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Men: Beware frequent visits to the sauna may render you infertile

By Vision Reporter

Added 5th March 2013 06:36 PM

After getting a job as a banker, Moses lived a lavish lifestyle and his weight became a health concern. Three years of frequenting various saunas around Kampala have not helped him cut weight.

Men: Beware frequent visits to the sauna may render you infertile

After getting a job as a banker, Moses lived a lavish lifestyle and his weight became a health concern. Three years of frequenting various saunas around Kampala have not helped him cut weight.

By Francis Kagolo 

After getting a job as a banker, Moses lived a lavish lifestyle and his weight became a health concern. Three years of frequenting various saunas around Kampala have not helped him cut weight.

Instead, his worries have increased; from being overweight, Moses is now uncertain whether he will ever have a child!

This follows a revelation by medical experts that saunas could cause infertility in men, a revelation to which Moses is trying to attest. “I have lived with my fi ancé for the last one-and ahalf years.

Even without using any family planning method, she is yet to conceive! Could I have a problem?” he wonders. Yet Moses is not alone; for thousands of corporate and businessmen in Kampala, sauna and steam baths are a hobby. 

What is a sauna?

A sauna is an unpainted, wood-paneled room with wooden platforms and a constant heater. The sauna emits dry air and a high temperature of over 80°C.

Many men and women go to the sauna after work or during leisure time for various reasons, including losing weight. One pays between sh5,000 and sh10,000 or more for a session of sauna, depending on the location.

Before getting into the small hot room where one sweats profusely, one is required to strip naked and wrap a small-sized cloth around the waist.

Some people go to saunas to pass time. For instance, asked why he goes to the sauna, a man who identified himself as Jacob, he goes there to pass time as it helps him stay away from his quarrelsome wife at home.

Saunas and infertility

Both Dr. Collins Tusingwire, the assistant commissioner for reproductive health in the health ministry and Dr. Josephat Byamugisha, the head of gynaecology and obstetrics at Mulago Hospital, warns men against frequenting saunas, as this could cause infertility.

The Chinese Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology director, Dr. Xu Deyi, in a recent online article titled Sauna Affect Male Fertility said that men who spend much time in a sauna environment are prone to dead sperm, weak sperm and other illnesses, which cause infertility.

How infertility comes about

Dr. Charles Kiggundu, a consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician at Mulago Hospital and Makerere University College of Health Sciences, explains that sitting for a long time in a sauna and steam bath exposes one’s genitals to excessive temperature, resulting in poor sperm development and ultimately, low sperm count. 

According to Kiggundu, the gonads (testes) which produce sperm are hidden in the foetus’ abdomen during pregnancy.  At birth, they come out and settle in the dangling scrotum.

“The scrotum has no fat and veins. This is to ensure that the testes are kept at a temperature lower than the normal body temperature,” explains Kiggundu.

High temperature, tight pants not conducive for sperm growth

While the normal body temperature is 37°C, the scrotum needs between 35.5°C and 36°C to operate normally.

However, Kiggundu explains that the testes’ temperatures could rise if the scrotum is squeezed on the body for a long time, for instance due to tight pants or by exposing the testes to excessive heat like in saunas and steam baths

“The temperature in most Ugandan saunas can rise to over 45°C, which is disastrous to the scrotum and if sauna becomes a part of your lifestyle, it means that slowly, you are switching off the performance of your testes,” he expounds.

“A man needs one sperm to fertilise an egg, but if he lacks 20 million sperms per one millilitre, he will find problems impregnating a woman because the sperm count would be low.”

Besides reducing the amount of sperm produced, Kiggundu says, excessive sauna heat could also weaken the sperms. This hinders their movement as they would not be able to swim through the fallopian tubes to fertilise an egg.

“Some men tend to think that ejaculating alone is enough to cause pregnancy. But fertilization does not occur at that exact point of the vagina where a penis ejaculates.

The sperms must swim through the fallopian tubes to meet the eggs,” he emphasises. “Imagine a situation where the sperms are few and weak! This means they cannot fertilise the female egg.

So, you may ejaculate whenever you have sex, but no conception will take place.” Abnormal weak sperms like those without a tail, those with large, small, tapered or crooked heads and sperms with curled or double tails are less likely to swim through the fallopian tubes to fertilise an egg.

Kiggundu says although there are natural causes and other factors that cause poor sperm shape, lifestyle changes and environmental pollution may escalate the problem.

Dr. Lawrence Kazibwe, an obstetrician at Mulago, concurs: “The testes are kept in a dangling sack (scrotum) because they are supposed to remain cooler than the rest of the body.

The excessive heat in saunas would, therefore, destroy the quality of sperms.”

Saunas and sperm count

A 2001 scientifi c review on the Benefi ts and Risks of Sauna Bathing in Finland by researchers Minna Hannuksela and Samer Ellahham, says that most Finish men are not affected because they have high sperm count, but: “A few studies have reported decreased sperm count or decreased sperm movement after sauna bathing.”

“Besides the heat, there are other things going on in saunas like the chemicals used, alcohol abuse and smoking, which lower penis erection and fertility,” says Kiggundu.

Many people believe that a man is considered infertile when he is impotent. And traditionally, the women shouldered the blame if a couple failed to have children, but no wonder, Kiggundu adds, “only women would seek a solution from witch doctors and a few, from hospitals.

And, instead of informing their husbands, some women, especially in Buganda, would rather have sex with their brothers-inlaw to get pregnant, if they discovered the problem was with their men.

Prevalence of infertility

More men are increasingly being diagnosed with male infertility. Although there are no specifi c national studies and statistics, pockets of data from individual doctors and clinics indicate an increase in the trends.

Kiggundu estimates that out of 100 couples who seek medical attention for infertility at Mulago Hospital, at least 40% to 43% are men. And low quality sperm tops the list of problems.

But this is not an isolated case. In France, the average sperm count fell by a third between 1989 and 2005, increasing their risk of infertility, according to a study of 26,600 Frenchmen published recently in the Journal of Human Reproduction. The number of normally shaped sperm fell by 33.4%.

Safer ways to lose weight

Kiggundu recommends jogging and other exercises if one wants to lose weight. But if one cannot do without the sauna, he should at least ensure that he does not visit it routinely, or that each sauna time does not exceed 15 minutes.

It is also advisable to leave the sauna immediately one feels dizzy, drowsy and physical discomfort.

Men: Beware frequent visits to the sauna may render you infertile

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