Male Fertility Going Up In Smoke

A very small study that was funded by the Philip Morris tobacco company says that smoking may impact on male fertility. Scientists from the University of Buffalo analyzed the sperm from donors who had passed strict screening tests with the sperm of 18 smokers. In simulated lab tests, the sperm from the smokers was found to have trouble creating a tight bond between sperm and egg. This is a crucial step in egg fertilization.

Fertility Potential

The results of this study were given over to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine which held its annual meeting in Montreal. Lead author of this study, Lani Burkman, PhD, issued a statement, "Specialized testing clearly reveals a significant drop in fertility potential for men who are heavy tobacco smokers," said Burkman.

Burkman also commented that men who smoke need to be informed that their smoking habit can damage the DNA of their sperm which in turn may pass on damaged DNA to a baby. Smokers who are concerned about these risks should either quit smoking or at least get tested in local andrology laboratories.

Burkman is an associate professor of urology at U.B.'s med school. He is also an associate professor in the field of andrology at this institution where he heads up the andrology section of the school's OB/GYN department.

The smoking participants in this study smoked a minimum of 4 cigarettes daily for at least two years. The average participant had been smoking for longer than 15 years.

Tight Bind

During the testing in the lab, the sperm from the smokers was placed in close proximity to a halved egg for from 2-3 hours. Then the same test was repeated using donor sperm with the second halves of those same eggs. In order to pass the lab test, a minimum of 65% of the sperm had to be seen to bind tight to the outer layer of the egg.

The sperm from 2/3 of the smokers failed to bind tight to the egg. It's not that the sperm were declared infertile, but rather was acting at only 1/4 of its usual capacity for fertilization, said the researchers. Nine out of these 12 smoking participants had even worse results. Their sperm showed a severe loss of function. Six of the smokers had normal fertilization capabilities.  Burkman commented that those men who had complete fertilization failure were smoking twice as many cigarettes as the other smoking participants. The heavy smokers smoked an average of 19 cigarettes a day.

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