Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll

In order to escape from the harsh reality of the stressful career of the modern man, many men resort to chemical substances to unwind. The majority of these are legal such as alcohol, tobacco, and many legal highs. The effects of these substances on health are well understood, yet do men really understand the effect these substances have on their fertility?

 The most common ‘drug’ substance consumed by adults in the U.K is caffeine, it is found in tea, coffee, and many soft drinks. Caffeine is an exception to the rule outlined above due to the consumption in order to ‘perk up’ the consumer, as caffeine is a stimulant.

Adenosine acts on the brain receptors to calm the activity of the central nervous system, in course triggering symptoms of fatigue. Caffeine works by binding to the adenosine receptors of the brain, thus blocking them. There seems to be no clear fertility effect due to caffeine consumption, as long as the amount consumed isn’t excessive. Sperm introduced to caffeine in laboratory conditions showed a short-lived increased in sperm motility, however, the sperm motility diminished quicker than normal over a period of time.


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In order to unwind from a stressful day/week at work, modern men flock to bars like bees to honey. Whatever their ‘poison’, many men consume copious amounts of alcohol to escape from their stressful lives. As well as other health problems associated with alcohol such as an increase in weight, liver disease, and high blood pressure- alcohol can affect the male reproductive system.

Studies have found that chronic alcohol consumption is related to a significant reduction in sperm counts and morphology. Prolonged consumption of alcohol can also lead to reduced testosterone levels, possibly causing the testes to shrink as well as contributing to impotence and eventually infertility. Alcohol consumption depletes vital vitamins and minerals such as zinc and vitamin c, which are both essential for healthy sperm.

When alcohol is directly added to sperm samples, a damaging effect is observed in both the motility and morphology of the sperm. However, this effect is hard to measure in case studies due to so many other contributing factors to sperm quality.


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Smoking of tobacco is constantly investigated to determine a possible link with reduced fertility in men. Cigarette smoking is incredibly addictive and is already linked with many ‘big killers’ such as cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Smoking affects fertility in several ways:

  • Reducing the quantity of sperm per ejaculate
  • Increasing the amount of sperm with abnormal morphology
  • Affecting the DNA contained within the sperm

A research team in Germany, led by Professor Mohamad Eid Hammadeh, discovered that smokers often have an uneven ratio of protamine 1: protamine 2, containing too much of the latter. The protamine are highly charged proteins which act as packagers of the human genome, an imbalance in this ratio leaves the sperm vulnerable to DNA damage. Pre-conception smoking can increase the risk of genetic abnormalities in offspring and is a factor for childhood leukemia.

In conclusion, use of stimulants (caffeine), depressants (alcohol) and both (nicotine) assists with the stressful encounters throughout a busy worker’s daily life. Further awareness of the lasting effects these drugs have on men’s fertility would ensure that consumption was less excessive.


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