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Fact or Fiction? Does stress affect male fertility?

Stress is a common part of most people’s lives today. You could have a stressful job, perhaps you are experiencing or have experienced a stressful life event or maybe you are a highly anxious person. We all know the negatives effects stress can have on your heart and weight but do we know if it affects male fertility?

A recent study in Fertility and Sterility journal by researchers at Columbia University and Rutgers School of Public Health found a correlation between increased stress and decreased male fertility. The study analysed the semen samples of 193 men aged between 38 and 49 and found that men who had experienced two or more stressful life events in the past year had reduced sperm motility and morphology compared to those who had not.

Some believe this link to be more than just random correlation and instead believe increased stress can cause a reduction in the hormone that controls the release of testosterone (luteinizing hormone) and therefore decrease testosterone levels which in turn affects the quality of sperm produced.

Moreover, acute stress may also impair testicular function due to the death of cells (apoptosis) of the cells that produce sperm (germ cells) and the cells that produce testosterone (Leydig cells) found in the testicles. Indeed, a pre-clinical trial on rats saw higher levels of testicular cell death in stressed rats.

A general limitation of stress studies tends to be the self reported nature of stress - which is by definition subjective. Yet, the causal relation between stress and male infertility should not be overlooked because of this.


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