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Male Fertility and Smoking

How Smoking Can Lead to Problems with Male Fertility

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Updated May 19, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Man smoking cigarette on winter beach
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You already know that smoking is bad for your health, but you may not have thought about the effect smoking can have on male fertility. In fact, we often overlook the health of the male partner when it comes to fertility. After all, the baby grows inside the mother, not the father.

However, remember that getting pregnant requires both egg and sperm, and male health and fertility is as important as female health and fertility.

Smoking does affect female fertility, which shouldn't come as a surprise. In both men and women, smoking has been linked to an increased risk for many cancers, heart disease, emphysema, and a number of other health problems. The toxins in cigarettes take their toll not only on the lungs, but on the health of your entire body, including your reproductive system.

How does smoking affect male fertility? To get more details on the research on smoking and male fertility, read this excerpt from UpToDate -- a trusted electronic reference used by many physicians and patients looking for in-depth medical information.

Then read on for what all of this means for you.

"An analysis of 27 studies addressing the effect of smoking on sperm concentration, motility, and morphology in fertile and infertile men found a modest reduction in semen quality and altered hormone levels among smokers compared to nonsmokers, but did not find a reduction in male fertility associated with paternal smoking. Studies of non-infertile male smokers and nonsmokers reported an average 23 percent decrease in sperm concentration and 13 percent decrease in sperm motility among the smokers.

"However, a possible effect on male fertility or a secondary effect on female fertility cannot be definitively excluded. Studies evaluating the effect of smoking by the male partner on the success rate of in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection reported a significant decrease in the number of pregnancies achieved in the subfertile population."

Smoking and Decreased Semen Quality

Studies on male smoking have shown a decrease in the quality of semen. Some of the effects included:

  • Sperm concentration: Sperm concentration refers to the number of sperm found in a measured quantity of semen. Studies have shown a 23% decrease in sperm concentration in men who smoke.
  • Sperm motility: Sperm motility refers to the swimming capabilities of the sperm. If sperm cannot swim properly, they may have trouble reaching the egg and fertilizing it. In men who smoke, researchers found a 13% decrease in sperm motility.
  • Sperm morphology: Sperm morphology refers to the shape of sperm. Oddly shaped sperm may not swim well enough to get to the egg and may not be able to fertilize an egg. Male smokers have fewer healthy shaped sperm than non-smokers.

Male smokers may also have abnormal hormone levels, which can affect fertility.

However, these decreases in sperm health and abnormal hormone levels may not be enough to cause infertility in men. That said, for men who are already on the borderline of infertility, smoking may be enough to push them over the edge into infertility.

For these men, quitting smoking may improve their fertility enough to not need additional fertility treatment, or at the very least, improve their chances of fertility treatment success (more on that below).

Paternal Smoking and the Fertility of Your Children

Researchers also looked into the possible effects of paternal smoking. In other words, if the male partner smokes, will his smoking lead to infertility for his child?

The findings did not show a connection between decreased fertility in the child if the father smokes. However, that doesn't mean that a father's smoking doesn't affect the health of the child in other ways. Researchers did find an increased risk of birth defects in the children of male smokers, as well as an increased risk of cancer.

Secondary Effect on Female Fertility When the Man Smokes

Another factor to consider is the effect male smoking has on the female partner. Studies have shown a possible decrease in female fertility when women are exposed to secondhand smoking. If you are going to smoke, be sure to do so away from your partner, so not to negatively affect her fertility.

Smoking and IVF-ICSI Success

Researchers also looked at the effect of male smoking on the success rate of IVF with ICSI treatment. ICSI treatment involves taking a single sperm and guiding it directly into the egg, in hopes it will lead to fertilization. It's often used in cases of moderate to severe male infertility, or when previous IVF treatments have failed for unknown reasons.

The researchers found that male smoking had a significant effect on the success rates of IVF-ICSI treatment. If you're going through fertility treatment, it's well worth quitting smoking first to improve your chances of success.

Want to learn more? See UpToDate's topic, "Optimizing natural fertility in couples planning pregnancy", for additional in-depth, current and unbiased medical information on infertility, including expert physician recommendations.

More on the male side of infertility:

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Source:

Olek, Michael J., Gibbons, William E. "Optimizing natural fertility in couples planning pregnancy." UpToDate. Accessed: September 2009.

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