Impact of Diabetes on Male Fertility

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It is well known that external factors such as trauma to the testicles or smoking and heavy alcohol consumption can have a negative impact on male fertility. It is also known that genetic factors, cancer and chemotherapy can lead to male infertility. If there are any concerns regarding a male’s fertility, it is important to look at the bigger picture and consider the overall health of a man.


Understanding Men's Health and Well-Being

The overall health of males is referred to when taking into account factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, exercise, chronic medical conditions and lifestyle choices. Good overall health generally includes a balanced lifestyle with regular physical activity and a nutrient-rich diet. Typically training 4 times a week while eating a healthy balanced diet full of dietary fibre, protein and vegetables rich in nutrients assists with good health and well-being. It will also include moderate alcohol consumption and cessation of tobacco use. All of these lifestyle choices impact not just the cardiovascular health or overall clinical picture of a male, but also a male’s fertility. Poor lifestyle choices can lead to chronic health diseases such as diabetes.


What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that is characterised by increased blood glucose levels. Statistics have shown that in June of 2023, more than half a billion people worldwide are living with diabetes, this includes men, women and even children. In the long run, diabetes affects a patient’s heart function, kidney function and eyesight and may even lead to amputation. The prevalence of this metabolic disease is rising extremely fast globally.


Diabetes Type 1 vs. Type 2

Diabetes Mellitus manifests in two primary types: Type 1 and Type 2, arising from either insulin deficiency or unhealthy lifestyle habits. The contrasting characteristics are outlined below:


Type I Diabetes

Diabetes Mellitus Type 1 is a chronic disease caused by insulin deficiency. This insulin deficiency is caused when there is a decrease in insulin-producing pancreatic beta-cells that leads to hyperglycemia. This starts and is most common among children and adolescents. This disease is mostly known as an autoimmune disease.


Type II Diabetes

Diabetes Mellitus Type 2 is characterised by chronic hyperglycemia due to insulin resistance and impaired insulin secretion. This chronic metabolic disease is most common in adults aged 20 years and older. This disease is a result of poor lifestyle choices like bad eating habits and no exercise.


Diabetes and Male Fertility

Diabetes does not only cause long-term damage to various organ systems, but it also disrupts male reproductive health. It is understood that glucose metabolism plays a vital role in the process of spermatogenesis, and when this metabolism is functioning poorly it can have damaging effects on male fertility and the quality of sperm.


How Diabetes Affects Male Fertility

  • Diabetes leads to impairments in the process of spermatogenesis, reducing sperm count as well as the motility thereof.
  • Diabetes can lead to erectile dysfunction
  • Diabetes can cause altered sperm DNA integrity.
  • It can cause an imbalance in the ingredients contained in the seminal fluid.

It is evident that type 1 and type 2 diabetes has an effect on male fertility. When a male is diagnosed with diabetes and struggles to conceive with their partner, it is recommended that they consult their General Practitioner


How to Prevent Diabetes and Ensure Optimal Fertility

Prevention is better than cure. Preventing diabetes is a powerful tool to improve a male’s overall health as well as his reproductive health. The following steps can be taken to prevent diabetes. Maintaining a healthy diet by ensuring that less than 30% of the daily calorie intake is from fat and by substituting saturated fat for good polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds and fish. 

Another important factor is maintaining 150 minutes of physical activity per week or 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day for 3-5 days of the week. Not only will the combination of a healthy and balanced diet and physical activity ensure weight loss, but it will also ensure optimal functioning of the organs and reproductive health.

One other factor to prevent diabetes is to delay diabetes via pharmaceutical interventions. Certain anti-diabetic medications such as metformin can be initiated for patients who are at risk of developing diabetes mellitus type 2. The initiation of any medication for diabetes should be consulted with your healthcare professional.


Risk Factors and Signs of Diabetes

Possible risk factors to take into account are; if there is a family history of diabetes, when a patient is overweight with a BMI greater than 25, recent weight gain and the presence of hypertension.

The most common signs of diabetes are weight loss, dehydration, fatigue, decreased vision, impotence, erectile dysfunction and glucose in the urine.

It is recommended that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms and still struggling to conceive, it is best to consult your doctor. Your doctor will do a glucose screening test to see if the blood glucose is too high or within the normal range.


How to Improve Male Fertility with Diabetes

Studies have shown that oxidative stress can contribute to the decreased process of spermatogenesis and that certain antioxidants may improve semen parameters. Antioxidants may include supplements such as zinc, Vitamin C, folic acid and Coenzyme Q10.

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