What impact does smoking have on your infertility?

You’re probably well aware of all the serious health issues that result from smoking cigarettes, but did you know smoking can affect your ability to get your partner pregnant? Smoking affects sperm quality and quantity, presenting a risk for a man’s fertility. Because nearly half of all male smokers are of reproductive age – between 20 and 39 years old – it’s vital to educate men about the effects of smoking on their fertility.

Check out the  Great American Smokeout – where smokers around the country stop smoking for 24 hours in an effort to ditch the pack forever. It’s a pretty good time to turn thoughts of quitting into action.

Chiamaka Nwangwu, a former andrologist at the Marlton office of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey (RMANJ), wants to do just that. Nwangwu recently completed her study into the effect of smoking on sperm quality as part of her graduate project at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Here’s what she found.

The 4 Ways that Smoking Affects Fertility in Males

Nicotine Affects Sperm Production

Because testicles have such a high metabolic demand but an insufficient vascular supply, they are more vulnerable to hypoxia, which is a condition marked by a decreased oxygen supply to tissues. The chemicals found in cigarettes – nicotine, carbon monoxide, lead, formaldehyde, arsenic and hydrogen cyanide – decrease that oxygen supply even further, leading to decreased sperm production and compromising male fertility.

Smoking Affects Sperm Function

Smoking has been shown to reduce the ability for the sperm to fertilize the egg in two ways.

  1. Smoking impairs the movement of flagellum, which is the tail-like second half of sperm that propels the sperm to swim. When this movement is impaired, it becomes more difficult for sperm to reach egg.
  2. In order for the sperm to fertilize the egg, the sperm has to undergo a reaction to release an enzyme called acrosin. Studies have shown that people who smoke have lower acrosomal activity than non-smokers, potentially compromising male fertility.

Smoking Affects Sperm Count and Motility

Sperm health is measured in three ways: sperm count, sperm motility, and sperm morphology.

The first is a count of all sperm in a given concentration, the second is how many swimming sperm that concentration has, and the third is how the sperm sample looks. In any given sperm concentration, the swimming sperm are the ones that drive the chances of achieving a pregnancy, and it’s likely that the higher your sperm count, the higher your motile sperm count.

Different studies have demonstrated that smoking decreases total sperm concentration and sperm motility. Research has shown that heavy male smokers were shown to have a 29% decrease in total sperm count and a 13% decrease in sperm motility compared to non-smoking males.

Smoking Affects Fertility Treatment Outcomes

For some couples seeking fertility treatment, smoking has played a role in their fertility outcome. In one study that looked at whether smoking had any effect on the success of Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), pregnancy rates for couples in which the male partner was a smoker were reduced by 44 per cent. Lower pregnancy rates were also observed for these types of couples during Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).