How tobacco consumption affects fertility?

The young generation is more addicted to tobacco/smoking and the situation is only turning worse day by day. While the effect of smoking on lung cancer is well known, other serious effects of smoking have not often been investigated. Lately, there has been evidence showing the shocking impact of it on reproductive health, irrespective of gender status.

Recent years have seen a steep rise in the total number of couples visiting an infertility clinic. Infertility, as defined by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, is the inability to achieve pregnancy after a duration period of one year of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse.

Effects of smoking on male fertility

Tobacco smoke contains more than 4000 harmful substances and for long, there has been a concern that smoking could have an adverse effect on male reproduction. Smoking results in reduced semen quality including semen volume, sperm density, motility, viability, and normal morphology in smokers.

Furthermore, smokers are also known to be affected with reproductive hormone system disorders, dysfunction of spermatogenesis, sperm maturation process, and impaired spermatozoa function.

Effects of smoking on female fertility 

Smoking has devastating effects on female fertility as well. Women who smoke are more likely to experience primary and secondary infertility and delays in conceiving. Moreover, it might have devastating consequences if done during pregnancy with dreadful outcomes for both mother and her baby. There are a number of adverse outcomes that have been associated with smoking during pregnancy including stillbirth, preterm birth, and low birth weight. 

Smoking might put the baby under severe health risks during pregnancy and even after birth. All the harmful chemicals including nicotine and other cancer-causing products inhaled from tobacco flood the mother’s bloodstream and through the placenta enter directly into the baby’s circulation. Out of the 7000 known harmful chemicals present in tobacco smoke, over 70 are known to be carcinogenic or responsible for causing cancer.

Smoking during pregnancy obstructs the placenta, resulting in a decrease in the oxygen flow as well as an adequate supply of nutrients to the baby. Among other health risks, it can increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth along with a hindrance in the proper development of the baby and low birth weight. In many cases, the baby gets an abnormal heart rate and many of them end up having breathing problems. An increased rate of premature delivery is also one of the adverse health effects that smoking tobacco during pregnancy has to offer. 

Furthermore, it’s not only the baby who is at risk, smoking is harmful to the mother as well. The mother is also at an equal risk of cancers, cardiovascular disease, emphysema, and other conditions. There is absolutely nothing called safe smoking during pregnancy, health risks only increase with every cigarette that you smoke. 

Risks of Passive Smoking 

Passive smoking is when you breathe in tobacco smoke from being near a smoker. It is widely proven that second-hand smoke can cause lung cancer and other health problems like cardiovascular diseases, asthma and so on. It can also lead to some other types of cancer, stroke, lung disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). According to WHO reports, more than a third of all people are regularly exposed to the harmful effects of smoke globally. Every year, about 600,000 deaths are recorded due to exposure to smoke and this smoke is responsible for about 1% of the global burden of disease worldwide. Practically every region of the world is under this threat. Passive smoking is every bit dangerous for pregnant women. All the risks of smoking during pregnancy are applicable to passive smoking by pregnant women. 

Health risks in babies exposed to passive smoking are massive. They possess high risks for developing asthma attacks, breathing problems, ear infections, impaired lung development, and coughing. Children exposed to second-hand smoke may require more ear tube surgeries as compared to the ones who are not exposed. Lower IQs in children are also associated with exposure to passive smoking

Nicotine replacement products are not the answer

While it is not easy to quit smoking, but in an attempt to kick the butt, one must not resort to nicotine replacement products. They do decrease the cravings but also result in a build-up of nicotine in the bloodstream in those who use them. The nicotine then directly enters the baby’s circulation from the mother through the placenta, which will eventually end up risking both the baby’s and the mother’s health. 

So, it is highly recommended for pregnant women to stay away from smoking in any form during pregnancy. 

(Written by Dr. Archana Dhawan Bajaj, Gyneacologist, Obstetrician and IVF expert. The view expressed in the article are her own)

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