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15 Everyday Things That May Be Harming Your Fertility

Want to make a baby? Read this first.

1. That cigarette you only smoke 'socially'


Smoking wreaks havoc on both male and female fertility, but it’s particularly harmful for women, says David Diaz, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in California. “Tobacco contains over 250 byproducts known to be oocyte toxic,” he explains. “The effect is so severe that we’ve found these toxins polluting the egg environment, inside the follicle of the ovary.” Smoking shortens your fertile years, bringing on menopause an average of five years earlier. (These are other risk factors for early menopause.) Men don’t escape the ill effects either, says Philip Werthman, MD, director of the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine and Vasectomy Reversal in Los Angeles. “Men who are trying to father a child should not smoke at all, ever,” he says. The secondhand smoke can poison the mother of his child. And, he says, this goes double for pot smoking. “Smoking marijuana is horrendous, it’s basically an unfiltered cigarette.” These tips can help you quit smoking for good.

2. Those extra pounds on the scale


Your fertility is just one of many of your body’s systems that suffer when you fill up on junk food and forget to exercise. In addition to raising your risk of illnesses like diabetes and cancer that could affect infertility, weight gain also has subtler effects on fertility. For both men and women, the more fat you carry, the more estrogen your body produces and out-of-whack hormones are a leading cause of infertility in both genders, both doctors say. (Every couple should pay attention to these silent signs of infertility.) In overweight women, extra weight can cause insulin resistance, which leads to a decrease in the quality of eggs and the frequency of ovulation, Dr. Diaz says. While in obese men, the extra body weight overheats the testicles which decreases sperm quality, Dr. Werthman says.

3. That hot yoga class you love


Heat is death to sperm, Dr. Werthman says. “Ideally the testicles should be two degrees lower than core body temperature to make sperm,” he explains, adding that this is why they’re located outside of the body. And anything that heats up the body also can heat up the testicles. So if you’re trying for a baby Dr. Werthman recommends steering totally clear of hot tubs, hot yoga (regular yoga is just fine), saunas, tight underwear or clothing, and hot baths. Even the heat from laptops has been implicated in decreased sperm quality, according to a study done by Loyola University.

4. Those antidepressants in your cabinet


Because the penis is connected to the vascular system, there is a long list of medications that can reduce a man’s ability to get or maintain an erection, therefore reducing his ability to impregnate his partner. But when it comes to your sperm, there’s one common type of drug you need to be particularly wary of, Dr. Werthman says. "Antidepressants can cause DNA damage to sperm as well as affect sexual performance," he says. Women fare slightly better when it comes to medications. "Other than extremely toxic drugs used in chemotherapy, the egg is fairly resistant to most medicines," Dr. Diaz explains. It a whole other story, however, once a woman is pregnant. There are many drugs known or suspected to cause harm to a growing fetus. None of this means you should stop your medications if you're trying to have a baby but it is something both partners should discuss with a doctor.

5. That coffee habit you can't break


"More than two cups of coffee a day impairs sperm production," Dr. Werthman says. He recommends that men trying to help their partners conceive quit their coffee habit until she's pregnant. For women, the effects are a little more severe, especially for women already struggling with infertility. Ladies who drank a significant amount of coffee "severely reduced" their chances of getting pregnant via IVF, according to a study presented by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. Similarly, a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that drinking two cups or more of coffee per day doubled a woman's risk of miscarriage. This is what happens to your body when you stop drinking coffee.

6. Those varicose veins


File this under weird-but-true: "The number-one medical reason for male infertility is varicose veins around the testicles," says Dr. Werthman. Varicose veins, those bulging and sometimes painful swollen lines under your skin, are most commonly seen on the legs but can occur anywhere in the body, including on or in the genitals. And when men get them on their testicles, the increased blood flow from the veins can raise the temperature and hurt the sperm. Women can also get genital varicose veins but unless they cause pain during intercourse, they're unlikely to interfere with getting pregnant.

7. That Tinder hook-up


Everyone knows (hopefully) that unprotected sex can result in some seriously scary sexually transmitted diseases that can hurt your health and even threaten your life if untreated. But what many people don't realize is how quickly some STDs (gonorrhea and chlamydia in particular) can render you infertile—often before you even know you have them, Dr. Werthman says. "Many STDs don't show symptoms in their early stages and can cause permanent blockage and scarring of the reproductive tract if not treated," he explains. Female fertility is even more at risk from STDs, Dr. Diaz says. "The first thing many STDs damage are the fallopian tubes, causing adhesions so the egg can't get in the tube," he says, adding that preserving fertility is one reason why both boys and girls should get the HPV vaccine which innoculates against the human papilloma virus. Make sure you know the truth about these HPV myths.

8. That romantic bottle of wine on your date


How much alcohol is safe to drink while you're trying to conceive a child? The answer is simple, according to both doctors: none. Women who drink more than a glass or two of alcohol a day reduce their fertility, reports a study published in The BMJ. And separate research shows that increased alcohol intake leads to reduced sperm count in men. "Is it possible to have a few drinks and still successfully get pregnant? Sure, it happens all the time," Dr. Diaz says. "But if you're having problems conceiving why take the risk? It's an easy fix."

9. That family history no one talks about but should


Genetics run strong and never is that more true than when you're trying to combine genes to make a baby. "Women should talk to their doctors about a history of female cancers, early menopause, and endometriosis," Dr. Diaz says. Men should watch out for Klinefelter's syndrome—a genetic condition that prevents sperm production and affects one in 400 men, making it more common than you might think, Dr. Werthman says.

10. Those supplements on your kitchen shelf


Supplements are one of the great unknowns in health today, thanks to a lack of testing and little FDA regulation. Many supplements contain ingredients with little or no research to back them and often don't contain what the label says they do. And when it comes to fertility what you don't know can definitely hurt you. There are certain herbs and ingredients that can impair your fertility directly not to mention hormones, prescription, and even illegal drugs that have been found in some brands. The worst offenders? "Stay away from anything touting male enhancement, PMS or menopause relief, increased sex drive, bodybuilding or workout aids, and weight loss," says Dr. Diaz. He adds that many Chinese herbs and high concentrations of soy can be problematic when trying to conceive.

11. That plastic water bottle on your desk


Drinking more water is one of the best things you can do for your body. So kudos to you for being proactive and keeping a water bottle handy. Unfortunately the type of water bottle you use could be hurting your fertility, says Dr. Diaz. Many hard plastics may contain toxins (like BPA) that act as "environmental estrogens" that throw your hormones out of whack. "It's not the biggest factor in fertility but I do recommend my patients use metal or glass water bottles," he says.

12. Those soaps in your shower


"There are some chemicals in cosmetics that act as artificial estrogen and can shut off the ovulatory hormones," Dr. Diaz explains. And if you're a man or a woman who doesn't wear makeup don't think you're off the hook. These common chemicals, most notably parabens, are found in many lotions, shave gels, shampoos, body washes, and soaps.

13. That stressful deadline at work


"Stress is one of the lesser-known contributors to infertility but it can have a very real effect," Dr. Diaz says. First, stress increases adrenaline and cortisol, your "fight or flight" hormones, which can suppress the reproductive system in both men and women. But perhaps even more importantly stress can play a big role in other factors of infertility causing you to eat more junk food, take more medications, exercise less, and get sick more. These are clear signs stress is making you sick.

14. Those clouds of smog outside your window


Living in areas with high air pollution reduced fertility by up to 30 percent, according to a study done by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The scientists found that pollution reduced a woman's progesterone and decreased ovulation. "Contaminants are everywhere and it's impossible to completely avoid pollution but whatever you can do to mitigate that risk will help," Dr. Diaz says.

15. That birth date on your driver's license


"Aging is the single most important and yet the least appreciated risk when it comes to female infertility," Dr. Diaz says. "Eggs have a finite lifespan that starts way back when you were in your mother's womb and you'll never have more than that. Every day a woman naturally loses about 150 eggs." This means that despite our culture's insistence to the contrary, women do have a limited window of fertility, he adds. It isn't something you can control, of course, but it is something to keep in mind. Men, according to Dr. Werthman, don't have to worry quite so much but he says that sperm quality can decline with age, potentially upping the risk for genetic problems in the fetus.


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