It’s common knowledge that obesity causes a lot of health problems. When you’re obese, you’re in danger of developing diabetes and heart diseases. Obesity can also damage your sexual function and cause your testosterone levels to drop.
Even worse, obesity can also cause a lot of damage to your sperm health. Previous studies on the relationship between obesity and infertility have shown negative associations between obesity and various sperm parameters. Read on to find out which sperm parameters are negatively affected when you’re obese.
Obesity and Poor Sperm Quality
A 2017 study used computer-aided sperm analysis to determine how obesity affects sperm quality. This was the first ever published report on the link between obesity and abnormal sperm parameters that used computer-aided sperm analysis. The study involved 1,285 men who were infertile. Sixteen percent of the participants were obese.
Results of the study indicate that obesity has negative effects on several sperm parameters and not just sperm count. According to the researchers, men whose body mass index (BMI) measured 30 or higher have lower sperm count and volume than men whose BMI were normal.
In addition, a high BMI is also associated with low sperm concentration and low sperm motility. With regard to sperm defects, obese men had higher percentages of sperm with head defects, thin sperm heads, and pyriform or pear-shaped sperm heads. Obese men also had higher risks of oligospermia and asthenospermia.
The researchers suggest that for couples who are seeking infertility treatments, if the man has a BMI over 30, then he should try to lose weight first before assisted reproduction.
How Obesity Affects Male Fertility
Experts have discovered several ways by which obesity impairs male fertility. These mechanisms range from poor endocrine function and hormonal imbalance to high levels of oxidative stress.
Poor Endocrine Function
High BMIs in men have been linked with lower plasma concentrations of testosterone and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), as well as increased estrogen plasma concentration.
When your testosterone levels are low but your estrogen levels are high, you’re at risk of becoming subfertile due to a low sperm count. It will cause a disruption in the feedback loop of your hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis.
The HPG axis is responsible for the production of the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estrogen, and testosterone.
All these hormones are important for normal reproductive functioning. For instance, FSH is necessary for spermatogenesis since your Sertoli cells won’t start producing sperm if they’re not triggered by FSH. On the one hand, your Leydig cells don’t produce testosterone unless they’re triggered by LH.
In short, when you’re obese, you’re at risk of becoming infertile due to a low sperm count. In addition, obesity is associated with high estrogen levels due to increased aromatization of testosterone or conversion of testosterone to estrogen. Low testosterone levels will also contribute to impaired spermatogenesis and poor sexual functioning.
Hyperestrogenemia is a condition wherein the estrogen levels in your blood is abnormally high. In obese men, hyperestrogenemia happens because of too much white adipose tissue.
White adipose tissues produce aromatase enzymes which are responsible for the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. This means that the more white adipose tissue or white fat cells you have, the higher your conversion of testosterone to estrogen will be.
White adipose cells are also responsible for secreting leptin, a hormone that’s popularly called the hunger hormone. Leptin is also referred to as the starvation hormone or the satiety hormone.
Leptin is a signaling hormone which is supposed to send signals to your hypothalamus to tell you that you don’t need to eat because you have enough fat cells stored. Unfortunately, high leptin levels lead to decreased testosterone production by the Leydig cells.
Increased Testicular Temperature
Sperm production is very sensitive to heat. When your testicular temperature is around 34–35°C, that’s when optimal sperm production happens. However, when your scrotal temperature is elevated, your sperm quality will drop.
Unfortunately, obesity can cause your scrotal temperature to increase. When you’re obese, fat cells accumulate in your scrotum. This results in increased gonadal heat. Moreover, when your scrotum is surrounded by thigh fat and suprapubic fat, it can further raise your testicular temperature.
Higher scrotal temperatures are associated with increased sperm oxidative stress. It can also lead to an increase in the number of sperm with fragmented DNA and a reduced sperm motility.
Oxidative stress occurs when levels of free radicals and reactive oxygen species are much higher than antioxidant levels. A high level of oxidative stress is dangerous because it means your antioxidant defense system is unable to keep up with the reactive oxygen species and free radicals which do a lot of damage to your cells.
Unfortunately, obese men tend to have very high oxidative stress levels. This leads to increased sperm DNA damage, reduced sperm concentration, and decreased sperm motility. When your oxidative stress levels are high, free radicals and reactive oxygen species bind to your sperm cells as well as your testicular cells.
These free radicals can cause damage to your sperm cells because they can alter the structure and function of your sperm cells. When free radicals bind to the cellular membrane of your sperm, the structural integrity of your sperm becomes impaired, and the contents of your sperm cell become exposed.
When free radicals attach to the DNA material inside your sperm, the DNA material can become broken and fragmented. On the one hand, when free radicals attack the tail of your sperm, the tail can become crooked, thereby affecting your sperm motility.
Enhance Your Fertility
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