Up in smoke
How smoking affects fertility in both men and women
We all know that smoking is a bad habit and it can put us at risk of heart, vascular and lung disease, as well as cancer. But, did you know that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking can lead to fertility problems in both men and women? Additionally, numerous studies have shown that smokers take longer to conceive – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Cigarettes are so harmful because they contain over 7,000 chemicals, including formaldehyde, nicotine, cyanide and carbon monoxide. Needless to say, these chemicals are very harmful to the body and they can spread to all your internal organs. With regards to fertility, they can cause permanent damage to eggs, sperm and the genetic material they contain.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that both male and female smokers have twice the risk of infertility as compared to non-smokers. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), available biological, experimental and epidemiological data shows that 13% of infertility cases may be attributable to smoking. Worse still, cigarettes are addictive and the more you smoke in a day, the higher your risk for fertility problems.
We know that a pregnant woman should never ever smoke, as it can cause miscarriage, pregnancy complications and birth defects. But a woman should be concerned about the effects of smoking well before she is pregnant. In women, cigarette smoke can accelerate the loss of eggs. This in turn leads to the early onset of menopause, which can be made faster by up to four years states the ASRM.
Smoking therefore adversely affects a woman’s chance of success if she undergoes IVF, as fewer eggs will be retrieved. Women smokers are also more likely to develop pregnancy complications like miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies and preterm labour. Cigarettes are equally harmful to men, as they cause hormonal imbalance, sperm abnormality, erectile dysfunction, as well as decrease sperm count, motility and ability to fertilise eggs.
But beyond that, men who smoke also put their non-smoking partners at risk. Research has shown that non-smoking women, who are constantly exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke, can suffer from a higher risk of infertility as well.
Therefore, if you have plans of starting a family, it is best for you (and/or your partner) to kick the smoking habit immediately. Fortunately, it is believed that most of the negative effects of smoking can be reversed within about a year of quitting. However, it is important to bear in mind that once a woman’s eggs have been lost, they cannot be retrieved.