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Smoking and Male Fertility

Are cigarettes making you ‘soft’ in your young age? Recent findings link smoking to male infertility and erectile dysfunction. Smoking impairs male fertility and is known to be a contributing factor in impotence.

Recent studies show that both male and female smokers have lower fertility levels than non-smokers and that men and women who are born to mothers who have smoked have a reduced chance of becoming a parent themselves. It is also known that smoking affects the chances of artificial insemination succeeding.

There are more than 4,000 known compounds in tobacco, the most commonly known being nicotine. It has been estimated that every cigarette reduces an individual’s life expectancy by 14 minutes.

As well as placing undue pressure on the body’s respiratory, circulatory, immune and eliminative systems, smoking interferes with the absorption of vitamins and minerals essential in maintaining reproductive health.

In males, smoking is known to impede fertility by:

  • Lowering the sperm count
  • Harming the mobility of the sperm
  • Affecting the shape of the sperm
  • Reducing the amount of semen
  • Causing impotence

Sperm Count

Male smokers tend to have a sperm count that is 15 per cent lower than that of non-smokers. It is generally considered that a man has a low sperm count if he has less than 20 million sperm in a millilitre of semen.

There have been a number of reports that male sperm counts have declined over the past few decades and tobacco is known to be one of the key factors.

Other reasons thought to contribute to a low sperm count include nutritional imbalances such as deficiencies in vitamin E, zinc and vitamin B12, and hormonal imbalances. Smoking is also known to interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals and disrupt hormone balance.

Sperm Mobility

The health of the sperm will influence performance and therefore fertility. If there is poor mobility of the sperm, also known as “lazy sperm”, sperm function and the chance of conception will be affected. Following ejaculation, the sperm may fail to travel the distance through the cervix and uterus to reach the egg where fertilisation can occur.

Quality of Sperm

The quality and shape of the sperm, as well as the quantity, influences the ability to conceive. For example, if there is a deficiency of zinc, the
sperm may fail to penetrate the egg inhibiting fertilisation. Smoking is known to interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Other important trace elements include calcium, magnesium, iron, selenium and copper.

Shape of Sperm

Some sperm are misshapen and therefore cannot function efficiently. The chances of successful conception are unlikely if the sperm are mutated.

Lack of Volume

Smoking has been linked to a reduction in the amount of semen during ejaculation. Low volume is a common complaint in smokers.


Also known as erectile dysfunction (ED) impotence refers to the consistent inability for a male to sustain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Males may experience degrees of impotence as a total inability to achieve erection, an inconsistent ability to do so, or a tendency to sustain only brief erections.

Erection begins with sensory and mental stimulation. Impulses from the brain and local nerves cause the muscles within the penis to relax, allowing blood to flow in and fill the open spaces.

The blood creates pressure in the muscles, making the penis expand. The membrane surrounding the muscles helps to trap the blood in the muscles thereby sustaining erection. Erection is reversed when muscles in the penis contract, stopping the inflow of blood and opening out-flow channels.

Any disorder that impairs blood flow in the penis has the potential to cause impotence. It is known that smoking can lead to the degeneration of the blood vessels that carry blood to the penis. An erection cannot occur unless blood can flow freely into the penis. Therefore it is important that these blood vessels are in a healthy condition to facilitate circulation.

Recent studies show that nicotine:

  • Closes up the arteries that lead to the penis
  • Reduce the pressure of blood in the penis
  • Is thought to encourage blood flow out of the penis

Recent figures from the British Medical Association estimate that 12,000 ‘young’ British males are impotent due to smoking. Furthermore the incidence of erectile dysfunction is thought to increase by 50 per cent for men in their thirties and forties.

It is known that smokers who quit immediately improve their chances of producing healthy sperm and conceiving. Health professionals advise couples planning a pregnancy to allow at least three to six months preparation before conceiving so the red blood cells can fully regenerate

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