The Environment and Fertility: What’s Harmful for Sperm?

The environment and your fertility

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We know that pollution is bad for our environment and our planet – but it could be harming your sperm health too. With sperm count and health declining globally over the last 50 years, could the increasing amount of toxins in our homes and our atmosphere be behind this fertility crisis? Let’s discuss the environment and fertility.

Decreasing sperm health and count

In 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, another global health crisis entered the chat. Dr Shanna H. Swan released her book, “Countdown: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race”. Whilst the title may be lengthy, it got her point across pretty clearly – we are in the midst of a worryingly steep decline of fertility at a global level – and sperm health is the biggest victim.

The book’s release sparked a viral conversation that briefly put male fertility on the map. Everyone from Erin Brokovich to Greta Thunberg were raising their voices about the shocking impact pollution is having on men’s reproductive health. 2 years later and experts on Channel 4’s Celebrity Save Our Sperm, told shocked participants Russel Kane and Ollie Locke that chemicals in plastic, air pollution and toxins from habits like smoking could all be contributing to their poor sperm health.


How do we know sperm count and health is decreasing?

Whilst the information about declining male fertility is finally getting spoken about in the mainstream – the truth is we have known about this for decades. A 1992 Danish medical review highlighted the decline in sperm quality between 1940 and 1990. They reported a 50% decrease in average sperm counts during this time.

Since then, there have been more direct studies into whether or not sperm count and quality were decreasing in the general male population – and the evidence is pretty clear. A large meta-study reviewing data from research all over the world found that sperm count in particular is definitely on a downward spiral. The study indicated that sperm counts decreased by up to 60% between 1973 and 2011. That’s around a 1% decrease per year, so now, more than a decade later – the results could be even more shocking.

But it’s not just sperm count that is taking a nosedive. There are worrying signs that modern life is having a negative impact on the whole spectrum of men’s health – from decreasing testosterone levels to increasing rates of erectile dysfunction and even a rise in cases of testicular cancer.


The Environment and Sperm Health

So, why are things looking so bad for sperm health right now? There are many contributing factors to the decline in sperm count and health but one of the biggest ones is the environmental crisis we are currently in. It’s no secret that the amount of pollution on our planet has increased dramatically over the last few years – and with it the amount of toxins in both our homes and our atmosphere.

Toxic chemicals can be harmful to our health in many ways – and fertility is a big one. This is partly because many of these chemicals are known as endocrine disruptors, which directly impact the hormonal balance in our bodies. Here we’ll take a look at some of the most well researched environmental toxins and how they impact sperm health.


The most commonly used phthalates are Diethyl phthalate (DEHP) and di-N-butyl phthalate (DBP), which are used in lots of plastic products to improve their flexibility and durability. However, because of their negative impact on health in general, the European Union, Canada and the USA gradually replace phthalates in many products. Clinical studies have shown that DEHP exposure (among other phthalates) is associated with decreased sperm motility, increased sperm DNA damage and sperm apoptosis, and reduced serum estradiol and testosterone.

In a study from 2017, decreasing phthalate exposure was associated with some recovery of semen and hormone levels, but not all values improved. If you are trying to conceive or simply want to protect your fertility, we would definitely recommend avoiding products with Phthalates in them.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

Bisphenol A (BPA) is used in the manufacture of some hard, clear plastics such as water bottles and food containers and in the lining of food cans. The chemicals are often released when these items are warmed up – for example if a food container is heated in the microwave.

BPAs can interfere with the hormonal balance exhibiting estrogen-mimicking, hormone-like properties, which has a negative impact on sperm quality in animal studies. Research has indicated that men with high BPA levels are 3-4 times more likely to have poor quality sperm. The study seemed to show that both sperm concentration and count were lowered the more BPA the subject had in their system. A separate study reported that during the IVF process, men with the highest BLA levels were 30-46% more likely to produce lower-quality embryos.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

PCBs are a group of man made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons and were previously used in the production of electrical equipment.

The use of PCBs has been banned since 1979, but because they are highly resistant to degradation, they remain an environmental problem and are contaminating our food, waterways and atmosphere.

PCB accumulates in fatty tissue in the body, which is why people with a higher BMI accumulate PCBs significantly more when compared with lean individuals.

We’re lacking much data on the impact of PCBs on human male fertility, but in animal studies, PCBs exposure causes an increasing number of wrong-shaped sperm cells (poor sperm morphology) and impaired testosterone levels.


A pesticide is in general a chemical or biological agent used to protect plants by killing fungal and animal pests. We can inject pesticides when we eat foods that have been treated with the chemicals during the farming process.

In a review from 2014, it was found that some pesticides have the potential to cause direct toxicity to male hormones and a negative effect on how sperm swim (motility) and are shaped (morphology). It’s thought that this could happen due to an impact on testosterone levels and an increase in oxidative stress. The best way to avoid pesticides is to eat organic fruit and vegetables. This can be pretty expensive, but it’s worth it if you are keen to protect your fertility! If you want to find a more cost effective way to reduce your pesticide consumption, check out the Environmental Working Group’s seasonal Dirty Dozen list. This lists the 12 worst offenders when it comes to foods prone to pesticides.

There are of course many other factors aside from pollution and toxins that could be impacting our sperm health – from a lack of nutrient dense sperm superfoods to bad health habits such as smoking. But the relationship between the environment and fertility is evident, and it’s not always a sperm-friendly one. You can combat this by spending more time in nature, reducing the amount of plastics in your home and eating organic where you can.

If you’d like to know more about your sperm health, our at-home male fertility test can give you the answers you need, fast.


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Wearing tight pants and underwear

Studies show that men who wear looser underwear have higher sperm concentration and total sperm count compared to men who wear tighter underwear. So, lose the tight clothes and wear something loose to give your testicles some air.

CONCLUSION: learn more about how heat can affect sperm quality here.


Besides higher mortality rate and various diseases, stress is associated with low sperm quality. Stress is known to be associated with lower testosterone levels and oxidative stress with both playing an essential role in producing and maintaining healthy sperm cells.

CONCLUSION: If you feel stressed, we recommend you get some help so you can have a balanced mental health. For a stress management guide, download the ExSeed app for free and start your personalized action plan today.

Physical activity

Scientific studies show that men who are physically active have better semen parameters than men who are inactive. Fertility specialists also state that regular physical activity has beneficial impact on sperm fertility parameters and such a lifestyle can enhance the fertility status of men.

Prioritizing exercise can help improve your overall health and result in healthy, fast swimming sperm cells that have good chances of fertilizing an egg.

CONCLUSION: Try incorporating exercise in your weekly schedule to you ensure exercising at least twice weekly. We recommend a combination of cardio training and strength exercise. Read more about exercise and male fertility on our blog.


Fast Food
Processed foods damage the health of sperm-producing cells and cause oxidative stress, which lead to poorer sperm quality. Heavy consumption of junk food (every week) can increase the likelihood of infertility since men who consume vast amounts of unhealthy food are at risk of having poor sperm quality. Besides harming your fertility, junk food enlarges your waistline, harms your cardiovascular system, kidneys, and more.

Eating more fruit and vegetables can increase your sperm concentration and motility. It’s important that you consume a healthy diet filled with antioxidants and that you eat vegetables every day. Foods such as apricots and red bell peppers are high in vitamin A, which improves male fertility by nurturing healthier sperm. Men who are deficient in this vitamin tend to have slow and sluggish sperm.

Sugary snacks/beverages: several times a week Excessive consumption of high sugar items can lead to oxidative stress, which negatively impacts testosterone levels and sperm motility. Sugary snacks and beverages are also highly associated with obesity and low fertility.
CONCLUSION: To boost sperm quality, stay away from fast food, processed food, and sugary snacks or beverages. You need to implement a healthy prudent diet filled with necessary superfoods needed for good sperm production. Check out our guide to Male Fertility Superfoods. For personalized guidance and support on how you can start improving your sperm health, check out the Bootcamp.


Direct heat can inhibit optimal sperm production and cause Sperm DNA damage. Sperm cells like environments that are a couple of degrees lower than body temperature. Avoid overheating from warm blankets, seat warmers, heat from your laptop, hot showers, and saunas.

Cigarette smoking

The exposure to tobacco smoke has significant negative effects on semen quality. The damage of cigarettes and nicotine of course depends on how many cigarettes you smoke per day and for how long, but even low usage (up to 10 cigarettes / day) can inhibit healthy sperm production.  

CONCLUSION: Stay as far away from cigarette smoking as possible if you care about your general health and your fertility. Read more here.

Cell phone

When you have your cell phone in your front pocket, your testicles are exposed to electromagnetic radiation, which studies have shown to damage the sperm cells. Put your phone in the back pocket of your pants or in your jacket pocket.


There is a clear association between obesity and reduced sperm quality. At least part of the reason for this is that obese men may have abnormal reproductive hormonal profiles, which can impair sperm production and lead to infertility. 

A BMI higher than 30 can lead to several processes in the body (overheating, increase in oxidative stress in the testes, sperm DNA damage, erectile dysfunction) that can have a negative impact on male fertility. This can result in problems when trying to conceive.  

CONCLUSION: BMI is one of the risk factors that influence semen quality and, for example, sperm motility.  


A beer or glass of wine now and then do not really harm sperm quality. But excess alcohol drinking (more than 20 units per week) can reduce the production of normally formed sperm needed for a successful pregnancy.

CONCLUSION: If you want to stay safe, stay under 14 units of alcohol per week. For more information on how alcohol can affect male fertility, take a look at our blog: “Alcohol and Sperm Quality”.


Studies show that women younger than 35 and men younger than 40 have a better chance of getting pregnant. Men can produce sperm cells almost through their entire life, but the sperm cell DNA is more fragile and prone to damage after the age of 40.

As men age, their testes tend to get smaller and softer resulting in a decline in sperm quality and production. These changes are partly because of an age-related decrease in testosterone level, which plays a very important role in sperm

production. Higher male age (>40 years) is not only associated with a decline in sperm production but also with increased sperm DNA fragmentation and worsened morphology (shape) and motility (movement). These negative effects make the sperm cells less qualified for egg fertilization.

CONCLUSION: with an age under 40, you shouldn’t have to worry much about age as a factor in itself. However, studies have shown a slow decline after the age of 30-35 years

and if you are above 40 years of age, your sperm quality can be affected due to increased sperm DNA damage resulting in a decrease of sperm motility and concentration. Remember that you cannot evaluate the quality of a sperm sample by just looking at it – this requires a sperm analysis.