When it comes to aging and fertility, the focus has always been on the female’s biological time clock. Now, with more couples waiting to have children, the research has shifted to male fertility. Over the past twenty years, researchers have agreed that as a man gets older his semen volume decreases and there is a change in his sperm’s motility (its ability to move towards an egg) and its shape. But in more recent studies there have been new concerns about the effects of genetic abnormalities as well as advice on how to delay the effects of aging on male fertility If you and your partner/donor are having discussions about how long to wait before beginning your fertility journey, the following information may help you make some important decisions:
After age 30, most men experience a decline in testosterone. Since testosterone is the hormone that is needed to make good-quality sperm, lower levels may result in defective sperm production. Unlike eggs, sperm cells constantly regenerate themselves and as sperm cells divide, there is an increased chance for genetic abnormalities. According to a study published in the journal Nature, men over 40 have an increase chance of random genetic mutations which can lead to the development of autism, schizophrenia and other diseases in their offspring.
Because the quality and motility of sperm also decreases with age, older men take longer to impregnate their partners. One study showed that the average time to pregnancy for a man under 25 is just over 4.5 months whereas for a man over 40 years, it was nearly two years.
There is also a higher chance for the pregnancy to miscarriage if the man is 45 or older. For couples using in vitro fertilization as a fertility method, the risk of not having a baby is more than five times greater if the male is over 41 years old.
The good news is that a healthy lifestyle can help you delay the aging effects that lower fertility. Men over 35 should do everything they can to decrease their likelihood of having abnormal sperm or genetic abnormalities. That means leading a better lifestyle and avoiding alcohol, cigarette smoking and anabolic steroids.
There is also a direct correlation between waist size and testosterone levels (the bigger the waist, the lower the testosterone). Men with a body mass index of over 25 have a 20 percent increased chance of infertility. Studies also showed that being too thin may also decrease your chances for fertility. A man’s B.M.I. should be between 20 and 25 for optimal fertility. If a man has a B.M.I. of less than 20, that means he has a lower sperm count.
Regular exercise and a low-fat diet are the keys to increasing testosterone levels. Recent research from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed that diets high in vitamin C, antioxidants, vitamin E, zinc and folate can prevent DNA damage from accumulating in sperm. A high cholesterol level also contributes to erectile dysfunction, and consequently, fertility function.
Men should also avoid heat on their testicles which also lowers fertility. Time spent in saunas, Jacuzzis and steam rooms should be limited to 15 minutes no more than twice a week since sperm production thrives in a cool climate. Environmental toxins, like heavy metals, are also known to cause a problem with male fertility. Lead, cadmium (from cigarette smoking) and excessive mercury (found in certain fish) have been shown to decrease sperm function and counts.
Finally, a man’s stress level will also increase abnormal sperm and reduce its concentration. So remember, getting enough sleep and taking the time to relax can really make a difference when it comes to fertility success.