In honor of Men’s Health Month, Fertility Centers of Illinois is debunking 11 common nationwide male infertility myths.

Approximately two million men are diagnosed with infertility each year in the United States. Many men can significantly improve their fertility through simple lifestyle changes. Men should rest assured that fertility issues requiring treatment are highly treatable with great success.

“Many men don’t think about their fertility, and avoid learning more due to a fear of the unknown,” explains Dr. Christopher S. Sipe of Fertility Centers of Illinois. “Learning about basic male infertility helps take the fear and confusion out of conception.”

Myth: Age does not affect male fertility.

A recent study published in the journal Nature has shown that male fertility decreases with age. The study found a direct link between a man’s age and an increased risk of autism and schizophrenia. The study also shows that fathers pass on as many as four times more genetic mutations when compared to mothers. It is important that men are aware of their age and fertility potential during conception. If you plan to delay fatherhood, preserving fertility by freezing sperm is a relatively inexpensive way to “freeze” your fertility in time. If you are older and looking to conceive, a semen analysis evaluating shape and motility will provide valuable insight to fertility potential.

Myth: Only women need to take supplements to improve fertility.

It has long been known that women should take folic acid while trying to get pregnant. Women should also take this supplement during pregnancy to prevent certain birth defects. Folic acid is now known to be an important supplement in male fertility as well. Researchers at the University of California found that men had a higher rate of chromosomal abnormalities in their sperm when their diet was low in folic acid. Coenzyme Q10 has also been found to increase sperm count and sperm motility, while Vitamin E also improves low sperm count.

Myth: Smoking doesn’t affect male fertility. 

Statistics don’t lie. Smoking increases chances of male infertility by 30 percent. Cutting out cigarettes is an obvious health advantage, but many don’t realize how harmful cigarettes can be to fertility.  Smokers may have up to a 10-40 percent lower monthly fecundity (a.k.a. fertility) rate according to a report by the British Medical Association. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates that up to 13 percent of infertility may be caused by tobacco use. The effect is also dependent on the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Smoking as few as 5 cigarettes per day has been associated with lower fertility rates in males (and females).

Myth: Cell phones, laptops, hot tubs and bicycles don’t have an effect on semen quality. 

Heat in extreme amounts can damage the testes and decline semen quality. A recent study by Fertility and Sterility found that the heat created from laptops can affect sperm motility and cause DNA damage. Cell phone emissions can also cause sperm damage, so keep phones in the back pocket and put a fan under your laptop. Men should be careful of putting too much time on the bike or lounging too long in a hot tub. Not to worry – semen quality typically declines only in extreme use or regular exposure. Enjoy your life and simply moderate your habits.

Myth: Only hard drugs can affect male fertility.

Hard drugs affect fertility – and most importantly, pose a threat to your life. But it isn’t just hard drugs that can affect fertility health. Prescription drugs, antibiotics, blood pressure medication, and even exposure to lead and mercury can affect the quality and quantity of sperm. Frequent marijuana use has also been known to cause similar problems.

Myth: In a healthy male, all sperm are healthy.

In an average male, only 14% of sperm by strict morphology have a normal shape, size, and ability to move properly. While this may seem low, remember that you only need one sperm to fertilize an egg and become pregnant.

Myth: Male infertility is genetic.

While male infertility can be genetically passed down, there are several different factors that can cause male infertility. A cancer diagnosis or injury can result in male infertility, while repeated infection or immunity problems can decrease male fertility. Lifestyle choices such as diet, nutrition, tobacco and drug use, exercise habits, and body weight can decrease male fertility.

Myth: There is no common diagnosis with male infertility.

While the specific cause of male infertility can vary greatly, the most common diagnosis associated with male infertility is low sperm count.

Myth: Separate health problems do not affect male fertility.

Chronic conditions such as diabetes and liver cirrhosis can cause abnormal male ejaculation due to nerve damage and retrograde ejaculation. Muscles in the bladder normally close during ejaculation, preventing the entry of semen. During retrograde ejaculation, the semen is redirected into the bladder when these muscles fail to activate. If you are concerned that a chronic condition may be impacting your fertility, reach out to a physician to learn more.

Myth: Weight does not affect fertility.

Extra weight presents a multitude of health issues, and can wreak havoc on male fertility. Obesity causes elevated estrogen and low testosterone levels, which can cause sperm count to decrease. Overweight males also experience a decreased libido. The simple solution is to calculate your Body Mass Index, which provides a healthy numerical range based on height and weight, and work towards it. Exercise will increase energy, decrease weight, and equalize testosterone and libido levels.

Myth: Diet does not affect male fertility.

Quite simply, you are what you eat. Men who consume high-fat diets have been found to have a decreased sperm count. Conversely, a mostly plant-based diet has been found to improve fertility and overall health. Fill your refrigerator and pantry with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables while avoiding thick cuts of meat and refined carbohydrates such as white bread and cookies.