Smoking & Sperm Health

Top 5 Dangers of Smoking to Sperm Health

Everyone knows that smoking has significant health hazards ranging from lung diseases to cancers. But are smoking and sperm health interlinked? Yes. Smoking can negatively impact your sperm parameters and can even contribute to male infertility.

Smoking does not always translate to infertility. However, if you look at your semen analysis results, your sperm parameters have prominent alterations due to smoking.

This article will review the relationship between smoking and sperm health and its possible impacts on male infertility.

How Are Smoking And Sperm Health Interlinked?

Tobacco smoking is loaded with toxic chemicals and mutagens. They not only influence the lungs but almost all cells of your body, including sperm. Research suggests smoking may lead to the following issues with sperm health:

Smoking May Decrease Sperm Concentration And Sperm Count

The toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke are bad for sperm health, potentially reducing sperm quantity and sperm concentration per ejaculate. The research shows that the sperm concentration of men who smoke declines by around 13–24%, which may lower the chances of fertilization.

Smoking May Inhibit Sperm Motility

Smoking may affect some of the enzymes responsible for energy production of energy and motility in sperm cells. This potentially diminishes sperm motility and may decrease fertility.

Smoking May Cause DNA Fragmentation

Chemicals in tobacco smoke may cause DNA fragmentation in sperm cells. This can damage the chromatin housing sperm DNA, potentially leading to poor fertilization outcomes and recurrent miscarriages.

Smoking May Damage Sperm Morphology

The risk of abnormal sperm morphology or shape of sperm may increase with tobacco smoking, especially if you smoke more than 20 cigarettes per day. For most people, only around 4–10% of their sperm have normal morphology.  Smoking decreases this proportion due to head, tail, or other defects in shape. When you drop below these levels, you decrease the chances of achieving fertilization.

Smoking May Reduce Seminal Volume

You need a certain amount of seminal volume for healthy sperm parameters. However, the semen analysis of some smokers shows a dip in semen volume.

What Are The Effects Of Smoking On Male Reproductive System?

Semen analysis parameters alone often do not necessarily lead to infertility. They may delay pregnancy until you improve your fertility levels (subfertility). Severe infertility often has other additional reproductive abnormalities.

Tobacco smoking may have negative effects on reproductive health, including:

  • Researchers have found evidence pointing towards the possibility of damage to the epididymis in smokers. This is where sperm maturation occurs, so damage to this structure may negatively affect sperm.
  • Smoking may disturb normal hormonal equilibrium, which is crucial for male fertility. Testosterone levels largely remain consistent, but amounts of estrogens may increase. There may also be a drop in FSH and LH hormones levels—these hormones affect Leydig cells of the testes. Therefore, smoking may increase the risk of impaired spermatogenesis.
  • Accessory male glands may also be affected in smokers. Some studies sugges these semen-producing glands, especially the seminal vesicles and prostate, may have decreased functionality in men who smoke.
  • Smoking increases the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) and poor sexual performance, making sex, and by extension fertility, difficult.

Does Vaping Or Chewing Tobacco Have the Same Results?

Vaping and chewing tobacco are two different things.

Chewing tobacco eliminates the smoke and inhalation part of tobacco smoking. It also means that tobacco gets metabolized in your liver before reaching any other part of your body through blood. But the levels of nicotine are the same as cigarette smoking.

The semen analyses of tobacco chewers show compromised sperm health because toxic chemicals still make their way to your blood.

Vaping eliminates tobacco from smoking and only keeps the nicotine part of it. The research studies about vaping and its influence on male fertility are largely inconsistent. More evidence is needed to establish a definitive conclusion, but experts advise against vaping to protect fertility.

You may speculate that eliminating tobacco chemicals should solve the problem. However, nicotine itself is also harmful. It metabolizes as cotinine in the body--a chemical substance known to cause abnormal sperm structure and motility.

What Is The Verdict About Passive Smoking?

Passive smoking, or secondhand smoke, is also bad for male fertility. While passive smoking, you inhale toxic smoke without nicotine. Since cigarette smoke is a critical player in the low-quality sperm parameters, it should come as no surprise that secondhand smoke may lead to decreased sperm motility.

How Many Cigarettes Are Enough To Cause Male Fertility Problems?

Several studies suggest that men who smoke more than 20 cigarettes per day are more likely to experience detrimental outcomes to their sperm. However, some research suggests that even moderate smoking (10–16 cigarettes per day) may affect semen analysis parameters, but more data is needed.

How Long Does It Take To Recover The Damage After Quitting?

Approxmiately three months after quitting, you will likely see your sperm regain their strength. That’s because it takes about 2–3 months for new sperm production and maturation. So if you take a semen analysis test three months after quitting, you may see a reversal of the sperm problems caused by smoking.

Tips For Quitting Smoking While Trying To Conceive

Estimates show that around 15% of men in America smoke ciageretts. Smoking cessation is hard, but not impossible. Here are some tips that make help you quit the habit.

  • Know your reason for quitting: You now understand how smoking can potentially influence sperm health and fertility.
  • Make a decision to quit: Once you decide you want to quit, you’ll need to stick with it.  Overcoming nicotine addiction takes willpower and you need to stay committed. You can go cold turkey or cut back gradually, whichever way you think will work best for you.
  • Keep your eye on the prize:  If improved fertility and better sexual health are your goals, taking a sperm analysis test from time to time may help you track any improvement, and give you added motivation to stick with your program.
  • If you slip up, don’t give up: Smokers often resume the habit before finally quitting. Some studies show that men give up at least three times before getting rid of smoking for good. So, don’t give up or get discouraged if you face a bump. Just get back on your program and keep going.
  • Get help: Reach out to your healthcare provider if you want to try medications to assist in quitting.

References

  1. Dai, J. B., Wang, Z. X., & Qiao, Z. D. (2015). The hazardous effects of tobacco smoking on male fertility. Asian journal of andrology, 17(6), 954–960. doi:10.4103/1008-682X.150847
  2. Harlev A, Agarwal A, Gunes SO, Shetty A, du Plessis SS.   Smoking and Male Infertility: An Evidence-Based Review.   World J Mens Health. 2015 Dec;33(3):143-160.
  3. Klaiber, E L et al. “Interrelationships of cigarette smoking, testicular varicoceles, and seminal fluid indexes.” Fertility and sterility vol. 47,3 (1987): 481-6.
  4. Kovac, J. R., Khanna, A., & Lipshultz, L. I. (2015). The effects of cigarette smoking on male fertility. Postgraduate medicine, 127(3), 338–341.
  5. Szumilas, K., Szumilas, P., Grzywacz, A., & Wilk, A. (2020). The Effects of E-Cigarette Vapor Components on the Morphology and Function of the Male and Female Reproductive Systems: A Systematic Review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(17), 6152. doi:10.3390/ijerph17176152