COVID-19 Linked to Long-Term Decline in Sperm Quality: Study

Months of exhaustion, persistent loss of taste and smell, blood clotting issues, and now low sperm count. The list of long-term side effects of COVID-19 continues to expand.

Men, even if their symptoms are mild, experience a decrease in semen quality up to three months after recovering, according to a new study.

“We assumed that semen quality would improve once new sperm were being generated,” said Rocio Núñez-Calonge, who holds a doctorate in biology and is a scientific advisor at UR International Group at the Scientific Reproduction Unit in Spain. “But this was not the case.”

Concerns About Permanent Damage and Febrility

The small study was conducted in Madrid, Spain, and examined 45 men with mild COVID-19 diagnoses.

Half of the participants experienced a 57 percent decrease in total sperm counts post-diagnosis. Sperm motility fell from 49 to 45 percent.

Additional findings showed a 20 percent reduction in semen volume, a 26.5 percent decrease in sperm concentration, and a decline in the number of live sperm from 80 to 76 percent.

Even 100 days after recovering from the infection, there was no noticeable improvement in sperm quality, despite the expected production of new sperm during that period.

“We do not know how long it might take for semen quality to be restored,” Ms. Núñez-Calonge said. “And it may be the case that COVID has caused permanent damage, even in men who suffered only a mild infection.”

There is no need for immediate concern, according to Dr. Carlos Calhaz-Jorge, a renowned fertility specialist in Portugal. The study shows the significance of long-term monitoring of fertility patients following a COVID-19 infection, even if it is mild, he noted.

“However, it’s important to note that the semen quality in these patients after a COVID infection is still within the World Health Organization’s criteria for ‘normal’ semen and sperm,” Dr. Calhaz-Jorge said. “So it is unclear whether these reductions in semen quality after a COVID infection translate into impaired fertility, and this should be the subject of further research.”

Cause of Semen Quality Decline Unknown

Ms. Núñez-Colange said that inflammation may be a contributing factor. “The inflammatory process can destroy germ cells by infiltrating the white blood cells involved in the immune system and reduce testosterone levels by affecting the interstitial cells that produce the male hormone,” she noted in a press release.

The researchers conducting the study have raised questions about the direct impact of SARS-CoV-2—the virus causing COVID-19—on the decline in semen quality.

“There are likely to be additional factors that contribute to long-term sperm parameters decrease, but whose identity is currently unknown,” Ms. Núñez-Colange added.

Doctors are also concerned about the potential long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccinations on sperm quality and fertility. “Everyone should be concerned,” said Dr. Jane Orient, an internal medicine doctor with over 40 years of clinical experience.

“We don’t have any long-term studies, and we can’t because the vaccines haven’t been around that long,” she added. “But there have been signals coming from fertility clinics—that they can’t make viable fetuses, and they’re also having trouble getting sperm to work. These are anecdotal reports.”

The study aims to investigate further and monitor the participants to assess whether the observed effects on fertility are temporary or permanent.

How to Maintain a Healthy Sperm Count

An extensive study conducted from 1973 to 2018 revealed a significant global decline in sperm count, linked to factors such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals and unhealthy lifestyles.

As endocrine-disrupting chemicals and unhealthy lifestyle behaviors are two of the main reasons behind declining sperm count, Shanna Swan, a leading environmental and reproductive epidemiologist holding a doctorate in statistics and author of the study, said people can start by working on reducing those exposures.

1. Avoid Plastic

“Worry about the plastic that’s in your kitchen in various forms or something related, which is Teflon, nonstick, PFAS chemical,” Ms. Swan said.

“Try to use glass, china, and metal to the extent possible. And, of course, never microwave in plastic. That’s a bad thing to do.”

2. Reduce the Chemical Footprint in Your Home

Steer clear of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, eliminate the use of air fresheners, and opt for safer alternatives when choosing cleaning and personal-care products.

3. Manage Stress Levels

“We showed that when men even reported one heavily stressful life event, their sperm count was lower,” Ms. Swan said. “Whether it’s moving, or divorce, or illness, or change of job.”

4. Keep It Cool, Literally

Heat can have a detrimental effect on sperm production. Therefore, men who are planning to conceive or aiming to improve their sperm count should avoid activities such as hot tubs, saunas, and prolonged bicycling, Ms. Swan said.

5. Exercise

Getting a moderate amount of exercise every day and eating unprocessed food would be wise, according to Dr. Dorette Noorhasan, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at CCRM Fertility.

6. Consider Vitamin Supplements

Dr. Noorhasan recommended the inclusion of vitamin supplements in one’s regimen. She advised men to consider a daily multivitamin along with other “great antioxidants for sperm” such as zinc, vitamins C and D, coenzyme Q10, and omega-3.

7. Lose Weight

Being overweight can lower sperm count through hormonal imbalance, increased testicular temperature, reduced testosterone levels, and insulin resistance, conditions known to affect sperm quality and quality.

2016 study found that weight loss can significantly increase semen volume, concentration, mobility, and percentage of normal morphology, which is the shape of the sperm.

Overall, Dr. Noorhasan said she had observed remarkable success after people, both men and women, made lifestyle changes. “I’ve seen the semen parameters improve, including the motility and morphology.”

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