Does Obesity Affect Male Fertility?

Obese man lying on couch with remote control

The connection between being overweight and health conditions like heart disease or diabetes are well established. However, a lot of men may not be aware of the impact that being overweight or obese can have on male fertility and their children’s health.

While a lot of emphasis is placed on women’s health when it comes to increasing their chances of getting pregnant, a man’s health can be just as important for successfully conceiving, especially when it comes to weight.


Does Being Overweight Or Obese Lower Male Fertility?

According to research, overweight men are 11% more likely to have low sperm counts and nearly 40% more likely to produce no sperm at all, compared to normal-weight men. Even worse, men classified as being obese are have more than a 40% greater chance of having a low sperm count, and over an 80% greater likelihood to produce no sperm. (1)

The good news, though, is that additional research found that when obese men lost weight and kept it off, they saw improvement in sperm concentration and sperm counts. In this study, participants followed an 8-week low-calorie diet and lost an average of 37 lbs. – which resulted in a 40% increase in their sperm counts.

Additionally, the men who maintained the weight loss for one year also maintained their improved sperm counts during that time. (2)


How Is Male Fertility Affected By Obesity?

Male infertility occurs when there is a problem with either the production of sperm or with sperm movement. Some examples of these issues can include:

A variety of factors can result in male infertility, such as genetic abnormalities, hormonal imbalances, and lifestyle factors like your weight and overall fitness. Obesity may impact male fertility by reducing testosterone levels.

The production and growth of sperm cells (called spermatogenesis) relies heavily on the hormone testosterone. Fat cells can directly decrease testosterone by converting it into estrogen.

Testosterone can also be lowered by increased leptin production, which occurs as body fat increases. Therefore, obese men who have high levels of leptin will likely have lower testosterone levels – which impedes sperm production, libido and sexual function. (3)

Obesity can also cause inflammation, which can damage sperm and lead to genetic changes that can be passed to the child.

It takes around 90 days for sperm to fully mature. Therefore, losing weight 2-3 months before trying to conceive may improve your chances for a successful pregnancy.


Sperm Quality and Diet

Research on the effects of lifestyle habits on sperm quality has shown that diet and nutrition have a significant role in sperm formation. A diet low in sugar, dairy, and processed meats, combined with a high amount of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats (like fish and olive oil), can help reduce sperm DNA damage.

Men who follow a healthy diet have also been shown to have a generally higher sperm count, concentration and motility.

Additional research also shows that a diet high in fish, chicken, fruits and vegetables can positively affect testosterone levels. Children born to parents whose diets consist of these foods are also associated with lower rates of chromosomal conditions.


Conclusion

If you’re a man who’s overweight and trying to conceive, it’s important to take 3-6 months to address any health issues and adapt positive changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Following a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise are the best ways to achieve a healthy body composition. This will result in a gradual and healthy weight loss, as well as improved health overall.

Research shows that healthy weight loss in obese men can increase testosterone production and hormone function, and improve sperm quality and fertility.

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References:

  1. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/excess-weight-sperm-fertility/
  2. https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/37/7/1414/6587152?login=false
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41443-022-00534-y
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