As a kid, how many times did your mother tell you to put a coat on before going outside in the winter so that you wouldn’t get sick? In my family, this was a cardinal sin… but then again we were pretty healthy kids.
The coat-in-the-winter-thing is all about susceptibility. You still need to be exposed to a virus to get sick but that’s beside the point. But, when it comes to male fertility, I believe that the susceptibility argument holds water.
Do the Math
When it comes to things that affect fertility, the math is 1+1+1= more than 3. Piling on insults to fertility is not simply additive but more likely synergistic. It’s the “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” idea, just turned a little sideways.
The first time this occurred to me was when we analyzed our data on how semen quality among infertile men improved after discontinuing hot tubs and baths. The sperm counts in many men took off after cooling the jewels for 3 to 6 months. But the semen quality in other men did not respond at all. When we took a closer look at the nonresponders, we found that they were more likely to be smokers and have varicoceles, two other insults that hurt a man’s fertility. The more that holds a man down, the more likely he won’t get up.
The second time the susceptibility idea surfaced was during a flu season. Even with the flu shot, damn near everyone gets the flu over the winter. I noticed that, unlike men with normal sperm counts, guys with low sperm counts often became temporarily azoospermic (sterile!) when hit with the flu. Pretty scary to be helping a man improve his fertility only to see his sperm count tank with a couple of days of fevers and body aches. Whatever causes the low sperm counts in the first place may also make men less robust in the face of further insults.
Add to these examples men with varicoceles using recreational drugs or taking medications like propecia and you can see how many iterations of insults are possible, all working to keep a good man down.
So, the little things really do matter when it comes to your fertility. Sperm production is an engine that wants to run hard and at high RPM; so don’t forget to change the oil, keep it tuned and put gas in the tank. Take great care of yourself, treat your body like a temple and consume things in moderation. And yes, listen to your mother and put on a coat in the winter.