How men’s weight may affect their sperm

ObeseManSideViewWe always hear about the need for women to maintain a healthy weight for reproduction, but new evidence from Denmark shows that information relating to a man’s weight is passed to his children in his sperm and that this could make them more likely to be obese themselves.

The researchers tested the sperm of obese men who were going through weight-loss surgery and found that there were changes in their sperm afterwards. The changes they found in the sperm were linked to the genes which relate to appetite control and brain development.

This was a very small study so would need more research, but it does suggest that it really is important for men to do all that they can to keep fit and healthy when they are trying to conceive. You can find the summary of the article, published in the Journal Cell Metabolism, here.

Age matters for men too

DownloadedFile-17We don’t need reminding about the female biological clock, but what doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often is the fact that age has an impact on male fertility too. This really interesting article explains that male levels of testosterone actually start to decline when men are in their thirties, and that older men can take up to five times longer to conceive.

The author says that there’s a need for more information about male fertility and age, and that men need to be encouraged to discuss these issues with their doctors.  Apparently in general men are 80% less likely than women to go to the doctor – and a recent study for Infertility Network UK found that nearly half of men would not feel happy discussing fertility with their GP.

When we call for more fertility awareness and education, there’s often a response from those who feel that women already know quite enough about this issue – but it’s clear that men certainly don’t.

Men have fertility problems too…

It may have seemed a bit of an outdated idea that men would be unable to talk about anything personal or potentially distressing, but a new survey released by Nuffield Health in partnership with Infertility Network UK shows that fertility is certainly still a taboo subject for most men. Sadly, more than half of all the men who responded did not feel able to discuss fertility concerns with their partners, and just under half said that they would not be open to discussing their fertility with their GP either,

More than 2000 men from around the country were questioned for the survey, which also revealed that many were unaware of how lifestyle choices could affect fertility.  Less than half were aware that being overweight or obese could have an impact, and half didn’t know that age played a role. Only 64% of the men surveyed were aware of the effect of alcohol and smoking on fertility, and 55% did not know that sexually-transmitted infections could have an impact.

Around a third of the men surveyed had experienced fertility problems, and of those the majority said it had a negative impact on their relationship with their partners. One in three said it had a negative influence on their work life, and 40% felt it had had an adverse effect on their mental health.

The survey showed that many men feel that they do not get as much support and information as they would like about fertility issues, and it is evident that they don’t always feel comfortable seeking help. It’s time to get across the message that fertility isn’t a women’s issue and that men need advice and support dealing with it too.

Should young men be freezing their sperm?

120px-Sperm-eggYou may have heard the idea mooted a week or so ago by a bioethicist from Dundee, Dr Kevin Smith, who suggested that all young men should be considering freezing sperm as young as 18 as leaving it until later to try to have a child meant that they were more likely to build up mutations. He said the NHS should fund this and claimed it was a practical idea as the children of older fathers were more likely to suffer from genetic diseases.

If you’ve been worrying about this – whether you’re an “older” man or the partner of one – you may be relieved to know that one of the country’s leading sperm experts, Professor Allan Pacey of Sheffield University, described it as “crackers” and one of the most ridiculous suggestions he’d heard in a long time.  He said any risks for older men becoming fathers were small and would usually affect those who were over the age of 45. He also made the point that not all sperm will freeze well anyway.

So, really no need to worry – but if you are interested, you can read more here

Birmingham – UK sperm capital?

images-2For the last six months or so, I’ve been following the progress of the UK’s first national sperm bank for a BBC Radio Four documentary.

Located in Birmingham’s Women’s Hospital, the new bank was founded last year following a grant from the Department of Health and aims to eventually end the reliance on imports of donor sperm from the USA and Denmark.

Recruiting and retaining sperm donors isn’t easy and many clinics here in the UK do suggest that patients use imported sperm as they don’t have the time or resources to set up their own sperm banks. The National Sperm Bank aims to reverse that trend, and hopes that Birmingham will prove itself to be the ideal location.

If you’re interested in hearing the documentary, it will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 22 June at 11am – you can read more about it here and  find details here on the BBC website and will be able to listen again there if you miss it.

If you are interested in donating, you can find the National Sperm Bank website here

Sleep and your sperm

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have suggested that sleeping badly may be linked to male fertility problems. They looked at the sleep patterns of more than 900 Danish men and found that those who had less than six hours sleep a night or suffered from disturbed sleep were more likely to have a poor quality sperm.

Before you dash off to the sleep clinic, what the team don’t know is whether improving sleep patterns for these individuals would lead to an improvement in sperm quality. You might also be reassured by comments on this story in the Daily Mail from Dr Allan Pacey, a leading UK expert on the subject, who said that men should not be worried by this research as it was unlikely that poor sleep would have a major impact on fertility

You can find a link to the paper itself here.

Fertility resources for men

So much fertility advice and support is female-focused – and if you look at a fertility forum, it’s usually women who are there talking to one another. You could be forgiven for thinking that fertility problems only happen to women…

Recently there have been a growing number of men calling for resources aimed specifically at them, and there is more understanding that men need support too – but perhaps in slightly different ways.

I just came across this US website – which has a lot of information and useful links in a really accessible way.  Infertility Network UK’s support groups are all open to men as well as women. You may also want to check out Mensfe, books such as My Little Soldiers by Glenn Barden and some of the blogs on the male perspective –

Do get in touch if you know of any other specifically male fertility sites, and I can add them to the list.

Could chemicals be affecting your sperm?

images-2There has been considerable debate about the role everyday chemicals may play in causing fertility problems, and now new research from the US suggests that a chemical found in plastics along with a hormone used in the contraceptive pill may be responsible for declining sperm counts.

Researchers at Washington State University exposed mice to the plastics chemical bisphenol A and to estradiol, a type of oestrogen found in contraceptives – and saw a clear impact on sperm production.  Bisphenol A is often found in plastic bottles as well as the linings of food and drink cans, while estradiol from contraceptive pills passes untreated through sewage plants and into water.

You can read more about the research on the Washington State University website.

Give up the cannabis if you want a baby

120px-Cannabis_sativa00New research from the Universities of Sheffield and Manchester has found that there is a clear link between sperm quality and cannabis use in younger men – the results were marked in those under the age of thirty, possibly because younger men tend to use cannabis more frequently and at higher doses.

It’s important to be aware that cannabis doesn’t instantly disappear from your system the moment you stop using it, and that sperm production takes around three months – so if you want to improve your chances of having a baby and you are a male dope smoker, it may take a while to see an improvement if you give up.

Interestingly, this new study – which analysed results from more than 2,000 men in 14 fertility clinics – didn’t find any associations between smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or wearing tight underpants and sperm morphology (the size and shape of the sperm) – but it is possible that these could affect sperm in other ways.  There was evidence that exposure to paint strippers had an impact on sperm quality.

The other interesting finding was that samples produced during the summer months (June, July and August) were more likely to have problems than those given during the rest of the year.

Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the University of Sheffield, who was one of the authors of the report said: “Our knowledge of factors that influence sperm size and shape is very limited, yet faced with a diagnosis of poor sperm morphology, many men are concerned to try and identify any factors in their lifestyle that could be causing this.

“It is therefore reassuring to find that there are very few identifiable risks, although our data suggests that cannabis users might be advised to stop using the drug if they are planning to try and start a family.”

You can read more about the research on the University of Sheffield website here 

A male point of view

I don’t usually include guest blogs on Fertility Matters, but today I am adding a post written by someone else because it covers an area that is so often overlooked – and that’s the male take on infertility.

It’s something we often talk about when we’re offering support to couples with fertility problems, as it’s quite true that most of the support currently available is aimed at women. The truth is that no one has yet worked out quite what kind of support men really want, and and how best to offer it to them – online forums and support groups don’t seem to work – would meeting in the pub be better? But would men really want to meet and discuss infertility in the pub? I’ve tried asking – often – but no one has ever come up with an idea that works…

That’s why I’m featuring a post today from a man – Glenn Barden – who has written a novel from a male perspective – so, over to you Glenn!

If you search for blogs on trying to conceive and infertility you will be hard pressed to find any written by men. Despite man problems accounting for approximately a third of all infertility problems you would be forgiven for thinking that infertility was a female only medical condition.

In our confessional world where everything is discussed and blogged about, male infertility feels like one of the last great taboos. And I can understand why. When my wife and I were struggling to make a baby I also found it hard to vocalize my feelings. My inability to become a father ate away at my very being.

I remember sitting in the doctors room waiting for the results of our fertility tests and praying that my sperm would not be judged to be fault and that my wife would have “the problem”. When the doctor announced my wife had polycystic ovaries I almost wooped for joy. I don’t know how I would have coped if my virility had been judged to be faulty. Imagining what it would be like for a man to be told their sperm was faulty was the basis for my novel – My Little Soldiers.

During our IVF journey and subsequently, I have met men who had sperm issues and found them to be damaged souls full of shame. I even had a mate who kept his struggles hidden from me for years for fear of the stigma. In a modern world where the role of men is being questioned by men themselves, and conferences are even being held discussing what it is to be a man, male infertility is a very useful for device for exploring modern masculinity, as well as a good arena for comic material. At its heart my novel is a love story but I wanted the comedy, much of it drawn from my own experiences, to contrast the heartbreaking tale of loss and yearning.

I hope the novel gets more men to open up about their infertility problems, and also for their partners to realise that whilst they may be on the frontline there is man next to them who is just as emotionally invested as they are.

Already one reader has said my novel made her reevaluate her own husband’s outward appearance of strength and detachment. I hope more will do the same.  

My Little Soldiers is available from Amazon here