Low sperm count means that the number of sperm present is lower than normal. This can make it harder, though not impossible, to impregnate a woman. Men with fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen are said to have low sperm count, also called oligospermia. A complete lack of sperm is called azoospermia. Problems with the quality or motility of sperm as well as the number can also contribute to male infertility.

Low sperm count can be caused by a number of different medical, environmental or lifestyle factors. You can learn more about the medical causes of male infertility here (link to previous blog).

Luckily, many environmental and lifestyle factors that cause male infertility are within a man’s control.

Drugs. Anabolic steroids used to improve muscle growth and strength actually cause the testicles to shrink and decrease sperm production. Drugs like marijuana and cocaine can also reduce sperm production.

Alcohol. Alcohol use lowers testosterone levels and decreases sperm production.

Smoking. Smokers have been shown to have a lower sperm count than non-smokers.

Stress. Severe or prolonged stress can affect the hormonal systems necessary for producing sperm.

Being overweight. Obesity affects hormone systems in both men and women, reducing fertility.

Overheating the testicles. Elevated temperatures in the scrotum can impair sperm production and function. Sitting for long periods, wearing tight clothing or working with a computer on the lap can all elevate the temperature in the groin area. Frequent use of hot tubs or saunas may create a similar effect.

Exposure to heavy metal or chemicals. Lead and other heavy metal exposure has been shown to cause infertility in men. Also, extended exposure to herbicides, pesticides, organic solvents, paint, benzenes, toluene or xylene may contribute to low sperm counts.

Radiation. Exposure to radiation through x-rays, radiation therapy or by accident in a work setting can reduce sperm production for up to several years. High doses of radiation can permanently reduce sperm production.

You may not be able to control all of these aspects of your life, but there are many things you can do to optimize your fertility. Many of them come down to focusing on a healthy lifestyle. Avoid drugs and limit alcohol use. Take steps to stop smoking. Get a handle on your weight. Steer clear of toxins such as herbicides and pesticides, heavy metals, petroleum and solvents.

Reduce excess heat on the testicles by avoiding hot tubs and saunas, use laptop computers on a desk or table instead of your lap, and wear loose-fitting underwear and pants. If you are under a lot of stress, including the stress that comes from dealing with infertility, look for ways to relax. Meditation, deep breathing, getting out into nature, spending time on a hobby you enjoy, reducing work hours, exercising, getting a massage, hanging out with friends, listening to music, laughing and practicing gratitude are all ways to reduce stress. By sharing some of these activities with your partner, you can both benefit from the stress-relieving effects, increasing your overall health and wellbeing as well as your chances of conceiving.