How Strong Is Your Sperm?

If you’re over 35, you might not like the an­swer. But sci­ence could help the grow­ing num­ber of men who’ve post­poned pa­ter­nity

Mens Health (Australia) - - Tactics - [ BY DAN CRANE ] WHEN IT COMES

to fer­til­ity and fa­ther­hood, men tend to think we’re in­vin­ci­ble. Af­ter all, George Clooney’s pro­duced twin ba­bies in his mid-50s, hasn’t he? Like George, I put off mar­riage un­til later in life. I was nearly 40 when I first got hitched, and 42 when I un­ex­pect­edly found my­self di­vorced. Three years later I re­mar­ried, and not long af­ter the wed­ding, my 32-year-old wife and I were hap­pily sur­prised to find out we were preg­nant. I say “sur­prised” be­cause at 45, I knew that fa­ther­hood wasn’t a fore­gone con­clu­sion for me.

Ev­ery­one has a bi­o­log­i­cal clock, and a man’s sperm count and qual­ity di­min­ish

with age, along with his li­bido. (Sorry, guys. The truth hurts.) Worse, many stud­ies link older fa­ther­hood with such com­pli­ca­tions as lower fer­til­ity, higher mis­car­riage risk, and an in­creased like­li­hood of autism and bipo­lar dis­or­der in the off­spring.

As a chronic wor­rier, I’ve looked into these is­sues. Af­ter my di­vorce I even froze my sperm, some­thing I now ar­dently ad­vise ev­ery man in his 20s or 30s to con­sider if he can af­ford it. Re­triev­ing sperm is much cheaper and sim­pler than re­triev­ing eggs: I went to a lab, en­tered a small room stocked with out­dated porn mag­a­zines, did my busi­ness into a sam­ple cup and handed the goods over to a tech­ni­cian. That’s it. Stor­age can be pricey, but it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

When my wife and I started think­ing about kids, I elected to go au na­turel. If we ran into prob­lems, I could al­ways re­trieve my sperm­ci­cles. Luck­ily, we con­ceived with sperm that was “fresh, not frozen.”

WHY YOU NEED STRONG SPERM

We’ve heard a lot about the fer­til­ity prob­lems of older men and women, but what’s less pub­li­cised is the ex­tent to which a man’s diet and health play a role, even when he’s young. Women are con­sis­tently ed­u­cated on smok­ing, al­co­hol, diet, vi­ta­mins and ex­er­cise. Why aren’t men? A man’s habits prior to con­cep­tion could have a pro­found im­pact on his prog­eny. Re­searchers know that smok­ing, a bad diet, lack of ex­er­cise and ex­po­sure to en­vi­ron­men­tal tox­ins are all detri­men­tal to a man’s fer­til­ity and in some cases may af­fect the health of off­spring.

The up­side: there’s new hope that life­style changes and other mod­i­fi­ca­tions can im­prove male fer­til­ity. These rev­e­la­tions are rooted in a rel­a­tively new field of re­search known as epigenetics.

Epigenetics – a buzz­word that’s emerged in the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity over the past decade – is the study of how gene ex­pres­sion can be mod­i­fied through life­style changes. While DNA is essen­tially hard­wired code in our cells, epi­ge­netic fac­tors pro­vide the in­struc­tions for that code. Think of genes as hard­ware and epigenetics as firmware. Your en­vi­ron­ment and be­hav­iour can ac­tu­ally change those in­struc­tions over time. Some sci­en­tists have also sug­gested that we could pass on epi­ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied DNA to our kids and even to gen­er­a­tions be­yond. The good news is that many of the harm­ful changes brought on by bad habits may also be re­versed through pos­i­tive be­hav­iour changes – a firmware up­date, if you will.

Here’s why all this mat­ters: if you mod­ify your be­hav­iour, you can change the DNA you pass down your fam­ily tree. When obese men had their epi­ge­netic pro­files as­sessed one week be­fore gas­tric by­pass surgery, one week af­ter and one year af­ter, the re­searchers found shifts in re­gions im­por­tant for neu­rode­vel­op­ment and me­tab­o­lism. Re­search also sug­gests that smok­ing-re­lated de­fects in a man’s epi­ge­netic pro­file can start to mend af­ter he quits. Still more re­search found that three months of sprint in­ter­val train­ing im­proved “sperm DNA methy­la­tion” (the ways genes turn on and off). Changes were seen in genes in­volved in foetal or­gan devel­op­ment and even Parkin­son’s risk.

The take­home: your gen­eral health may be more crit­i­cal to fer­til­ity and healthy off­spring than we once thought. The beauty of sperm health is that it can be im­proved – some­times quickly – with life­style changes. “I can’t say to a woman, ‘Wait two months and your eggs will be bet­ter,’” said Dr Aimee Ey­vaz­zadeh, a fer­til­ity spe­cial­ist. “But I can say that to a guy about his sperm.”

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