It seems temperature is in the news. Fears of global warming, the advantages of retiring to a warmer climate, cold hands warm heart…. When comes to our health, temperature is in on our minds. It turns out that heat is also a consideration when looking at fertility health, in particular male fertility health.
With respect to medical testing, Male fertility health is linked most commonly to results of a semen analysis. This is an attempt to relate the findings of looking at semen and sperm, using a microscope and other tools, to the ability of a male to conceive a child with his partner. The semen analysis commonly looks at semen volume, sperm count or density, sperm motility and the shape of the sperm also known as the morphology. Since the testicles make the sperm, a special focus is placed there when evaluating male fertility.
The testicles reside in the scrotum and are maintained about two degrees cooler than core body temperature. When it’s hot, the scrotum relaxes and the testicles settle lower, and, as all men know, when it’s cold, they rise up and are held close to the body. If testicular temperature is maintained above a desirable level, for a prolonged period, it can impair sperm production – not just the quantity, but also the quality. Prolonged, repeated visits, to the hot tub, for example may be relaxing, but may work against your reproductive health.
In a report from the 2007 International Brazilian Journal of Urology, men who repeatedly subjected their testicles to prolonged immersion in hot water through hot tubs, were found to have an impairment of sperm production in terms of count, and motility. Furthermore, after cessation of prolonged heat exposure, several patients were found to have improvement in their semen analysis.
Fever can be considered another source of heat. Prolonged fever or illness is associated with an impairment in male fertility. Even after recovery, it may take a few months for sperm quality to return to normal. Systemic illness such as poorly controlled diabetes can also contribute to fertility issues.
Heat radiation to the testes from outside sources is another potential contributor to abnormalities in sperm production. Chefs that stand in front of a hot oven all day may be at risk. New sources of heat radiation have arrived with new technologies. Recently, laptops were in the news as they produce significant heat radiation. Something more than just pants should be between your laptop and your testicles. Cell phones also emit microwaves when in use. Do you keep your phone in your pocket on extended phone calls, while you talk through Bluetooth? It’s probably not a good idea, at least not for extended calls.
When it comes to heat and testicles, everyone seems focused on underwear. Interestingly, it probably makes no difference what you wear. In a 1998 study, 58 men were randomized to see the effects, literally of boxers versus briefs. No significant difference could be found with respect to scrotal temperature and what type of underwear was worn.
Health considerations, lifestyle choices and environment can all affect fertility health. Common sense advice of getting enough sleep (most of us don’t), eating right, getting exercise, avoiding smoking all count toward maximizing our potential. Being aware of sources of excess heat, exogenous or endogenous can also help fertility patients on their way to achieving their goal of having a child.