5th Nov

Men: Can smoking damage your fertility ?

If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to read the rest of this article, the short answer to the question is “yes, smoking is bad for you”.  Cigarettes smoke contains an unbelievable amount of chemicals – up to 4,000 chemicals which include 43 known cancer causing compounds. These chemicals and toxins do not only affect your lungs, but they also affect your reproductive system as well.

In April of 2016, a research study published in a journal called European Urology analysed samples of over 5,000 men in Europe, and found exactly what effects smoking had on male sperm. The study found that smoking caused 3 problems – low sperm count, low sperm motility (i.e sperm couldn’t swim properly) and also poor sperm morphology (change in sperm shape).

And that is not even the scary part. The scary part was that when smokers went through IVF treatment, their success rates were low. Therefore this showed that smoking caused in men problems which decreased the chances of IVF treatment working. If you have ever checked the cost of having one IVF cycle, you would understand how much of a problem this is. On top of this, for men who smoked in the presence of their wives, the second-hand smoke also decreased the fertility of the woman. So not only was smoking found to decrease male fertility,  but also females as well.

The reason for this seems to be down to not just the high amount of toxins found in cigarettes, but also possibly zinc levels in the body as well. One study found that male smokers who had lower zinc levels in their semen also had poor sperm quality. On the other hand, smokers who had normal semen zinc levels, still had abnormal sperm, but the degree of abnormality in the sperm appeared to be less.

Does male smoking cause male infertility?

For men who are not clinically infertile, but who do not have healthy sperm (low sperm count), smoking may be the last action enough to push them over the edge into infertility. If your semen analysis show that your sperm count is low, quitting smoking might be the singular action that could improve your fertility enough to not need additional fertility treatment. Even if you do eventually need fertility treatment, stopping smoking could ensure that your fertility treatment is successful.

How exactly does smoking affect sperm and semen quality?

Studies have shown that male smoking affects the quality of semen, but how exactly does this happen?

It appears that men who smoke have decreased sperm concentration – this means that the sperm count in the seminal fluid is low. Also, the few sperm contained in the fluid have reduced motility, which means that they are not very active and cannot swim properly. There are also fewer sperm that contain the normal shape – so the shape of the sperm becomes abnormal and finally, some of the sperm have DNA damage which may lead to the possibility of having a miscarriage or normal development of the child if insemination manages to occur.

How does male smoking affect women?

It appears that when men smoke, it doesn’t only affect their fertility but also the fertility of the woman as well. Studies have shown that secondhand smoking by women (i.e the smoke that a woman inhales after a smoker has exhaled it) could decrease the fertility of the woman as well. Particularly, secondhand smoke (or passive smoking) reduced the number of eggs retrieved in an IVF cycle by 46%. This means that if you are going to smoke, be considerate and do it away from a woman who is trying to conceive so that you do not negatively affect her fertility.

If you decide to stop smoking, how long will it take for your sperm to improve?

There are no specific studies looking at this. However, we do know that it takes almost three months for sperm cells to reach maturity. Therefore, allowing at least three months for improvement after kicking the habit makes sense.

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