The Impact of Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco on Male Fertility
Certain drugs, including some prescription drugs, can have an impact on sperm count and male fertility. If you and your partner are trying to have a baby, you may want to talk to your doctor about how your medication, alcohol use, or drug use can impact your fertility and sperm count. According to Columbia University’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 30 percent of couples who have trouble conceiving might be struggling due to male infertility. One of the factors that can impact sperm count, sperm quality, sperm structure, and ability of the sperm to move toward the egg is drug use.
Cutting back on heavy drinking, quitting tobacco, and stopping marijuana use can improve fertility because heavy drinking, marijuana, and tobacco use can impact sperm count and fertility. Other drugs, like steroids, opioids, and narcotics can also impact fertility. If you’ve been having difficulty conceiving, certain medications could also potentially play a role in male infertility.
Let’s explore how certain drugs impact male fertility in more depth.
Tobacco’s Effect on Sperm Count
Tobacco use can lower sperm counts. Research published in the Asian Journal of Andrology found that men who smoke had reduced semen quality, reproductive hormone system dysfunctions, impaired spermatogenesis, problems with sperm maturation, and issues with sperm function. What does this translate into in plain English? Basically, it means that men who smoke can have lower sperm counts and may produce sperm that are deformed. Tobacco smoke contains 4,000 different chemicals, including nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, and heavy metals, which can impact sperm function, sperm count, sperm motility (ability of the sperm to move toward the egg), and reproductive hormones. Chewing tobacco can have a similarly negative impact on male fertility, sperm count, and sperm motility. A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility looked at a group of Indian men’s addiction to chewing tobacco and its impact on sperm counts. The men were divided into three groups: mild chewing tobacco use, moderate use, and severe use. Men who were more severely or moderately addicted to chewing tobacco had a higher probability that they had no sperm, low sperm count, or abnormalities in their sperm.
Tobacco can also cause other problems. A study published in Reproductive Toxicology also found that cigarette smoking could cause DNA damage to sperm. While we hear quite a bit about how important it is for women to quit smoking before having a baby, this advice also applies to men. Quitting smoking when trying to conceive can potentially lead to improved sperm count, better sperm motility, and prevent DNA damage to sperm.
Marijuana’s Effect on Sperm Count
Recreational marijuana use is legal in eleven states and Washington, D.C. and 33 states have legalized medical marijuana. While marijuana’s medicinal benefits have been studied, marijuana could potentially have negative effects on male fertility, sperm production, and sperm motility. The Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics notes that marijuana smoking can disrupt the pituitary-gonadal axis. Men who smoke marijuana may have lower sperm counts, reduced sperm function, and problems with sperm motility (movement of the sperm). The endocannabinoid system (the body system that cannabis can target) is involved in the regulation of male reproduction, and marijuana smoking can impact this system. Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology looked at the impact of marijuana on sperm counts in healthy Danish young men. The study found that men who smoked more than once per week had 28% lower sperm concentration and 29% lower sperm counts. Use of marijuana, along with other recreational drugs, resulted in more significant sperm count declines.
It is also possible that historic marijuana use could impact I.V.F. success rates. Researchers writing in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who had reported smoking more than 90 times in the past had fewer eggs retrieved. Male marijuana use could also have an impact on birth weight of the baby. Men who reported smoking marijuana more than 90 times in their lifetime saw a decrease in infant birth weight.
What’s the takeaway? If you’re a heavy or regular marijuana smoker and are trying to have a baby, now might be the time to quit. If you use marijuana for medicinal purposes, you may want to talk to your doctor about alternatives while you try to conceive.
Alcohol’s Effect on Sperm Count
Heavy alcohol users might want to cut back on their alcohol intake or quit drinking when trying to have a baby. According to Reproductive BioMedicine Online, heavy alcohol users saw a progressive decline in sperm quality that began with the presence of abnormal sperm, which then worsened with continued alcohol intake. However, after alcohol withdrawal, within three months, men were able to see their sperm return to normal levels. The combined effects of smoking and alcohol use can increase the risk of abnormal sperm and low sperm counts. According to the Indian Journal of Pathology & Microbiology, nonalcoholic non-smoker males were more likely to exhibit normal sperm counts. If you are trying to have a baby, are struggling with infertility, or are about to embark on I.V.F. or other infertility treatments, you might want to speak to your doctor about your alcohol intake.
Steroid Use and Sperm Count
The Journal of Basic and Clinical Andrology notes that an estimated 3 million people use steroids in the United States. Bodybuilders and athletes may use these drugs to improve their performance, but they may not realize that these drugs could have a negative impact on their health and fertility. Men who use steroids could have low sperm counts, and in some cases, no sperm at all. DNA damage was also noted in men who used steroids.
Men who use steroids could also be putting their long-term fertility at risk. According to BJUI International, a prominent urology journal, use of anabolic-androgenic steroids has been linked with impairment of male fertility with reported cases of abnormal sperm, reduced sperm motility, and lower sperm concentrations. While discontinuing steroid use within 4-12 months could result in improved sperm counts and quality, in some cases long-term steroid use can result in irreversible impacts on the male reproductive system.
Opiates, Other Narcotics, and Sperm Count
According to Molecular Medicine, the opioid system regulates the female and male reproductive system, the central nervous system, the testes, and sperm. Opioids have a complex effect on the release of hormones regulating the female and male reproductive system. These drugs can cause a reduction in testosterone and estradiol, which can have an impact on testicular function (in plain English, this might mean lower sperm counts or problems with the sperm produced). Opioid abuse can cause hypogonadism, a condition where the testicles don’t produce testosterone or sperm, and abuse of opioids can lead to erectile dysfunction and infertility.
Abuse of cocaine, methamphetamines, and ecstasy might also interfere with male fertility. While there aren’t as many studies on the use of cocaine, methamphetamines, and ecstasy on male fertility as there are studies on other types of drugs, some small studies and animal studies suggest that these drugs could have a negative effect on the male reproductive system. The Journal of Andrology reports that men who went to the Yale Infertility clinic for treatment, who had sperm counts lower than 20 million per milliliter were twice as likely to have used cocaine within the past two years. Men who had a five year or longer history of using cocaine were twice as likely to have low sperm motility. Animal studies indicate that these drugs can interfere with hormones needed for fertility.
If you have used or abused opiates or other narcotics, you may want to speak to your doctor about how these drugs might impact your fertility. If you need help quitting drugs, or believe past drug use could be affecting your fertility today, a visit to your doctor may be in order.
Prescription Drugs and Sperm Count
Illicit and recreational drugs are not the only kinds of drugs that can affect fertility and sperm count. Prescription drugs can also potentially affect fertility. Researchers writing in the Journal of Reproductive Fertility noted links between certain types of prescription medications and male infertility. The researchers noted that the following drugs could have an impact on infertility:
- S.S.R.I.s. S.S.R.I. medications used to treat depression have been linked to male factor infertility. These drugs have also been linked to low sex drive, which can also affect fertility.
- Calcium Channel Blockers. Calcium channel blockers used to treat hypertension and heart failure were found to cause changes in the sperm that could affect the way the sperm binds to the egg. These drugs could also affect sperm motility.
- Medications to Treat Enlarged Prostate. Medications to treat enlarged prostate could affect ejaculation.
- Anti-Epilepsy Drugs. Anti-epilepsy drugs were associated with low sperm counts, reduced motility, and sperm abnormalities.
- HIV Medications. Antiretroviral medications used to treat HIV could lead to lower sperm counts and reduced motility in sperm.
- Chemotherapy. Certain kinds of cancer treatment can impact sperm count and sperm production in the short term and also have long-term effects for some patients.
If you are trying to have a baby and are on these medications, or have taken these medications in the past, you might want to speak to your doctor about how your prescription medications might have an impact on your fertility. You and your doctor may be able to find alternative treatments or use assisted reproductive technology to help you have better chances of conceiving. These are not the only drugs that can impact male fertility. Oncotarget has published a list of the generic names of prescription medications that can potentially impact male fertility. However, many of the studies implicating these drugs in infertility are animal studies, so if you are taking any kind of prescription medication, and are trying to conceive, you may want to speak to your doctor about potential side effects and fertility risks.
Herbal and Wellness Supplements
Women who are trying to have a baby are advised to take a daily wellness supplement if they are trying to conceive. These supplements ensure that they have enough nutrients to support a developing baby. But women aren’t the only ones who might want to consider taking supplements. There are also daily wellness supplements for men that can ensure that a man has the nutrients needed for healthy sperm production. However, other types of herbal remedies could impact fertility, so before you take any herbal remedy, you may want to speak to your doctor about the possible effect it can have on your fertility.
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