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Stressful life events linked to low sperm count

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Men who are stressed out have lower sperm quality

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Infertility is a common yet complex problem affecting approximately 10 -15 % of couples attempting to conceive a baby. According to the Urology Care Foundation problems with the production and development of sperm are the most common problems of male infertility. Sperm may be underdeveloped, abnormally shaped or unable to move properly. Or, normal sperm may be produced in abnormally low numbers (oligospermia) or seemingly not at all.

In this new study researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York, New York, and Rutgers School of Public Health in Piscataway, New Jersey examined the association between work-related stress, stressful life events, and perceived stress and semen quality.

This new study involved 193 men, aged 38 to 49 years and was a part of the Study of the Environment and Reproduction at the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in Oakland, California between the years 2005 and 2008.

The men underwent testing that measured stress levels that include job strain, perceived stress, and stressful life events. The men also provided semen samples. Using standard fertility testing, technicians at the University of California, Davis evaluated the sample s for sperm concentration, percentage of motile sperm, and percentage of morphologically normal sperm.

The researchers found that life stress had reduced semen quality even after taking into account men’s worry over fertility, history of reproductive health issues and effect of age.

Men who had two or more stressful life events within the last year had a lower percentage of sperm motility and sperm of normal morphology compared to men who had no stressful life events.

Workplace stress had no direct effect on semen quality however; researchers note that this could affect reproductive health due to the fact men who had job strain had diminished levels of testosterone. Men who were unemployed had lower quality sperm compared to employed men regardless of stress levels.

Even though the researchers cannot find out how stress exactly affects sperm quality they do a few theories. On theory is stress may trigger glucocorticoids which are steroid hormones with powerful anti-inflammatory effects produced by the human body, which may dull levels of testosterone and sperm production. Another theory is oxidative stress which has been shown to lower sperm and semen concentration, appearance and ability to fertilize an egg.

According to Dr. Pam Factor-Litvak, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health and senor author, “Men who feel stressed are more likely to have lower concentrations of sperm in their ejaculate, and the sperm they have are more likely to be misshapen or have impaired motility.” These deficits could be associated with fertility problems.”

Also, commenting on this study’s outcomes is Dr. Teresa Janevic, PhD, the study’s first author and an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health, said "Stress has long been identified as having an influence on health. Our research suggests that men's reproductive health may also be affected by their social environment.”

This study is published in the journal Fertility and Sterility

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