Male infertility: Doctor discusses likely causes
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While men produce sperm on a daily basis, the number and quality of sperm declines with age. From a biological standpoint, Professor Suks Minhas says a man is best suited to fatherhood from “their late 20s to early 30s”. Indeed this may shock some people, especially when many have fathered much later on in life. Professor Minhas confirmed: “It is possible for men to father a child in their 50s and older.”
“[However], a man’s age can affect a couple’s chances of becoming pregnant, with males over 40 having a lower likelihood of success.”
Take, for example, a 45-year-old man – he’s 12.5 times more likely to take over two years to conceive, Professor Minhas stated.
Couples who have not successfully conceived within one year are able to get their fertility checked out on the NHS.
“Your GP can arrange a semen analysis,” said Professor Minhas. “This is where a sample of semen is analysed to check the quality and quantity of the sperm.
“Following this, you may be referred to a male specialist in fertility for additional tests.”
Examples include a scrotal ultrasound, hormone testing and specialised sperm function tests.
Fertility capability typically takes a nosedive from the age of 40, for a man, but the effects of ageing on male fertility is an underdeveloped research area.
“Studies have shown that both volume and quality of semen tends to decline as a man ages, particularly from the age of 40 onwards,” Professor Minhas said.
“Men typically never stop producing sperm. However, that doesn’t mean men don’t have a ‘biological clock’ like women.”
Professor Minhas added: “Studies have shown that fathers of an ‘advanced paternal age’ may be more likely to have children with neurodevelopmental disorders.
“The older a man is, the higher the likelihood of the DNA of his sperm may be damaged, which may lead to genetic mutations and birth defects in a child.”
Lifestyle factors that can influence fertility
“There are many lifestyle factors that can be detrimental to sperm quality,” cautioned Professor Minhas.
Examples include: a poor diet, cigarette and vape smoking, drinking alcohol, taking recreational drugs, and obesity.
“Smoking both cigarettes and vapes have been associated with a decrease in the quality of sperm, but also their amount and motility,” said Professor Minhas.
“Sperm motility is the ability of sperm to move efficiently through the woman’s reproductive tract to reach and fertilise the egg,” the professor explained.
“Non-progressive motility is sperm that does not travel in straight lines or that swims in very tight circles, and can be a factor towards male infertility.”
Professor Minhas added: “Some recreational drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine and anabolic steroids, can also damage sperm quality and affect male fertility.”
In order to produce “optimum” sperm, it is “essential” to maintain a “healthy, balanced diet and weight, and to keep physically active”.
Professor Suks Minhas is the consultant urologist and andrologist at the Lister Fertility Clinic (part of HCA Healthcare UK).
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