Research presented at the annual conference of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) in Seattle last week suggests that men ought to be as aware that their biological clocks are ticking as women are.
A team of American scientists examined the sperm of 60 men with healthy sperm counts, aged between 22 and 60. This group were divided into two: those aged 35 and below and those aged between 36 and 60. The team, led by Dr Narendra Singh, found that despite having a normal sperm count, the men aged above 35 tended to have sperm of a lower genetic quality to that of younger men.
The study showed that as men get older, the genetic quality of their sperm declines. Men in the upper age bracket of those studied had higher concentrations of sperm with damaged DNA, more acute levels of genetic damage and their immune systems were less effective at destroying faulty sperm. In addition, sperm from the older men swam less strongly than that of younger men.
The research has been welcomed by infertility organisations, who often argue that male infertility is overlooked. But the research does not mean that most men who wait until later to have children will face problems in doing so, particularly if their partner is younger than them. It does, however, alert fertility doctors to a possible additional source of fertility problems in older couples. William Keye, president of the ASRM said that men concerned about a decline in their fertility should take steps to try and avoid things that would do damage to their sperm's DNA, adding 'while there's nothing anyone can do about getting older, men who want to retain their own best capacity to father children should try to minimise contact with toxic agents and maintain a healthy lifestyle'.