How Does Smoking Affect Sperm?


Both men and women should consider smoking cessation if they're trying to conceive.

Both men and women should consider smoking cessation if they’re trying to conceive.

A new study published in BJU International found that cigarette smoking is associated with inflammation in men’s accessory glands and testis, which leads to altered sperm quality. The take-home message for pharmacists and patients is that smoking can alter sperm in a way that makes it harder for fertilization to occur.

“Men who smoke produce a semen that has an inflammatory profile [and] sperm with many cellular alterations—mainly higher DNA damage, alteration in energy production, and lower capacity to fertilize oocytes,” lead study author Ricardo P. Bertolla, DVM, PhD, MBA, of Sao Paulo Federal University, told Pharmacy Times.

Although the study took place in Brazil, Dr. Bertolla said he saw no reason the study group would have singularities based on the geographic location.

“This is definitely something that applies to men in the United States,” he said.

The researchers collected semen from 20 men who didn’t smoke and had normal semen quality, and another 20 men who did smoke. Then, the researchers examined DNA fragmentation by alkaline Comet assay, mitochondrial activity, and acrosomal integrity.

Compared with the nonsmokers’ sperm, the smokers’ sperm had a higher percentage of sperm DNA damage, partially or fully inactive mitochondria, and non-intact acrosomes.

The study authors explained that DNA fragmentation can occur through oxidative stress. Cigarettes contains components that lead to higher levels of superoxide anion and hydroxyl radical, which can result in oxidative stress, leading to DNA fragmentation.

The smokers’ sperm also showed some issues with proteins. The researchers identified 422 proteins, but 1 protein wasn’t found at all, 27 were under-represented, and 6 were over-represented in the smokers’ sperm.

“Functional enrichment analysis showed the enrichment of antigen processing and presentation, positive regulation of prostaglandin secretion involved in immune response, protein kinase A signaling and arachidonic acid secretion, complement activation, regulation of the cytokine-mediated signaling pathway and regulation of acute inflammatory response in the (smokers),” the researchers added.

They noted that the purpose of the study wasn’t to determine whether smoking had an effect on the quality of sperm, but it still found differences in sperm functional tests and semen proteomics, “showing that these tests have a greater sensitivity than conventional semen analysis.”

In addition to its impact on sperm functioning, smoking can make it harder for a woman to conceive, plus pregnant smokers are more likely to have a miscarriage, according to the CDC. The CDC also notes that tobacco has been linked to decreased sperm count.

Secondhand smoke can also lead to disease or even premature death in children. Pregnant women face a 20% greater chance of giving birth to a low birthweight baby if they are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the CDC.

Pharmacists are prime resources for smoking cessation, as they can help both men and women select OTC smoking cessation products like nicotine replacement therapy, nicotine transdermal system, and nicotine gum or lozenges.

The CDC also offers a website to aid pharmacists in smoking cessation counseling. The site provides FAQ sheets, videos, and printable intervention cards.

In addition to smoking, men’s reproductive abilities can be affected by obesity, alcoholism, and pollution, the researchers noted.

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