How Smoking Affects Male Fertility

by Carol Gomes


To say smoking is bad for you would be an understatement. A lot has been written on how smoking can cause cancer, lung disease, chronic respiratory problem, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and premature birth. In addition to this long list of evils, tobacco can also affect fertility. Comprehensive research has been carried out on the effects of tobacco on female fertility, ovulation, high pregnancy risks and damage to the unborn baby. With respect to male fertility, doctors are still unsure about the direct link between smoking and fertility.  

Since getting pregnant includes good health on both the mother and father’s part, quitting smoking is an important facet of preparing for a pregnancy.

Several theories abound on how smoking affects male fertility. One major reason to quit smoking if you want to have a baby is that tobacco affects a man’s sperm count both in terms of quantity and motility (the ability of the sperm to move fast and fertilize the egg in time). It is believed that sperm production can improve within six weeks after quitting smoking.

A recent report analyzed data from more than 25 previous studies on the effects of smoking on male fertility. The results showed an almost 13% decrease in sperm motility among smokers as compared to non-smokers. This decrease in the quality of semen includes a reduction in sperm concentration as well as an increase in irregular sperm morphology or oddly shaped sperm that may not be able to swim fast enough for effective fertilization.

Another way in which smoking affects male fertility is the increase in abnormal hormone levels as a result of tobacco. While many experts insist that these rising hormone levels may not be the only cause for male infertility, in cases of borderline infertility, smoking may be the factor that pushes the problem over the edge. Quitting smoking in such cases may reduce a person’s need for external fertility treatments or improve the success rate of other fertility treatments. There are a number of studies that conclusively prove that quitting smoking before starting a fertility treatment, significantly improves the chance of success.

A small study funded by the Philip Morris Research Management Group (yes, the cigarette company) had some interesting results regarding men's smoking habits and smoking history. Participants were divided into groups depending on how many cigarettes they smoked in a day and the number of years they had been smoking. Sperm of the participants were checked for motility and ability to fertilize an egg under laboratory conditions. Men who smoked more cigarettes on a daily basis or those who had been smoking for longer fared poorly on a ‘fertilization’ test as compared to those who smoked less or had been smoking for a shorter time. The study was an important one in that it indicated that past smoking history could affect male fertility as well.

Experts also believe that male smoking may affect their partner’s fertility. The adverse effects of passive smoking can reduce a woman’s fertility and decrease the rate of successful conception. If you and your partner are trying to get pregnant, keep in mind that the onus of good health habits does not lay solely on the female.

Studies done on the effects of smoking on the fertility of children indicate that while there is no definite link between paternal smoking and a child’s fertility, smoking definitely causes other health problems in children such as respiratory conditions and low immunity.

References:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9797104

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