Heat is among the top causes of reduced fertility in men. The sources of heat to the family jewels range from tighty whities to laptops to fevers and anatomy issues. All of these things can impact your fertility. Are you cooking your balls?
How does heat affect fertility?
As mentioned in our article on sperm production, sperm are finely crafted little baby making machines. They require a precise environment — 4 degrees cooler than body temperature. For this reason, testicles were fitted with a muscle called the cremaster muscle, which contracts to pull the testicles close to the body when they get too cold and relaxes to let them hang lower when it gets warm. If sperm are exposed to elevated temperatures, they begin to die. This will show up on a semen analysis as reduced motility. If the exposure to heat is prolonged, it can affect sperm production processes, causing the body to produce fewer sperm, many of which may be abnormally shaped. On a semen analysis, this will show up as reduced sperm count and abnormal morphology (often accompanied by reduced motility).
Most common sources of heat
Because it takes 70 days to sperm to mature, it can take up to 3 months to recover sperm counts after a high heat exposure (such as having a fever). Please be sure to indicate to a doctor any possible exposures to heat that may affect sperm count if going in for a fertility workup. Heat can come from external sources like hottubs and laptops, or internal sources like spiking a fever. Here is a list of some of the most common offenders:
Don’t Cook Your Balls!
Here are a few tips to help you maximize your fertility by keeping your boys cool and your troops happy.
Take Breaks : Brief exposures to heat are ok as long as you get up, move around, and let the boys cool off. If you are watching TV curled up under a warm blanket, typing with a laptop on your lap, or taking a dip in a hot tub, make sure to have a cool-off break. If you work in a hot environment, try to take extra trips to the water cooler. (You should be getting hydration anyways). Chef Ramsey discovered that all the time around hot ovens had impacted his fertility, and began a campaign to improve fertility safety for chefs (Read more).
Watch what you wear: This starts with your underwear. Make sure its loose enough to let your boys breath. This applies to your jeans too. Again if you have occupational exposure to heat, investigate options for clothing that deflects heat.
Stay cool in the summer: Studies have shown that there is a natural decline in sperm count during the summer due to increased temperatures. Dips in the pool, time in air conditioning, or even a solid breeze can do a lot to keep your fertility up.
Ice your balls: Sounds awful but could be an effective way to reduce heat in cases of fever or even varicoceles before treatment. We first heard about this idea from the guys behind snowballs. More research is needed to see if this is an effective approach, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Lose weight: Never would have guessed it, but it is actually possible to gain a layer of fat in the scrotum which acts as a nice cozy blanket over the testicle, raising the temperature ever so slightly. Often enough to mess with sperm quality. Fortunately, when people lose weight, they most frequently lose it in out of the way places like fingers, wrists, and feet (I’m going to guess that balls make this list) before taking off the spare tire. So you might not need to lose a ton of pounds to notice a difference in your fertility.
Visit a urologist: Get evaluated to find out if you have a varicocele or other physiological abnormality that contributes to over-heating your testicles. Corrective surgeries are often out-patient procedures and have a high success rate.
This doesn't need to be a taboo subject left in a closet, nor do men need to go through this alone. Education and community are key elements to improving health. Don't cook your balls is a space for us to share science and experience advance the state of male reproductive health care.
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