There’s no shortage of advice for women about what they ought to eat – and ought not to eat – when they’re trying to conceive, but two new studies show that male diet is important too.
Two separate research teams looked at the effect of diet on sperm, and concluded that what a man eats can have an impact on his offspring. One team studied the effect of a high fat diet and the other a low protein diet and although they used mice for their work, researchers believe that the results in humans are likely to be similar.
When the male mice were fed a high fat diet, their offspring’s resistance to insulin and glucose intolerance were affected. When they were fed a low protein diet, the researchers reported changes to the genes that are responsible for the development of stem cells. The two papers were both published in the journal Science and you can read more about them here
Fabulous news that the brilliant Professor Allan Pacey, one of the UK’s leading experts on male fertility, has been awarded a very well-deserved MBE. Professor Pacey from Sheffield University’s Department of Oncology and Human Metabolism and Head of Andrology for Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was recognised in the annual list for his services to reproductive medicine.
He joined the University of Sheffield in 1992 as a postdoctoral scientist and made a Professor of Andrology in 2014. During his career, he has written 137 papers on ground breaking research into many aspects of male fertility including how sperm function inside the human body, the impact of sexually transmitted infections, such as Chlamydia, on sperm, and fertility issues in men diagnosed with cancer (oncofertility).
In 2014, he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in recognition of his pioneering research into male fertility over the past 20 years.
Professor Pacey is well known in the media where his thoughts often provide a sensible and realistic view on stories which are sometimes either alarming or over-hyped. He has worked on a number of film and television programmes including: Britain’s Secret Code Breaker (2011), Donor Unknown (2011), The Great Sperm Race (2009) and Make me a Baby (2004).
We 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.
We 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.
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.
You 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
For 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.
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
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.
There 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.