Have you been constantly trying to conceive without success? Are you wondering if you or your partner could be infertile? Infertility is a common problem for many men and women. Although this list should not be used to diagnose infertility, it can be used as a guide to help you understand some common reasons for infertility. Medically speaking, a risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a condition, disease or symptom. Although there are some reasons for infertility that you do not have control over, such as your age, there are many things that you can do to increase your chances of conceiving.
Reasons for Infertility
It should come as no surprise that a woman’s age can affect her fertility. As a woman’s age increases, her fertility tends to decrease. Women start to have trouble conceiving at about 32 years old and this decline continues with age. By 40, a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant is down to 67%. After five years, this same woman’s chance of becoming pregnant has gone down to 15%. Although men are not affected like women, middle aged men are usually less fertile than men in their 20s. Like women, men’s fertility begins to decrease after the age of 40.
Smoking is also known to increase the risk of infertility in both men and women. This is because smoking releases more than 7000 chemicals in the body and affects all organs, including reproductive organs. Smoking can affect women’s ability to ovulate and can damage their eggs. Smoking can affect men’s sperm count and mobility, and can also cause erectile dysfunction.
Although drinking alcohol can help you relax at the end of a long day, especially when you are stressed about not being able to conceive, alcohol consumption can lower your fertility. Although drinking alcohol in moderation has not been shown to affect all men, it can lower fertility in men who have a low sperm count. So, drinking two or more drinks per day may be as harmful as binge drinking (five+ drinks during one occasion). Heavy alcohol consumption can also cause abnormal menstrual cycles, which can make it more difficult to predict ovulation.
Leading a sedentary lifestyle
Although it can be difficult to find time to exercise, leading a sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain and obesity. Being overweight and not exercising are common reasons for infertility in women. When body fat levels are 10-15% above normal, a woman’s body starts to produce more estrogen than needed, which can throw off the reproductive cycle. In addition, men who are overweight are more likely to have abnormal sperm.
Anorexia and bulimia usually come to mind with the term “eating disorder”. Even though women who engage in extreme diet and exercise may not meet the criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis, women who are underweight are also likely to experience problems with fertility. When body fat levels are 10-15% below normal, a woman’s reproductive system can completely shut down. Like women who are underweight, vegetarians and vegans may lack important vitamin and nutrients including B-12, zinc, iron and folic acid, which makes it more difficult to conceive.
Just like the lack of exercise can cause problems with fertility, over exercising can also cause problems. Women who exercise more than seven hours per week can have trouble ovulating and have irregular menstrual cycles. When too much exercise results in the loss of too much body fat, a woman’s estrogen levels can change resulting in infertility. Even when menstrual cycles continue to be consistent, just four hours of intense exercise per week can lower a woman’s chances of conception by 40%. Too much exercise can also cause infertility in men because when his body becomes overheated and his temperature rises above 96 degrees, it can cause sperm to die. Men who are underweight (i.e. have low body fat) may also experience low sperm mobility.
Sexually transmitted diseases
If you and your partner are monogamous, STDs may not be on your radar. However, if either of you had multiple sex partners in the past and condoms were not always used, it could be a good idea to be tested if you haven’t already done so. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two STDs that do not always have obvious symptoms, but both can cause infertility in men and women if left untreated.
Occupational and environmental risks
Prolonged exposure to high levels of stress, high temperatures, chemicals, radiation, or heavy electromagnetic or microwave emissions may reduce fertility in both men and women. In addition, men and women may also become infertile if exposed to certain pesticides, herbicides, lead, and solvents. If this describes your work environment or your partner’s, you may want to see what you can do to limit exposure.
Experiencing stress can affect both men and women. When women are stressed, it affects ovulation. When men are stressed, it can reduce sperm production. Since our brains control both reproductive hormones and stress hormones, when stress hormones are high, they can stop menstruation in women. Stress is one of the major reasons for infertility since not having sex affects your chance of conceiving. In addition, being stressed about not being able to conceive can create a cycle (no baby = stress and stress= no baby).
If you have a chronic illness like diabetes, lupus, arthritis, hypertension, or asthma, your body may be under a great deal of physical stress. This stress can interfere with normal functions such as ovulation. Conditions that lead to weight loss can stop menstruation altogether, making it very difficult to conceive. Treatment for diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis may also decrease fertility because treatment includes taking hormones that stop you from ovulating.