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Male infertility: The role of stress and other factors

Overexposure to certain environmental elements such as heat, toxins and chemicals can reduce sperm production or sperm function.

male infertility Stress can affect fertility. (Source: Getty Images)

By Dr Kshitiz Murdia

Male infertility is a widespread condition among couples. In about 50 per cent of cases, couple infertility is attributable to the male partner, mainly due to a failure in spermatogenesis. In recent times, the crucial role that modifiable lifestyle factors play in the development of infertility have generated a growing interest in this field of study, i.e. ageing, psychological stress, nutrition, physical activity, caffeine, high scrotal temperature, hot water, mobile telephone use.

Several studies have investigated associations between semen quality and the presence of lifestyle stressors i.e. occupational, life events and couple infertility. In addition, the role that increased scrotal temperature along with inappropriate nutritional and physical exercise attitudes exert on male fertility.

The decline of male fertility, particularly associated with advancing age, incorrect lifestyles and environmental factors plays an important role on natality, and its consequences on the future on human population makes this an important public health issue in this century says NitizMurdia, Lab director at Indira IVF. Thus, modification of lifestyle through a structured programme of educational, environmental, physical exercise and psychological support, combined with the use of nutraceutical antioxidants can prevent infertility and therefore, may help couples to obtain better quality of life and improved possibility to conceive spontaneously or optimise their chances of conception.

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Role of stress on male fertility

Stress is a prominent part of any society and infertility itself is stressful, due to social pressures, testing, diagnosis, treatments, failures, unfulfilled desires and even economic costs with which it is associated. Semen parameters may be potentially linked to stress, whose presence may reduce luteinizing hormone and testosterone pulsing, thus reducing in turn spermatogenesis and sperm quality.

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Stress activates the release of glucocorticoids or steroid hormones that affect the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, which reduces the testosterone levels and sperm production. Further, stress also triggers oxidative stress or physiological stress on the body caused by damage from unnaturalised free radicals, which has been associated with semen quality and fertility.

Environmental causes

Overexposure to certain environmental elements such as heat, toxins and chemicals can reduce sperm production or sperm function. Specific causes include:


Industrial chemicals

Extended exposure to benzenes, toluene, xylene, pesticides, herbicides, organic solvents, painting materials and lead may contribute to low sperm counts.

Heavy metal exposure

Exposure to lead or other heavy metals also may cause infertility.

Radiation or X-rays

Exposure to radiation can reduce sperm production, though it will often eventually return to normal. With high doses of radiation, sperm production can be permanently reduced.


Overheating the testicles

Elevated temperatures impair sperm production and function. Although studies are limited and are inconclusive, frequent use of saunas or hot tubs may temporarily impair your sperm count. Sitting for long periods, wearing tight clothing or working on a laptop computer for long stretches of time also may increase the temperature in your scrotum and may slightly reduce sperm production.

Health, lifestyle and other causes

Some other causes of male infertility include:

Drug use

Anabolic steroids taken to stimulate muscle strength and growth can cause the testicles to shrink and sperm production to decrease. Use of cocaine or marijuana may temporarily reduce the number and quality of your sperm as well.

Alcohol use

Drinking alcohol can lower testosterone levels, cause erectile dysfunction and decrease sperm production. Liver disease caused by excessive drinking also may lead to fertility problems.

Tobacco smoking

Men who smoke may have a lower sperm count than do those who don’t smoke. Secondhand smoke also may affect male fertility.


Emotional stress

Stress can interfere with certain hormones needed to produce sperm. Severe or prolonged emotional stress, including problems with fertility, can affect your sperm count.


Research shows that the likelihood of pregnancy may be lower if a male partner has severe depression. In addition, depression in men may cause sexual dysfunction due to reduced libido, erectile dysfunction, or delayed or inhibited ejaculation.



Obesity can impair fertility in several ways, including directly impacting sperm themselves as well as by causing hormone changes that reduce male fertility.

(The writer is Medical Director, Indira IVF Group.)

First published on: 02-02-2020 at 11:01 IST
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