Changing the mistaken perception – even held by some doctors – that testosterone therapy can improve male fertility
Testosterone therapy for men is spiking in this country. Just watch any sporting event on TV and you can’t miss the commercials promoting testosterone supplements. These ads may feature a very muscular man touting testosterone as a way to increase sex drive, cure fatigue and build muscle to look like him.
Men are seeing these advertisements and asking their doctors about testosterone supplements or asking for a prescription or worse, getting them from the internet or gym associates. Men who may think they have fertility issues due to possible low sperm count are also asking about testosterone. Perhaps a couple is having difficulty conceiving, and the man may think, Testosterone helps sperm production, so why not try testosterone replacement therapy?
That, unfortunately, is faulty logic – understandable, but flawed. With a rise in men and women understanding the role of male factors causing infertility comes more attention to the man as the problem, or part of it.
Male factors contribute, along with female factors, to around half of infertility cases in the United States. And about one-third of the time the male factor is the main cause. Most male infertility is due to poor sperm quality involving either sperm movement or concentration of sperm. Men might naturally think that a possible solution would be to look at what produces sperm and increase the amount of it in their body.
Testosterone is a male sex hormone produced primarily in the testicles. It is thought to regulate sex drive, stimulate erections, produce sperm, affect bone mass and build up muscles and strength. Many men use testosterone supplements for their bodybuilding effect.
But an excess of testosterone does not increase the chance of a man impregnating a woman.
More testosterone is not better. This is because the pituitary gland and hypothalamus in the brain tells the body how much testosterone to produce. Excess testosterone levels, which can result from taking some supplements or testosterone therapy, send a signal to the brain that there is enough testosterone in the body. This signal can result in a lower sperm count in many cases, leaving a male with no sperm.
Doctors can do harm prescribing testosterone
The rise in testosterone therapy by some doctors is not only to increase a man’s libido but as a fertility treatment.
I was worried about the number of doctors who were prescribing testosterone as a fertility treatment. So I teamed up with fellow urologists and completed a study looking at what urologists were prescribing to their patients with fertility concerns.
We surveyed 387 urologists and found that 25 percent treated patients for male infertility with a form of testosterone. While it has been known for awhile that testosterone negatively impacts a male’s fertility, our study shows that additional education is needed to reduce prescribing testosterone as a treatment for male fertility.
Concerns of testosterone supplements & prolonged effects on male fertility
A big problem with testosterone supplements is that they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This means the amount of testosterone included is not regulated, and manufacturers do not need to list all possible side effects – including infertility.
You could also be taking testosterone without knowing it. Some bodybuilding supplements may include testosterone without being clearly marked on the container.
If you are a man having problems with fertility, make sure to bring all supplements you take into your doctor’s visit (you can also take photos of the labels). Fertility specialists often know what to look for that you might miss. To be on the safe side, it is best to stop taking any supplement that has a chance of including testosterone.
If you have been taking testosterone supplements for awhile, your fertility will not return right when you stop taking them. Over time the supplements build up in your bloodstream. Depending on how long a man has been taking the supplement, it could take anywhere from a few months to a few years for his own body’s testosterone production to return to normal. For a small percent of men, prolonged testosterone therapy can result in permanent sterility.
If you want to take testosterone supplements to increase your libido and energy, you should talk to your doctor about your options. If you are still wanting to have a child, it might be worth your time to plan ahead and freeze your sperm to use when you are ready to have children. Another option would be to hold off on taking testosterone supplements until you are certain you don’t want to father any children in the future.
Ways to increase testosterone levels naturally
You have good, natural options to increase your testosterone levels without taking testosterone supplements or prescribed testosterone. Consider these eight tips:
- Exercise and lift weights
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Minimize stress
- Get quality sleep
- Eat healthy fats
- Get some sun (or take vitamin D supplements)
- Take a multivitamin (make sure it has zinc and vitamin B)
- Limit excess alcohol use and only take prescribed drugs.
Before starting any supplements, such as vitamin D and zinc, it is important to talk with your doctor to learn about possible side effects.