors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Couples who face fertility problems should heed the latest fertility news: A man’s drinking and smoking habits and other lifestyle factors do not appear to be linked to a man’s swimming sperm count.

A recent British study reports that lifestyle factors, previously thought to play a significant role in male fertility, actually have little effect on the number of swimming sperm a man produces.

"Men shouldn’t delay infertility treatments."

Scientists from the Universities of Manchester and Sheffield tracked 2,249 men from 14 fertility clinics in the UK. The men filled out questionnaires about their lifestyle, including drinking habits and whether they had been or currently are a smoker.

The researchers then compared the information with 939 men who had a low number of swimming sperm and another group of 1,310 men who had higher numbers of swimming sperm.

There are two types of sperm: those that swim and those that don’t. The researchers measured swimming sperm because it is more closely linked to how fertile a man is and determines the type of fertility treatment that will be given, according to the study.

The researchers found that certain factors correlated with low numbers of swimming sperm. Men who had testicular surgery were 2.5 times more likely to have low numbers. Black men were at double the risk of having low numbers, and men with low numbers were 1.3 times more likely to perform manual work, did not wear boxer shorts, or not have had a previous conception.

According to the study, a man’s weight and use of recreational drugs, tobacco and alcohol had little impact on the number of swimming sperm. Also, among men who had low numbers of swimming sperm, it did not matter whether they were a non-smoker or a current smoker who puffed on more than 20 cigarettes a day.

Many lifestyle choices probably have little influence on how many swimming sperm men ejaculate, says Dr. Andrew Povey, from the University of Manchester’s School of Community Based Medicine, in a press release.

“This potentially overturns much of the current advice given to men about how they might improve their fertility and suggests that many common lifestyle risks may not be as important as we previously thought,” he says.

Povey notes that their results show that lifestyle changes are unlikely to improve a couple’s chances of conception.

Co-author Dr. Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology – men’s health, especially infertility – at the University of Sheffield, believes that it’s still possible that common lifestyle factors could correlate with other aspects of sperm the team did not measure, including the size and shape of sperm or the quality of the DNA in the sperm head. He says that further research is needed.

Still, Pacey thinks it’s important that men continue to practice good health: Stop smoking, drink moderately and watch your weight, he advises. It may also be a good idea to wear underpants that are a bit looser, he says.

Previous studies had reported that chemicals on the job could affect sperm, which explains why working in manual labor made a man more likely to have low numbers of swimming sperm, says Dr. Nicola Cherry, from the University of Alberta, in the press release.

This study was funded by the UK Health and Safety Executive, the UK Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, the UK Department of Health and the European Chemical Industry Council. It was published in the journal Human Production. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 14, 2012
Last Updated:
June 17, 2012