The Influence of Lifestyle on Male and Female Fertility

April 14, 2017

by Dr. Rob Downer, Clinical Embryologist

It’s strange… when we eat a poor diet, smoke and don’t exercise we expect to see a negative impact to our general health, but we don’t necessarily expect it to affect our fertility. We tend to think of our fertility as a constant, I’m either fertile or I’m not. However, this is not the case.

How we treat our bodies and conduct our lifestyle can have a dramatic affect on our fertility and, if there’s not some underlying pathology or fertility problem, simple changes to our lifestyle can optimise fertility for both men and women.

Making positive lifestyle changes is something you can do together. Going for a walk together a few evenings a week is both good exercise and nice together time for you both. You can support each other to make healthier lifestyle decisions on a day to day basis and motivate one another to make a change.


Some points to consider when trying to conceive are:

 Weight

Your Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of your weight versus your height. A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Below 18.5 is considered underweight, above 25 is overweight and a BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese. It has been demonstrated that women with a BMI greater than 30 have lower pregnancy rates and higher rates of miscarriage compared to women with a normal BMI. Obesity has also been shown to aggravate the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

PCOS  is typified by increased testosterone levels, irregular periods and infertility. For men an increase of 3 or more BMI units has been shown to correlate with a decrease in sperm count and sperm motility (swimming ability) and an increase in sperm DNA damage. There is also a correlation between obesity and erectile dysfunction. Conversely, for both men and women a low BMI has also been associated with infertility.

The good news is that these affects are quite often reversible by optimising your BMI to normal levels.

 Smoking

It’s no secret that smoking is bad for us, but what about the affects of smoking on fertility? Men who smoke can have lower sperm counts. Smoking can also affect the ability of the sperm to fertilise an egg. Studies have also shown that smoking can increase sperm DNA damage, which can lead to decreased embryo quality. In women, smoking correlates with an increased risk of infertility due to decreased ovarian function and reduced numbers of eggs in the ovaries.

Smoking can also cause changes in the uterine environment, which can affect pregnancy rates.

 Alcohol

How much is too much when trying to conceive? As little as one drink a week can have a negative impact on a woman’s hormone levels leading to decreased pregnancy rates and increased miscarriage rates. For men, alcohol consumption is associated with decreased sex drive, decreased sperm motility and poorer sperm shape, all of which have a negative impact to fertility.

Best advice is to avoid alcohol when trying to conceive and for women to eliminate alcohol completely while pregnant.

 Diet

A varied and healthy diet is key. For men, a diet rich in carbohydrates, fibre, fruit, vegetables and antioxidants like vitamin C is beneficial to sperm quality. In addition, pregnancy rates are lower when the male partner is deficient in vitamin D. Women who consume less trans-fats, more vegetable protein than animal protein, less sugar, less caffeine, more iron and multivitamin supplements have lower rates of infertility due to disorders of the ovaries.

 Stress

Our modern lifestyles are synonymous with stress. We all have stress in our lives and the tendency to become stressed varies from individual to individual. It has been demonstrated that stress and anxiety can have a negative impact on both male and female fertility. When trying to conceive you both should try to keep stress to minimum and alleviate stress in a way to suits you best.

 Mobile phones

Mobile phones are here to stay and nobody is suggesting that you get rid of your phone. However, men who carry their mobile phone in their front trousers pocket or on their hip run a higher risk of damaging their sperm count, motility and shape due to exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic waves produced by the phone. For the guys it’s best to keep your phone in a breast pocket of a shirt or jacket!


If you are trying to or planning to conceive it is worth considering the influence of lifestyle factors to your fertility. Be honest with yourself because small changes may make all the difference.

If you are trying to get contact us today at our fertility clinics in Cork, Dublin, Limerick and Kilkenny for expert advice and treatment options.

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