Male Health: Protecting the Family Jewels

Anything that hurts a man's health hurts his sperm. The good news: preserving your reproductive potential will also keep you healthy.

Protect Your Heart: "What's bad for your heart is bad for your penis," says Columbia's Harry Fisch. Erections depend on arterial flow from the heart, and when that's reduced or blockage occurs, erectile dysfunction (ED) is often close behind. Get an annual physical, including a heart checkup and a cholesterol test, once you reach your 30s. If your cholesterol is high, cholesterol-lowering medicine may help.

Stay Active: "If you're trying to have a child in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, getting into the best shape of your life will give you the highest testosterone level possible," says Fisch.

Watch Your Weight: Potbellies and excessive waist size are often telltale signs of heart disease. They also generate heat that can reach the testicles, decreasing the testosterone in sperm. In general, the bigger the belly, the lower the testosterone. Eat a balanced, low-fat diet, and reduce your calorie intake.

Take Antioxidants: Vitamins C or E, since they may help battle free radicals that play a part in breakdown of sperm DNA.

Don't Smoke, Drink to Excess, or Abuse Drugs: All of these behaviors accelerate DNA breakdown in sperm and put the heart and other organs at risk.

Avoid Hot Baths, Jacuzzis, and Hot Tubs: All can reduce sperm counts for three to six months.

Keep Laptops on the Desk: Balancing laptops on the lap raises the scrotum's temperature, say SUNY Stony Brook urologists.

See a Urologist: If you are over 40, have toxic exposure, or have tried to conceive for a year. Sperm content and testosterone levels can both be evaluated. ED can be treated. You can also ask your doctor to refer you to a lab that tests DNA fragmentation in sperm.

Have Varicoceles Removed: The urologist should always look for engorgements of the veins in the scrotum, which can begin as early as adolescence. Almost 40 percent of infertile men have them. By trapping the blood flow in the scrotum, engorgements can cook and choke the sperm, leading to risk of infertility. This is easily reversible.

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