15 Factors That Negatively Affect Fertility

Deciding to start a family can be a very exciting time in a couple’s life. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t come so easily to everyone. Fertility is a crucial aspect of reproductive health, but many factors can negatively influence an individual’s ability to conceive. Understanding these factors will be important for those looking to start or expand their families.

This article explores 15 significant elements that may negatively impact fertility, which range from lifestyle choices to environmental influences and genetic factors. Hopefully, this list will raise awareness of the harsh realities and complexities of fertility.

1. Physically Demanding Jobs

A Harvard study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that women with physically demanding jobs have a tougher time getting pregnant. Researchers studied 500 women seeking fertility treatment and documented that those who do heavy lifting at work had 8.8% fewer total eggs and 14.1% fewer mature eggs compared to women who do not overexert themselves at work.

2. Irregular Shifts

In addition to heavy lifting, irregular shifts also impact fertility, suggests the same Harvard study. Working the late shift or picking up more shifts throughout the week can disrupt the circadian rhythm. Women working outside the 9-to-5 norm experienced a 28% reduction in eggs.

3. Stress

Again, work appears to be the culprit. Working in a high-pressure work environment like finance hinders a woman’s ability to conceive. Male-centric work environments also contribute to infertility.

In 2014, a study of 400 couples monitored the levels of alpha-amylase – a stress biomarker – among women over the course of a year. The results, published in Human Reproduction, found that women with high levels of alpha-amylase doubled their risk of infertility compared to those with the lowest levels.

4. Excessive Exercise

Based on a study conducted in 2012, women who engage in vigorous exercise for more than 5 hours every week take significantly longer to get pregnant. Researchers concluded that high-intensity workouts negatively affect ovulation and implantation. Moderate exercise, however, boosted fertility.

5. Too Much TV

According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, increased hours of TV means a decrease in sperm concentration. The male participants in this study, who watched more than 20 hours of TV per week, had a 44% lower sperm concentration compared to those who watched no TV. On the other hand, men who exercised more than 15 hours a week had a 73% higher sperm concentration.

6. Pocketing an iPhone

According to a 2014 meta-analysis, cellphone exposure may weaken sperm. When phones emit radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation, it can damage DNA and hinder a sperm’s ability to fertilize. Additionally, phones emit heat when in use which can also reduce sperm production.

7. Processed Meats

A study published in the journal Epidemiology in 2014 revealed that consumption of processed red meat, such as hot dogs, burgers, and bacon, negatively impacted sperm count and mobility. The researchers believe the culprit behind the sparse, slow swimmers is the saturated fat in these meats. On the other hand, men who ate more poultry had more fertile sperm.

8. Smoking

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, smoking causes 13% of all infertility cases. Not only does smoking age ovaries and diminish a woman’s egg supply, but it also lowers a man’s sperm count.

9. Too Much or Too Little Sex

Have sex every other day around ovulation, says Dr. Diana Bitner, MD, an ob-gyn at Spectrum Health Medical Group in Grand Rapids, Mich. Having sex too frequently can significantly drop a guy’s sperm count.

On the other hand, having sex regularly, not just when you are most likely to get pregnant, sends important messages throughout a woman’s body, argues a 2015 study published in Fertility and Sterility. Instead of merely focusing on fighting illnesses, the immune system shifts its focus to reproduction.

10. BMI in the Obese Range

According to the National Institutes of Health, it turns out that a man’s weight has just as much effect on fertility as a woman’s weight. Recently published in the journal Human Reproduction, a new study discovered an obese couple takes up to 59% longer to get pregnant than those in the healthy BMI range.

11. Drinking Too Many Sodas

Interestingly, a 2016 study, consisting of 524 patients, linked artificial sweeteners common in diet sodas to lower fertility rates. Similarly, sugar additives in other drinks also impact the quality of eggs and embryos. Since soft drinks can lead to obesity and diabetes – both of which affect fertility – further research is required to validate the connection between artificial sweeteners and conception.

12. Diet High in Trans-Fat

Even if a couple is relatively slim, they can still incur fertility problems if they consume high quantities of trans-fat. Consuming large quantities of trans-fat can damage ovaries and can result in low-quality embryos.

13. Kissing the Wrong Person

Recently, an Italian study found that 43% of the women participating had HHV-6A, one of the human herpes. The primary way of passing this virus is through saliva, meaning it can be unknowingly transmitted through kissing. The preliminary findings of this research provide a breakthrough for millions of women with unexplained primary infertility.

14. Too Much or Too Little Sleep

Indulging in a few more hours of sleep could affect your ability to conceive. In a survey of over 700 American couples, men who slept more than 9 hours or less than 6 hours per night reduced their chances of conception by over 40%. More than likely, sleep duration affects the release of testosterone overnight. The study recommends 8 hours of sleep a night for peak fecundity.

15. Drinking a Lot of Alcohol

In a Danish study consisting of over 6000 women aged 21-45, those who drank over 14 servings of alcohol per week (equivalent to 7 glasses of wine – higher than NHS guidelines) lowered their chances of conceiving by 18%. The NHS advises that women give up alcohol altogether if they are trying to conceive.

Navigating these negative factors on fertility can be daunting, but awareness is a great first step. By recognizing what is listed in this article, individuals and couples can move forward make informed decisions regarding their reproductive health, and feel hopeful on their journey to parenthood.

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This article was updated on 5/29/2024.

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