should men lis­ten to their bi­o­log­i­cal clock?

Women are of­ten be­ing re­minded that their fer­til­ity de­clines af­ter a cer­tain age – but what about men? liz con­nor talks to some ex­perts

Bath Chronicle - - FAMILY & LIFESTYLE -

Women have long been re­minded of the so-called ‘tick­ing time bomb’ they face when it comes to fer­til­ity. The curse of the bi­o­log­i­cal clock sug­gests that a woman has an in­nate mech­a­nism that’s count­ing down the time un­til she can no longer nat­u­rally con­ceive. But what about men?

We may not see as many head­lines on the topic of male fer­til­ity but ex­perts are warn­ing that men should be aware of pos­si­ble is­sues too.

men, in the­ory, pro­duce sperm through­out their lives – but that doesn’t mean they’ll have the same fer­til­ity suc­cess at any age.

In fact, many men may be woe­fully ig­no­rant of po­ten­tial changes to their sperm and this can of­ten catch cou­ples out – with many falsely be­liev­ing fer­til­ity is­sues are most likely to lie with women.

In­fer­til­ity symp­toms in men can be vague or come as a to­tal shock and may go un­no­ticed un­til a cou­ple tries to con­ceive.

But do men re­ally ex­pe­ri­ence the ‘tick-tock’ of the bi­o­log­i­cal clock in the same way as women, and should they re­ally be wor­ried about it?

a fer­til­ity ex­pert says...

“The im­por­tance of the age at which one has a child is well known in fe­males but is not of­ten taken into ac­count for men,” says Dr Vic­to­ria Walker, a fer­til­ity ex­pert at In­sti­tut mar­ques (in­sti­tu­tomar­ques. com). “nev­er­the­less, men do have a bi­o­log­i­cal clock – and it’s some­thing they should be con­cerned about,” she says.

“men pro­duce sperm cells through­out their life, but with the pas­sage of time, the qual­ity will change, re­duc­ing the fer­til­is­ing ca­pac­ity of se­men.”

Dr Walker says that, as well as in­fer­til­ity, age­ing can also be linked with dam­age to the ge­netic ma­te­rial in sperm, which can lead to ge­netic dis­or­ders in ba­bies.

Stud­ies have sup­ported the the­ory that it’s not just women who mat­ter in the mid­dle-aged in­fer­til­ity equa­tion. In a 2003 study pub­lished in the jour­nal Fer­til­ity and Steril­ity, just a quar­ter (25%) of men over 50 were able to get a part­ner preg­nant within the space of a year.

A 2017 study by har­vard re­searchers found that sperm from men aged 40-42 was 46% less likely to im­preg­nate women un­der 30, than sperm from men aged 30-35.

“Poor se­men qual­ity does not nec­es­sar­ily mean a man won’t be able to con­ceive,” says Dr Walker, “but it can ham­per their chances.”

It’s not the only ob­sta­cle men face, ei­ther. A Bay­lor Col­lege of medicine re­view found that the chance of a baby hav­ing any of 86 con­gen­i­tal prob­lems, such as Down syn­drome or spina bi­fida, are one-in-50 on av­er­age, but rise to one in 42 when the father is over 40.

Re­search pub­lished in science jour­nal na­ture also found that dads pass on more ge­netic mu­ta­tions as they get older, and that the ris­ing age of fa­ther­hood could be a fac­tor in in­creased rates of con­di­tions such as schizophre­nia and autism. What causes a de­cline in sperm in older men? “STUD­IES have shown that, in the 50 years up un­til 1990, sperm count de­clined by 1% per year, and many re­searchers agree that there is a geo­graph­i­cal el­e­ment to sperm count, with poorer se­men qual­ity typ­i­cally seen in more in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries,” says Dr Walker.

“We’ve been in­ves­ti­gat­ing this topic for many years at In­sti­tut mar­ques, and the de­cline in male fer­til­ity may be a con­se­quence of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­tam­i­nants, such as petro­chem­i­cal agents,” she adds.

These are com­pounds which can be made from oil, nat­u­ral gas and coal and are found in a wide ar­ray of house­hold items, from lunch boxes and bin bags to plas­tic bot­tles.

“As well as pol­lut­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, per­sis­tent or­ganic pol­lu­tants (POP) can dis­solve into hu­man fat – lipophilic­ity” ex­plains Dr Walker. “When dis­solved into fat, some Pops act as es­tro­genic en­docrine dis­rup­tors, which means they be­have in the same way as fe­male hor­mones, even if they’re in males.”

These dis­rup­tors may pos­si­bly al­ter func­tions of the en­docrine sys­tem and in­ter­fere with sperm count and qual­ity. Dr Walker says they can also in­crease oe­stro­gen lev­els in preg­nant women, which can af­fect fe­tal de­vel­op­ment – in re­la­tion to early male de­vel­op­ment, this may have an early im­pact on how the tes­ti­cles de­velop and their later abil­ity to pro­duce sperm.

can your life­style af­fect your fer­til­ity? While Dr Walker be­lieves there is noth­ing a man can do to slow the over­all bi­o­log­i­cal clock – as ev­ery­one nat­u­rally ages – life­style fac­tors might help im­prove se­men qual­ity.

Rob hob­son, head of nu­tri­tion at healthspan (healthspan.co.uk) says life­style can of­ten be at the root of a man’s in­abil­ity to con­ceive.

“Is­sues in­clud­ing stress, de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety can be re­spon­si­ble for mood swings, ir­ri­tabil­ity, lower li­bido and a gen­eral lack of en­thu­si­asm,” says Rob. “These can be am­pli­fied later in life as a re­sult of life­style pres­sures, such as work, re­la­tion­ships, di­vorce, money prob­lems, pres­sure to sup­port fam­ily or wor­ries over age­ing par­ents.”

he notes that fac­tors such as smok­ing, drink­ing, stress and diet are a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor in male in­fer­til­ity, while di­a­betes, he says, is con­sid­ered to be one of the lead­ing causes of male im­po­tence.

“men look­ing to start a fam­ily should def­i­nitely quit smok­ing, curb drink­ing and man­age stress in or­der to pro­mote the pro­duc­tion of healthy sperm,” ad­vises Rob.

“Adopt­ing a healthy bal­anced diet that in­cludes plenty of nu­tri­ents can also help en­sure the pro­duc­tion of male sex hor­mones.

“Zinc is re­quired in higher amount in men than women, as it helps with the pro­duc­tion of male sex hor­mones,” he says, ad­vis­ing men to load up on seafood, poul­try, nuts, seeds, beans, eggs and whole grains.

“Vi­ta­min C is also im­por­tant, as it helps to pre­vent sperm cells clump­ing to­gether, which is com­mon with in­fer­til­ity,” notes Rob.

“most men get enough vi­ta­min C in their diet, but you can en­sure your in­take by eat­ing plenty of fruits and vegeta­bles such as red pep­pers, berries, citrus fruits and green vegeta­bles, which are par­tic­u­larly high in this vi­ta­min.

“eat­ing more plant-based foods – vegeta­bles, beans, pulses and lentils – will in­crease your in­take of an­tiox­i­dants that help to re­duce the dam­age caused by ex­cess free-rad­i­cals, con­sid­ered by some to be a con­trib­u­tory fac­tor lead­ing to in­fer­til­ity in men,” he adds.

While lead­ing a health­ier life­style is al­ways a good idea, it’s good to note that some men are just plain lucky when it comes to the ge­netic lot­tery.

Fer­til­ity is not a one-size-fits-all is­sue, and countless celebri­ties and rock stars have fa­thered chil­dren be­yond the age of 60, such as mick Jag­ger, Ron­nie Wood and Jeff Gold­blum.

The bot­tom line? The bi­o­log­i­cal clock prob­a­bly isn’t some­thing that any­body in their prime should lose sleep over – but ev­ery­body should be aware that men can ex­pe­ri­ence fer­til­ity is­sues, just as women can.

If you’re hop­ing to con­ceive in the fu­ture, an aware­ness that age may be a fac­tor, along­side adopt­ing a healthy life­style, is a good bet.

If you’re con­cerned, or al­ready strug­gling to con­ceive, it’s worth speak­ing to your GP or a spe­cial­ist, who can help iden­tify any is­sues.

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