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Factors That Can Affect Fertility in Men and Women

By Jeff Hayward

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Andrea Eisenberg, MD

Conceiving a child may seem like a pretty straightforward process to many, but for some hopeful parents in the U.S., it is a big challenge. Fertility rates worldwide (number of children per mother) are dropping (this can be attributed to many factors, including lifestyle choices), but the fact remains it’s not an easy task to get pregnant in some cases.

Infertility can affect women and men, and it may be a doctor that traces the source of the trouble in conceiving. While there are genetic and age factors at play, researchers have also traced the problem to these seven factors that can be avoided in some cases…

Extra Weight notes obesity in women can cause difficulty in conceiving. According to the source, being overweight can affect hormone production and decrease ovarian function, and the trouble often increases as the weight increases (relative to a woman’s healthy weight).

The source cites a 2009 study that shows women who are highly overweight at an early age (18) are more likely to develop polycystic ovary syndrome (enlarged ovaries containing excess fluid) and experience infertility. This syndrome is the “most common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age”, notes the source.

Lack of Body Fat

While being overweight can trigger infertility, so can being underweight, according to The source notes that body fat levels that are 10- to 15-percent “below normal” can “completely shut down the reproductive process.”

Being underweight can also lead to hormonal imbalances that affect normal ovulation, adds So if you’re currently overweight, starving yourself is not the answer to conceive: make sure you consult a doctor or dietitian to shed pounds the healthy way.


The Mayo Clinic points to certain medications when discussing male infertility. In particular, it notes “long-term anabolic steroid use” as well as testosterone replacement therapy, which is sometimes used as a solution for males who don’t produce normal levels of the hormone.

The list doesn’t stop there: the clinic also mentions cancer medications (chemotherapy), antifungal medications, and ulcer drugs as possibly affecting male fertility. Medications containing opiates (narcotics) can also affect testosterone production and lower the quantity and quality of sperm. The Cleveland Clinic has a more extensive list of medications that can be a culprit in male infertility.


The American Society for Reproductive Medicine puts it rather bluntly: “Women who smoke do not conceive as efficiently as nonsmokers.” However, males are not in the clear if they smoke either. The source explains both men and women have infertility rates that roughly double that of nonsmokers.

The society also notes that the number of cigarettes smoked per day will affect these numbers. Chemicals in cigarettes such as nicotine and cyanide are contributing factors in the rate of egg loss (and earlier menopause) in women and sperm destruction in men, it adds.


Resolve (the national infertility association) notes “emotional factors” can play a role in your infertility. This can be depression (which is a mental illness) or everyday stress from work, home or other factors.

While the source doesn’t offer any immediate solutions to these particular problems, depression is a treatable illness (but keep in mind some sources say depressions medications can also impact fertility). Try taking a holiday or modifying your situation to reduce exposure to stress.

Exposure to Environmental Factors

Internet Health Resources ( details outside substances found in the workplace and natural environment that could possibly impact female fertility. These include lead (which can also lead to abnormal sperm in men), ethylene oxide (used to sterilize medical instruments), x-rays, chemotherapy, and pesticides.

The source adds that while certain environmental factors (referred to as “reproductive toxins”) can affect fertility, they can also lead to birth defects and “artificial abortion”. Luckily, these aforementioned substances are being regulated due to their “ documented infringements on conception”, notes the source.

Electromagnetic Fields

Your microwave, computer and mobile device can all expose you to electromagnetic fields (EMFs), according to a post on the U.S. Library of Medicine. Studies cites note that EMF exposure can affect sperm motility (ability to swim) in men, while research has also shown lower fertility rates in female mice from prolonged EMF exposure.

It’s important to note that the type of EMF is important to the level of risk. People are most often exposed to 50 to 60-Hz “super low” EMFs from power supplies and electronic devices, notes the source. This particular subject (and association to infertility) is still under study and remains controversial.

MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology

Andrea Eisenberg, MD is a board certified OB/GYN in the Metro Detroit area. She has dedicated her life to caring for women through all stages of their lives -- from adolescence, to delivering babies, and later into menopause. Her special interests include minimally invasive surgeries, adolescence, family planning, infertility, and menopause. In her spare time she writes about the human side of medicine on her blog and has several essays published in a variety of journals. To decompress, she enjoys trail running and baking.

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