There's growing evidence that men, as well as women, have biological clocks. One recent study carried out at the University of Washington in Seattle found that sperm quality diminishes beginning when men turn 35.
The study, led by Dr. Narendra Singh, an assistant research professor in the department of bioengineering at the University of Washington, examined sperm samples from 60 men aged 22 to 60. The results provide strong evidence of a decrease in sperm mobility, a rise in the number of sperm with damaged DNA and a decrease in apoptosis, or cell suicide, after age 35. Apoptosis is the body's way of getting rid of defective cells. As men age, this cell suicide slows down, leaving more damaged sperm in circulation. If these sperm fertilize eggs, some of the damage could be transmitted to the offspring.
Chances of conception decrease with age
Another study, from the University of California, found that, as men age, sperm begin to swim in circles rather than in a straight line toward the egg. This finding suggests that chances of conception decrease as men get older.
Other research indicates that children of fathers as young as their mid-30s are at greater risk for a number of medical conditions -- including schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, prostate cancer and cancer of the nervous system -- than offspring of younger fathers.
Myths about infertility
Geneticists have known about the link between paternal age and inherited illnesses since the early 1980s, but this association is only now reaching public attention. As the link draws more attention, experts feel it's important to clarify the connection. "There are so many myths associated with infertility that need to be clarified," says Beverly Hanck, executive director of the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada. A common myth is that men don't have infertility problems. In fact, male factors account for about 40 per cent of cases, while female factors explain about 45 per cent of cases. The remaining 15 per cent are undetermined.
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Dealing with infertility
There are now a variety of medical and surgical treatment options for male infertility, including a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection. This procedure, which involves injecting a single sperm into an egg, is the newest advancement in male infertility treatment.
Preventing male infertility
Infertility, which affects one in six Canadian couples, is defined as the inability to achieve pregnancy after regular intercourse without contraception for one year. Men can help prevent infertility by avoiding cigarettes, drugs and alcohol; limiting their exposure to heat, pesticides and lead, and eating a healthy diet.
This story was originally published in the October 2003 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!
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