Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert.
If you are looking to start a family, there are many lifestyle changes that can be made to help improve your fertility status.
One area of concern for you could be if you use products such as chewing tobacco.
Read on to find out whether chewing tobacco is harmful to your reproductive system.
In this article we shall cover the following points:
- What is Chewing Tobacco?
- Male Infertility Rates
- Does Chewing Tobacco Increase Male Infertility?
- What causes Chewing Tobacco to Reduce Male Fertility?
- Are there any Alternatives?
US rates of smoking amongst men is in decline according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This trend is echoed in the United Kingdom where just under 15% of the population now smoke compared to 20% in 2011 which was reported by the Office for National Statistics.
These are all promising figures, because the Annals of Global Health Journal states that smoking is the cause of 6 million deaths worldwide every year.
However, these figures are for smoking tobacco, but what about smokeless tobacco which includes chewing tobacco?
Smokeless tobacco products may be more common than you think, as 2.3% of US adults report using it which equates to almost 6% of the population.
Furthermore, it is more prevalent amongst men where 4.5% report using it.
What is Chewing Tobacco?
Smokeless tobacco, or spit tobacco, is more commonly known as chewing tobacco, chew, and dip. Rather than smoking tobacco leaves, users consume tobacco leaves in their mouths and suck on them.
Chewing tobacco is a form of tobacco that is twisted or shredded and rolled in small cans or packets.
Smokers place snuff or chewing tobacco between their inner cheek and gums. They take tobacco juices. Smokers often spit since saliva builds up when tobacco is in their mouths. It is a common feature often seen in old Western films.
As a result, nicotine enters the bloodstream through the gums without the need to swallow tobacco juices.
A portion of chewing tobacco is known as a plug, wad, or chew.
Chewing tobacco is known to contain at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals, medically known as carcinogens. It contains tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs).
Other cancer-causing agents found in chewing tobacco include formaldehyde, acetaldehYde, arsenic, benzopyrene, nickel, and cadmium.
Smokeless or spit tobacco may be considered a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes. But these products are unsafe and are directly linked to mouth diseases, cancers, and other health hazards.
You can also suffer adverse side effects, such as bad breath and tooth damage, in the first few days after using them.
Male Infertility Rates
Infertility and impaired fertility have been a concern for many generations and are still a common clinical issue, currently affecting 8–12% of couples worldwide.
About 40-50 percent of infertility cases are caused by "male factor" infertion. Approximately 2% of all men will have suboptimal sperm parameters.
You may be experiencing either low sperm concentration, poor motility, or abnormal morphology. In less industrialized nations, infertility rates are significantly higher, and infectious diseases account for a greater proportion.
It is unclear what figures are reliable for global infertility prevalence, but estimates suggest that nearly 72.4 million couples experience fertility problems around the world.
About 10% of couples in the United States are considered infertile because they have no chance of conceiving after 12 months of unprotected sexual relationship.
Additionally, the fertility rate for men older than 30 years has also decreased by 15% worldwide.
Possible causes of male infertility
Infertility can be caused by obstructions of the reproductive tract. Semen tubes (such as ejaculatory ducts and seminal vesicles) can be blocked from carrying and then releasing semen.
Blockages are commonly caused by injuries or infections.
The pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and testicles may produce abnormal levels of hormones due to a disorder. This is important because hormones like testosterone influence the production of sperm. Research has shown that low testosterone (andropause) can cause infertility.
Smoking, excessive alcohol intake and obesity can adversely affect fertility. Furthermore, exposure to environmental pollutants and toxins can direct harm to gametes (eggs and sperm), resulting in reduced numbers and poor quality, leading to infertility.
Infertility may occur in men who undergo radiation or chemotherapy because of cancer.
Does Chewing Tobacco Increase Male Infertility?
Research published in the Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences found that those who chew tobacco had impaired sperm count, motility and morphology resulting in lower quality sperm resulting in male infertility.
A 2005 study featuring in the Fertility and Sterility Journal found strong associations amongst infertile men and chewing tobacco use.
It was reported that the men had lower sperm quality and showed signs of very low sperm count or even zero sperm.
The International Journal of Research in Medical Sciences reported similar findings in a contemporary study of 2020.
It was concluded that chewing tobacco has a negative impact on every parameter of sperm health leading to abnormalities of and even azoospermia (zero sperm).
This study from 2015 outlines the effects of chewing tobacco on semen health amongst healthy volunteers.
Their findings demonstrated that compared to the control group, those who used chewing tobacco suffered from low semen volume, reduced sperm concentrations, poor sperm motility and viability.
Furthermore, a Swedish study has found an association between men who smoked and their sons having 51% less sperm than men whose fathers didn't smoke.
What causes Chewing Tobacco to Reduce Male Fertility?
Tobacco products, including chewing tobacco contain a number of carcinogens, heavy metals and toxic substances.
Cadmium in particular has demonstrated its negative effects on sperm quality, and other alkoids produce free radicals and oxidative stress that destroy the integrity of DNA and create sperm abnormalities.
Cotinine is found to reduce sperm motility and even its survival in high amounts. Cotinine has a negative impact of leydig cells (which helps produce testosterone) in turn reducing fertility.
Nicotine, which is the addictive substance within tobacco, also have many detrimental effects on male fertility.
It reduces testosterone concentrations, testicular tissues and disrupts the spermatogenesis process.
Are there any Alternatives?
Chewing tobacco is a smokeless form of tobacco.
More than often smokeless forms of tobacco such as this, or vaping maybe perceived as having fewer hazards than smoking tobacco.
However, any form of tobacco product is harmful to your health.
Smokeless tobacco is commonly used by younger people, those of a native American heritage and predominantly males.
Alternatives to smoking cigarettes are often assumed to be less harmful to health, however, this isn't always the case.
Many tobacco products contain a variety of toxins that can increase oxidative stress resulting in cancers, and other chronic diseases.
Substances contained in tobacco such as nicotine which make these products addictive have been associated with reduced fertility status among men.
As such tobacco products should be avoided if you are interested in starting a family and maintaining good health.