The Male Biological Clock
We all hear jokes about the female biological clock. Women often talk about how their clock has started to tick and the count down is on to conceive before their clock, or more specifically, their fertility, runs out. Men, on the other hand, don’t have this issue. They are able to conceive a child no matter what their age. They don’t have to deal with declining egg quality or menopause as they age, right? Well, according to recent research, male fertility may be vulnerable to the effects of time and aging too.
The Count Down Begins
While female infertility has long been a popular topic of conversation, the question of male infertility has only recently started to come up in these conversations. Since women have for so long been blamed for incidents of infertility, only recently have scientists begun to examine just how significant a role men play in this equation. And what they are finding is quite revolutionary.
For starters, incidents of male infertility are on the rise. In the past, men lagged behind women as being the cause for infertility. Nowadays, though, male factor infertility and female factor infertility are on par with each other although male infertility cases are expected to soon exceed female infertility cases. According to the National Women’s Health Information Center (NWHIC), male infertility is quite common, affecting at least 2 million people a year.
While it is known that women’s fertility begins to decline after age 30, recent studies have shown that male fertility also begins to decline as he ages, usually after age 40. The reasons for this decline can vary and may include:
- sperm disorders
- repeated sexually transmitted diseases
- testicle disorders
- emotional problems
- excessive smoking, drinking and drug use
- exposure to environmental contaminants
Other serious medical conditions like cancer, cystic fibrosis and obesity, as well as hormone deficiencies and genetic diseases can also affect male fertility.
Popular belief has held that men stay virile their entire life, able to father a child at any age. New studies, however, are revealing that this may not be true and that men may also experience a gradual decline in their fertility as they age. Additionally, just as advanced maternal age appears to increase the chances of a child being born with genetic defects, advanced paternal age seems to contribute to these issues, as well.
A recent scientific study involving 2,000 couples revealed that, after hitting 40, men’s fertility declines by as much as 70%. As men age, the DNA in their sperm begins to fragment, leading to infertility. The study also found that when men wait until they are much older to father a child, they increase the likelihood that their babies will have genetic defects. This can lead to medical conditions such as dwarfism or schizophrenia.
According to the BBC, a 2003 study showed many infertile men have high traces of the toxin lead in their blood. Researchers were surprised to find out that the men involved in the study did not absorb the lead from their occupations but from drinking, smoking and lack of exercise. It was discovered that lead prevents sperm from functioning optimally and from fertilizing an egg.
Another study conducted at the University of California Berkeley provided further evidence that men lose their fertility as they age. The study, which inspected the sperm of 100 men aged 22 to 80, showed that men’s sperm begins to deteriorate when men are in their 20s. Sperm function, including motility slows down by 0.7% every year. As men age, their sperm deteriorates so that by the age of 60, 85% of sperm is considered abnormal.
Research has also shown that as men age, there is an increase of broken DNA strands in sperm. As the damage accumulates over time, the greater the likelihood of infertility and genetic abnormalities. Specifically, the gene marker in sperm for dwarfism increases by 2% each year. Researchers are currently studying the DNA of families with schizophrenia to pinpoint the exact gene marker that causes the disorder.
Turning Back Time
However there are things that men can do to slow down their biological clock:
- Exercise on a regular basis to improve your overall health and maintain a healthy body weight. Your hormonal balance is upset if you are either overweight or underweight.
- Avoid smoking and using drugs or steroids; drink alcohol in moderation
- Make sure you wear a protective mask and clothing if working with chemicals or toxins
- Do not use hot baths or saunas at hot temperatures as these can have an adverse effect on sperm volume
- Take a multivitamin if you are concerned that you are not getting all the proper nutrients and minerals in your daily diet. A multivitamin can provide antioxidant vitamins that will help to preserve your sperm.
- If you are taking prescription medicine for any reason, talk to your doctor about how the medication will affect your fertility in the future.
- Cut down on stress. Too much stress can interfere with your hormones and sperm production. Look into relaxation therapies and techniques.
If you suspect you have a hormone insufficiency, sperm or testicle disorder, you should seek the medical advice of a fertility specialist to determine your treatment options. Although there are a number of hormone replacement therapies, fertility drugs and surgeries available, your doctor will first conduct a series of simple tests to properly identify the cause behind your infertility.