Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

Tell Me More
Stay Connected
August 14, 2017

Dear Mark: Why are Male Fertility and Testosterone Levels so Low?

By Mark Sisson
40 Comments

3d rendering group of white spermsFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering just one question. But it’s a good (well, maybe not good, but certainly important) one: Why is male fertility on the rise and testosterone on the wane? The popular notion is that women flushing birth control pills and peeing estrogen-rich urine into the public water supply are the primary reasons for the sex hormone issues facing men, but I’m not so sure. Let’s explore what else might be causing the problem.

In the comments from last week, tribal wrote:

I also heard about a report that indicated that our water supply is also contains more and more estrogen, primarily due to the increased use of birth control tablets, which find their way into the water supply – I need to research the truth to this report. testosterone levels have halved for men in the last 20 years, and at this rate will will end up self-destructing.

The main thrust of your assertion is true.

The water supply is full of estrogenic compounds.

Male sex hormones have plummeted in the last half century and show little sign of rebounding.

However, birth control pill use isn’t the biggest culprit. In a 2011 review of the evidence, researchers found that the contribution of synthetic birth control estrogens to the total estrogen content of public water was negligible. Women flushing pills or excreting urinary estrogen do not appear to be the main cause of estrogen in the water supply.

Estrogen in the water may not even be the main cause of the growing male fertility problem. And if it were, what exactly could you do beside drink more bottled mineral water (and even that’s not a guarantee)? Spend thousands on expensive filters, stress out every time you had to satisfy a basic biological requirement (drink water)? It makes more sense to worry about the things you can control, like what you eat or how you live. As it turns out, the biggest culprits for impaired male fertility are probably dietary and lifestyle-related.

Omega-6/3 intake: The polyunsaturated fats we eat are incorporated into the structure of our cells—all the cells. Omega-6-rich cellular membranes are less stable than membranes with more MUFA, SFA, and omega-3 fats, and that goes for cellular membranes of sperm cells. Studies show that men with higher omega-6:omega-3 ratios have lower sperm counts, less sperm motility, and more infertility.

Oxidized fat intake: Most of the polyunsaturated fat most people eat has been refined, oxidized, and exposed to tons of heat, light, and oxygen. Omega-6 fatty acids are already liable to oxidize and turn rancid. They way we treat them before eating—as frying mediums for days on end, in high-heat stir fries, in packaged junk food subjected to high heat and left on the shelf for months—guarantees they’re almost completely damaged. The higher the MDA (a metabolite of oxidized PUFA) in the sperm, the greater the chance of male infertility.

Low sun intake: Most people fear the sun, focusing only on the skin cancer risk and ignoring the myriad benefits of sun exposure, one of which is the fact that it helps us synthesize vitamin D. Vitamin D is a pro-hormone, meaning we use it to produce a variety of hormones. One of the most important products of vitamin D is testosterone, the male sex hormone. Without adequate testosterone, reproduction becomes difficult. We produce less sperm, lose our libido, and become less attractive to potential mates.

Low red meat intake: The campaign against red meat has worked. Most people still think red meat is inherently dangerous. Red meat consumption is at an all-time low, and chicken consumption is at an all-time high. This development has probably caused major problems for male fertility. Red meat is the best and most reliable source of zinc, an important nutrient for male fertility. Red meat is the best source of carnitine, an amino acid with pro-fertility effects. Red meat is higher in fertility-protective saturated fat and monounsaturated fat and lower in unstable omega-6; chicken is lower in SFA and far higher in omega-6.

Those are the big whoppers, as I see it, the factors regular people suffering from low testosterone/fertility can actually target with the most ROI. Sure, it’s not going to happen overnight. Those seed oils are everywhere. Everyone loves French fries, and no one wants to know how long those fryers have been heating the same oil. Red meat remains scary, as does the sun. But it’s physically possible for a regular person to make four simple changes—eat less omega-6, have some canned sardines twice a week, choose steak over chicken, and go outside every day—that could have huge positive ramifications.

There are other major causes, too, including perhaps the estrogen in the water issue as well as other estrogen-like (xenoestrogen) pollutants. If you guys are interested, I can explore this topic more down the line.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I’d love to know your take on the issue. Let’s hear it!

sun_640x80

Subscribe to the Newsletter

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

Leave a Reply

40 Comments on "Dear Mark: Why are Male Fertility and Testosterone Levels so Low?"

avatar

Sort by:   newest | oldest
TonyP
TonyP
1 month 10 days ago

Yep, and it works. Do all the above (red meat, sardines, sun and supplement vitamin D) plus I lift heavy things in the gym. At 57, in the best shape of my life. Muscular still and Mr. Happy down below is always bugging me.

Suzanne
Suzanne
1 month 10 days ago

Perhaps this is Mother Nature stepping in to curb population growth? It happens in other species, so why not ours? In fast-reproducing species with large litter size, females may cease to ovulate. In ours, where female reproduction rate is relatively slow and litter size small, it seems logical that natural forces might work more strongly in males, whose ability to procreate is limited only by access to fertile females.

Stefan M
Stefan M
1 month 10 days ago
Our developed world population is declining, Suzanne. Population growth is a byproduct of industrial or technological evolution, after which the demographics start to settle down and actually slow down procreation rate once advanced education kicks in. Population growth is a big issue in developing nations, which are yet to or are already going through their own versions of modernization. The anthropomorphized Mother Nature sure isn’t trying to curb that down. Our genes don’t have a self-limiter coded in to prevent us from population explosion. And it sure doesn’t happen in other species that have flooded the ecosystem following abrupt climatic… Read more »
Superchunk
1 month 10 days ago

Body fat produces estrogen so extra body fat could account for much of the issue. Also soy consumption.
Also, typo alert…I think you meant to say rising infertility in the third sentence.

AmyLH
AmyLH
1 month 10 days ago

Uh…plastics? Phthalates? Bisphenol A? Pesticides? Herbicides?

EVERYWHERE.

Elizabeth Resnick
1 month 10 days ago
Really interesting post. And so many women are having problems with fertility too. I know I saw a study years ago that showed women consuming fat free/low fat dairy were more likely to be infertile than those consuming full fat dairy. I don’t think there is just one cause of these changes, but the changes in the fats that most people are consuming has to be affecting hormones in a negative way. People are regularly consuming fats that their bodies don’t even recognize as real food. So wouldn’t be surprised if that has quite a bit to do with infertility… Read more »
Timothy
1 month 10 days ago
Missing from this conversation, everywhere, has been the behavioral aspect. Primal male responsibilities are protecting and providing for their families and the tribe. Instead we see men being cowards and men indulging themselves. We see it so frequently, we may be excused to consider it normal. Is this behavioral aspect the effect or the cause of low male fertility and testosterone? It is a vicious cycle, a chicken-and-egg dynamic. We must try to break it at both ends. Both with nutrition and behavioral choices. To choose to be better protectors, men might consider: * Taking challenging, but manageable risks *… Read more »
Liver King
1 month 10 days ago
“Civilization comes at a cost of manliness. It comes at a cost of wildness, of risk, of strife. It comes at a cost of strength, of courage, of mastery. It comes at a cost of honor. Increased civilization exacts a toll of virility, forcing manliness into further redoubts of vicariousness and abstraction” ? Jack Donovan The way of men is endangered. As you’ve pointed out Timothy… it doesn’t have to be that way! One of the best, most influential books that wife and I have had the pleasure of reading is Jack Donovan’s book The Way Of Men. I hope… Read more »
Timothy
1 month 9 days ago

Thank you for that book recommendation! I value your comments so I picked it up.

The most compelling reads I’ve found on the subject have been war memoirs from the first half of the 20th century, a period that seems to have catalyzed the decline of masculinity, and not just from the toll in lives. Fussell, Jünger, Barbusse, Plowman, and Solzhenitsyn all paint vivid pictures of masculinity in decline across each of their cultures.

Susie
Susie
1 month 7 days ago

I can’t tell you how much I love this perspective. The body conforms to expectations and needs. One doesn’t need as much testosterone to lead a civilized life.

Curtis
1 month 10 days ago

+1 Behavior seems to be a crucial component. I have never felt more confident than the previous 4 months of regular lifting. Also doing (Primal) things the vast majority of society eschews provides that risk taking Timothy talks about. Sun exposure, walking barefoot, eating weird things, getting into nature, taking cold showers, etc. etc. I have to think my T is soaring these days, although, unlike Timothy, I won’t test it by conception attempts. Just practice with the wife for this guy. 😛

Timothy
1 month 9 days ago

Agreed that the golf game is over much too quickly if you hit holes-in-one ?

Timothy
1 month 9 days ago

Statement, not question, lol

wildgrok
wildgrok
1 month 9 days ago

That’s why I wield my 20 pound sledgehammer every week in the beach, fiercely hitting the sand. If I am lazy I take the 16 pound.

tribal
tribal
19 days 12 hours ago

If we are talking behavioural aspects, I have one more big whopper to throw in. Falls in testosterone levels have correlated with the rise in feminism. As women have yearned to become like men, have men now instinctively given up on the job ?

We constantly see in the media, workplaces, and western society in general that “women don’t need men”, well ladies, you may just get your wish.

I guess Newton’s third law of motion is a real bummer…

Timothy
18 days 20 hours ago
That is a great chicken-and-egg question. However it gets started, the cycle of women demanding fewer men, resulting in a shrinking supply of men, resulting in women adapting to demand even less of men, until the traditions that nurture masculinity are forgotten, does not historically yield a happy conclusion. Both sexes lose from the failure of that fundamental division of labor on which human social organization has always relied. One interesting example is ancient Sparta. During that culture’s ascendency, Spartan women were unique in Greece for being able to control their men: “because we are the only women who give… Read more »
Jack
Jack
1 month 10 days ago

Sugar consumption increasing was my first thought. Sugar hurts every aspect of our bodies.

Joshua Hansen
Joshua Hansen
1 month 10 days ago
The Art of Manliness had a good article years ago on increasing testosterone. I believe this is all a matter of diet, lifestyle, and culture. SAD is basically a testosterone killer and the current social climate isn’t much better. Stress too. Cortisol is like anti-testosterone. It’s unlikely it’s one thing. All evidence points to a broad spectrum of issues, most of which can be solved with hitting the weights, eating muscle foods, removing junk, and… “growing a pair” so to speak. Just tack this up as another case of “better living through chemistry” and “better living through industrialization.” You know… Read more »
wildgrok
wildgrok
1 month 9 days ago

Art of Manliness site is a treasure of information.

Liver King
1 month 10 days ago

A few extra hours of sleep can double your testosterone!! Source — pubmed/17520786

Adding in magnesium oil increases your testosterone!! Source — pubmed/20352370

Avoiding non-native clothing can increase your testosterone!! Source — pubmed/8279095

Avoiding non-native EMFs and wifi can increase your testosterone!! Source — http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2305050015000044

As I’m reading the article I’m furiously complaining to wife about all the things you missed… all the “little” things that really don’t matter if you don’t make these four simple changes that you suggest. Thank you for another great article with “practical” things our population can implement in hopes of saving our species.

Timothy
1 month 9 days ago

That bit about polyester underwear damaging spermatogenesis in dogs was an eye-opener!

tribal
tribal
18 days 21 hours ago
Yeah the WiFi thing is scary – its all around us now, even office’s are ditching copper network cables for “WiFi”, which means propagating WiFi routers all over the place, as if its some sort of benefit or breakthrough, which is ridiculous if you are sitting at a static workstation that will never need to be moved – why have a WiFi router siting above your head all day ? – its even built into our cars now, so when you get in a car you are in a steel shell with WiFi being emitted inside the car, not to… Read more »
framistat
framistat
1 month 10 days ago

It doesn’t necessarily cost “thousands of dollars” to RO filter your water. I’ve been using a faucet mounted RO unit from an RV supplier that works very well, proven by a TDS water tester that shows ~150 ppm going in, ~10-14 going out. Another Primal product opportunity?

Choochoo
Choochoo
1 month 10 days ago

Possibly the result of a species-wide mutational meltdown? In his book ‘The Genius Famine’, author Bruce Charlton suggests that average intelligence levels and the prevalence of so-called geniuses has been on the decline since the Industrial Revolution due to the accumulation of deleterious gene mutations. Could the decline of male fertility and testosterone levels have a similar cause?

Robo
Robo
1 month 10 days ago

If you haven’t yet, look into how Zinc plays an important part in increasing testosterone levels, especially in conjunction with Magnesium. I saw a huge improvement in testosterone blood test levels after including these. Highly recommended to take Zinc and Magnesium a couple hours before you go to bed.

Here’s a study on it:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2129161/

David Hance
David Hance
1 month 10 days ago

Not sure if I missed something or not, but the study you cited shows that Zinc and Magnesium does NOT significantly alter testosterone.

His Dudeness
His Dudeness
1 month 10 days ago

Since I eat red meat regularly, have sardines or salmon a couple times a week, engage in heavy lifting, and work outside several hours per day, my fertility must be pretty good. But I don’t really have a reason to test it, since I’ve already sired all the children I care to make.

Mike
1 month 10 days ago

Epigenetic failure? Between steadily reduced nutrient uptake, increased administrative dominance, and 1000+ years of certain religions killing the strong, independant, and intelligent while rewarding conformity and obedience, it’s to be expected.

William McCauley
William McCauley
1 month 10 days ago

Hi Mark, I’ve been follow the primal blueprint for ~5 years, including the four testosterone enhancing recommendations above, but my testosterone has continued to slide. Admittedly, I’m almost 70 and it’s supposed to slide, so what’s your take on injecting cypionate as a hormone supplement? I love its effects and want to continue, BUT IS IT PRIMAL?

Zoltan
Zoltan
1 month 9 days ago
Not sure about the case for red meat in this context. The male infertility “epidemic” is more or less restricted to Europe and North America, where people still consume more meat – including red meat – than those living in the rest of the world. Meanwhile, most of the Third World is actually super-fertile; even though the vast majority of people living there subsist on very limited diets with a low overall meat consumption. I’m suspecting that xenoestrogens, the omnipresence of plastics, tight clothes made of synthetic fabric, hot tubs and showers, heated car seats, sedentary lifestyles with low overall… Read more »
Stefan M
Stefan M
1 month 9 days ago
Most Europeans and North Americans do not eat grass-fed red meats that have tons of nutrients and omega 3 fatty acids. The infamous study that correlates red meat to cancer, too, fails to make this distinction. While red meat from healthy game can be a therapeutic “superfood”… eat meat from a grain-fed obese animal, process that very same meat by intense heat, intense oxidation, frying it, sprinkling it in n-6 PUFAs and cooking it for hours, then adding preservatives for shelf-life, forming nitrates, sitting on the shell for half a year… And yummy, directly into the customer’s belly (or worse,… Read more »
Ron
Ron
1 month 9 days ago

Hey Mark, nice article. I’d like for you to explore the topic more if you have the time.

Shauna
1 month 9 days ago

Have you considered the research linking disposable diaper use and male infertility? Along with other factors, it’s worth considering.

Pierre
Pierre
1 month 9 days ago

It would be interesting to have a graph showing sperm count VS BMI.

Kelli @ Hungry Hobby
1 month 8 days ago

I also see a ton of “healthy” wives giving their spouses the same thing they eat such as loads of flax which may be good for female hormones but lowers testosterone!

Fittsdawg
1 month 7 days ago

the typo mentioned still stands — did you mean to write: “Why is male infertility on the rise and testosterone on the wane?” rather than “Why is male fertility on the rise and testosterone on the wane?”

allan
1 month 5 days ago

Increased soy consumption?

Jeb
Jeb
1 month 4 days ago

Scientific American ran an article several years ago about many pesticides being shown to either block testosterone or mimic it. Omega 6s may be a problem themselves, but they often come from grains, which are often heavily sprayed and so may be more prone to having chemicals in or on them that affect testosterone. Could be a combination?

Brandi
Brandi
20 days 5 hours ago

I didn’t see anyone else mention it, so I thought I should – pseudoestrogens in sunscreen are also a source of estrogenic compounds in our water supply… so much so that they are adversely affecting fish and marine species’ reproduction in the open ocean and the health of reefs. Ditch the chemical soup sunscreens, embrace natural clothing as a cover up, or use a mineral-based sunscreen; the benefits will extend beyond ourselves.

tribal
tribal
18 days 17 hours ago

Mark – thanks for addressing this topic, I almost missed it, I was a bit behind on my MDA articles – didn’t realise my comment had been used as a basis for an article, so much appreciated.

wpDiscuz