Dear Dr. G,

My wife and I have been married for seven years and we have a five-year old son.

We want another child and have been trying for four years without any success.

I recently went to the doctor and was told told the quality of my sperm wasn’t great and just OK.ADVERTISING

He advised me to stop drinking and quit smoking to enhance my chance of fathering another child.

But I am not convinced – if I managed to get my wife pregnant the first time, with equal (or even more) spirits and cigarettes, surely they are not that harmful to my sperm count.

In the spirit of year-end festivity, I would like to put Dr G on the spot for clarification on this.

Are smoking and drinking really harmful to sperm quality? How does alcohol and cigarettes affect it and much is too much?

Since I have been a life-long smoker and drinker, how long will it take for me to reach my full potential should I quit?

Apart from stopping smoking and drinking, what else I can do to enhance the quality of my seeds in the sac?

Spirited Steven

Infertility is the inability of a person or couple to reproduce by natural means. Generally, this is the inability for couples to achieve pregnancy after one year of regular intercourse with no contraception. It is estimated that up to 28% of couples experience involuntary childlessness and one-third of such infertility has male factor aetiology.

One would assume that successfully conceiving a first baby would guarantee a second pregnancy. Wrong! In fact, being unable to conceive after the first child is called secondary infertility and is more common than not being able to conceive for the first time! Having a normal gynecological check up and semen parameters are also not a guarantee for conception.

Multiple causes have been linked to male-factor infertility. The consumption of alcohol and smoking are well known to hinder the production of sperm. The excessive consumption of alcohol impairs liver function and increases the female hormone estrogen, which may negatively impact spermatogenesis. Cigarettes also induce deformity and immotile gametes, which had big impact on fertility.

The European Urology journal also published a meta-analysis of 20 studies on over 5,000 people, confirming smoking was associated with decreased sperm count, motility and morphology. The study also revealed smokers have lower zinc levels in semen, resulting in deformity.

This begs the question, how much drinking and smoking is acceptable?

According to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, binge drinking (five or more drinks in two-hours) can lower testosterone and affect sperm quality. Heavy smoking (more than 20 cigarettes per day) is also noted to reduce the sperm concentration and motility by 23% and 13%, respectively. The good news is sperm quality does improve, even with short-term cessation of smoking and drinking. While there is no consensus on the interval to recover the quality of sperm to its former glory but three months is considered the minimum duration required, which is how long sperm take to reach maturity.

Certain food that are associated with enhanced sperm quality include folic acid, zinc, L-arginine as well as anti-oxidants such as selenium and Vitamin E. Generally, a diet that is low in fat and high in protein is healthy for sperm production. Therefore, fruits and vegetables are crucial for healthy sperm.

The American journalist and actor Mo Rocca once proclaimed: “Christmas is a stocking stuffed with sugary goodness!” Indeed, we should not dampen the cheers of festivity with year-end celebration with over-indulgence. There is also little doubt that excessive binge drinking and heavy smoking also affects overall health in the long run.

Although it is tempting to continue to be naughty and “save Santa the trip”, rewards from stopping smoking and drinking may not just revive your sperm back to its former glory, but can also ensure future Christmases are stuffed with healthy goodness!

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