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This week, the American Society of Reproductive Science wrapped up their annual meeting in New Orleans; many interesting studies were presented. One subject that received significant attention was male infertility, so to help clear up some of the findings regarding how men can improve their chances of fertility, I reached out to a great scientist who knows quite a lot about this topic: Harry Fisch, M.D., Professor of Clinical Urology, College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.

Dr. Manny: Do you think that male infertility is on the rise?

Dr. Fisch: Male infertility is definitely on the rise. The main reasons are a) couples waiting longer to start a family, and b) obesity. In the U.S., the last 30 years have shown an increase of men over the age of 35 trying to have children. This corresponds to a doubling of the number of women over the age of 35 trying to have children over the same time period. What this means is that older men are having, or trying to have children. OK. Now the really bad news: sperm from older men are not as “good” as sperm from younger men. Older men are less fertile than younger men. In addition, the genetic quality of the sperm is worse. The risk of genetic abnormalities in children born to older fathers increases, as does the chance of miscarriages.

Dr. Fisch: Now, the worse shape a man is in, the worse the testosterone levels, and the worse the sperm count. As we know, men are getting heavier in the U.S.A. Waist size has increased over the past 20-30 years. Unfortunately, this leads to heart disease, diabetes AND a lowered sperm count.

Dr. Manny: What can men do to improve their fertility chances?

Dr. Fisch: The best thing a man can do is stay in shape. Check your testosterone level and if it's low, talk to your doctor about strategies for improving it. Losing weight through diet and exercise is the best thing a man can do to increase testosterone levels and increase fertility. Avoid cigarettes, fatty foods, recreational drugs, and excessive alcohol (alcohol is a sexual depressant). Avoid hot tubs and sexual lubricants. Also avoid supplements that contain testosterone, or testosterone precursors, as these will definitely decrease sperm production.

Dr. Manny: What about the use of antioxidants or diet to improve sperm counts?

Dr. Fisch: Antioxidants, in combination with a healthy diet, will improve sperm count. What is a healthy diet? Well, if a man is overweight he is most likely eating the wrong foods. I recommend the “No breads, pizza, pasta, cookies or cake diet.” This is self-explanatory.

Dr. Manny: Do you think electronic devices (cell phones) make a difference on sperm count or quality of sperm?

Dr. Fisch: The evidence is lacking, but if you are using a cell phone for four hours a day, chances are you need to exercise more. Don't worry about the cell phone. If your only exercise is picking up a phone, that is worrisome. Put the phone down and exercise more!

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