October 31 18 | lifestyle

Women are often reminded that their fertility decreases after a certain age – but what about men? Liz Connor talks to some experts.

Women have long been reminded of the so-called "ticking time bomb" they are exposed to in terms of fertility. The bane of the biological clock suggests that a woman has an innate mechanism that counts down the time until she can no longer conceive naturally.

But what about men?

We may not see so many headlines about male fertility, but the experts warn that they should also be aware of the potential problems.

Sad couple
It's not just women's fertility that can be a problem (Thinkstock / PA)

Theoretically, men produce sperm throughout their lives (unlike women whose oocyte reserves are limited). However, this does not mean that they necessarily have the same fertility success at any age.

In fact, many men may not know about any potential changes in their sperm, and couples can often get this out – many mistakenly believe that fertility problems are most likely to be female automatically.

Infertility symptoms in men can also be very vague or as a total shock. Therefore, they may go unnoticed until a couple tries to conceive.

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But do men really experience the "tick-tock" of the biological clock like women, and should they really be worried about it?

What a fertility expert has to say …
"The importance of having a child is well known to women, but it is not often taken into account in men," says Dr. Victoria Walker, fertility expert at the Institut Marquès (institutomarques.com). "Men still have a biological clock – and it's something they should be concerned about," she says.

"Men produce sperm cells throughout their lives, but over time sperm quality will change and semen fertilization capacity will decrease."

Movement of colorful balloons in spermatozoid shape concept.
Experts say a man's sperm quality may decrease over time (Thinkstock / PA)

Walker says that in addition to infertility, an increase in age may be associated with damage to the genetic material in sperm, which can sometimes lead to genetic disorders in babies.

Studies have supported the theory that not only women are important to the middle-aged infertility equation. In a 2003 study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, only a quarter (25%) of over-50-year-old men could conceive with their partners within a year.

A 2017 study by Harvard researchers also made headlines recently, finding that sperm from men 40-42 years was 46% less likely than women under 30 than sperm from men aged 30-35 years ,

Young beautiful and loving couple wake up in the morning. Attractive man kiss and hug his wife in bed
Male infertility is just as important (Thinkstock / PA)

"Poor semen quality does not necessarily mean that a man can not get pregnant," says Walker – but it can affect her chances, she notes.

Nor is it the only obstacle men face in this context. A review by the Baylor College of Medicine found that the odds of a baby having one of 86 congenital problems, such as Down syndrome or spina bifida, is one in 50 on average, but increases from one in 42 to one over the age of 40.

Research published in Nature has also shown that fathers pass on more genetic mutations as they grow older, and that the increasing age of paternity may be a factor in increasing rates of diseases such as schizophrenia and autism.

What causes a decrease in sperm in older men?
The decline in male semen quality, which includes both sperm count and sperm quality, has been a topic in the scientific community for many years.

"Previous studies have shown that the number of sperm in the 50 years to 1990 decreased by 1% per year. Since then, numerous publications have discussed this topic, and many researchers agree that sperm counts are a geographic element, with seed quality being poorer in most developed countries, "says Walker.

3d illustration of sperm cells moving to the right
Environmental factors can also affect sperm health (Thinkstock / PA)

"We have studied this issue for many years at the Marquès Institute, and the decline in male fertility can be a result of environmental pollution such as petrochemicals," she adds.

Petrochemicals are chemical compounds that can be made from oil, natural gas, and coal, found in many household items, from lunch boxes and garbage bags to plastic bottles.

"In addition to polluting the environment, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) can dissolve in human fat, a phenomenon called 'lipophilicity'," explains Walker. "When dissolved in fat, POPs act as estrogenic endocrine disruptors, meaning they behave like female hormones, even if they are male."

As such, endocrine disruptors have been implicated in possibly altered functions of the endocrine system and in influencing sperm count and quality. Dr. Walker says that they can also increase estrogen levels in pregnant women, which in turn can affect the development of the fetus. In terms of early male development, this may have an early impact on the development of the testes and their subsequent ability to produce sperm.

Can your lifestyle affect your fertility?
While Walker believes there is nothing a man can do to slow down the biological clock altogether – as everyone naturally ages – there are lifestyle factors that are believed to improve sperm quality.

Rob Hobson, Head of Nutrition at Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk), explains that lifestyle is often the cause of a man's inability to conceive.

Man holding chain watch on white background
Lifestyle factors can also play a crucial role (Thinkstock / PA)

"Problems like stress, depression and anxiety can be responsible for mood swings, irritability, lower libido and a general lack of enthusiasm," says Hobson. "These can increase over the course of life because of lifestyle pressures such as work, relationships, divorce, money problems, family pressures, or concerns about aging parents."

He points out that lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, stress and nutrition are a common denominator in the etiology of male infertility, while diabetes is considered to be a major cause of male impotence.

"Men who want to start a family should definitely stop smoking, limit their alcohol intake, and try to cope with their stress in order to promote the production of healthy sperm," advises Hobson. "A healthy, well-balanced diet rich in nutrients can also help to ensure the production of male sex hormones.

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"Zinc is more needed in men than women because it helps in the production of male sex hormones," he says, advising men to look at seafood, poultry, nuts, seeds, beans, eggs, and whole grains.

"Vitamin C is also important as it helps to prevent sperm from bunching together, which is common in infertility," notes Hobson. "Most men get enough vitamin C in their diet, but you can ensure your intake by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, such as peppers, berries, citrus, and green vegetables that contain a lot of vitamin.

"Eating more plant foods – vegetables, beans, legumes, and lentils – increases the intake of antioxidants that help reduce the damage caused by excessive free radicals, which are considered by some to be a factor leading to male infertility leads." he adds.

It's always a good idea to lead a healthier lifestyle, but it's good to know that some men are just lucky when it comes to the genetic lottery. Fecundity is not one-size-fits-all, and countless celebrities and rock stars have fathered children over 60, including Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, and Jeff Goldblum.

Many men can imagine themselves in their 60s and beyond, such as Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood (Andrew Matthews / PA).

The quintessence? The biological clock is probably not something anyone should sleep in at its best – but everyone should know that men can have fertility problems, just like women.

If you hope to grasp in the future, it is a good choice, if you are aware that the age can be a factor in addition to a balanced healthy lifestyle.
If you are worried or already trying to imagine and fight, it is always worth talking to your family doctor or a specialist who can help you get to the bottom of fertility problems.

© Press Association 2018


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