We’re all very aware of the female biological clock, but what we don’t hear so so much about is the fact that male sperm counts decline and DNA damage in sperm cells may increase as men get over. The fact that some high-profile men have become fathers when they are pensioners perpetuates the myth that male fertility lasts forever.
In fact, evidence shows men do have a biological clock with a decline in natural male fertility and an increase in the miscarriage rate as men get older. New evidence at ESHRE from one London fertility clinic shows that IVF/ICSI is less likely to succeed if a male partner is over 51 too.
Dr Guy Morris from the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health (CRGH) in London presented results at the ESHRE (European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology) conference of an analysis of more than 5000 IVF/ICSI cycles which found that although there was no difference in miscarriage rates, there was a significant reduction in the chances of success
The results showed that that clinical pregnancy rate declined as men got older – from 49.9% when men were under 35, to 42.5% for men aged 36-40, 35.2% for those aged 41-45, 32.8% for those aged 46-50, and 30.5% in the over 51s.
The researchers also noted that 80% of couples where the male partners were over 51 were treated with ICSI, a treatment developed for male infertility. Dr Morris said: ‘There may well be a public perception that male fertility is independent of age. Stories of celebrity men fathering children into their 60s may give a skewed perspective on the potential risks of delaying fatherhood. Indeed, in natural conception and pregnancy it is only recently that evidence of risks associated with later fatherhood has become available. These more recent studies contrast with decades of evidence of the impact that maternal age has on fertility outcomes. In the context of this emerging evidence for the deleterious effect of increasing paternal age, our data certainly support the importance of educating men about their fertility and the risks of delaying fatherhood.’
New research from the United States has found that men produce better sperm in the spring and autumn, although the reasons for this remain unclear. A big study analysed sperm samples from more than 29,000 men over a period of 17 years, and found that there were more moving sperm in the spring and more normally-shaped sperm in the autumn.
The researchers, from Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai in New York presented their research at the annual conference of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Denver. They have suggested that the milder weather might have something to do with this as the sperm will stay cool but men are likely to be more physically active and that they may be less likely to be drinking too much alcohol than in the summer or at Christmas. As it takes three months to produce sperm, it is not entirely clear what the causes may be – but the researchers make it clear that more research is needed to be able to confirm that their findings would have an impact on the chances of a successful pregnancy at different times of year.
Other experts have suggested that there may be room for some scepticism about the findings from the research team led by Dr Hagai Levine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Although the research is said to be of high quality, some are concerned that it may be too early to be quite so pessimistic about the future, but it is clear that this is an issue which we should be concerned about and looking into more closely.
What often gets forgotten in the discussion about male fertility and sperm counts is the emotional impact for men of dealing with this – and you may be interested in this article with interviews from a number of men about how their experiences of infertility.
Men can often feel rather left out when it comes to fertility treatment – and the support available to couples can often seem very female-focused. Now, a team from Leeds Beckett University have partnered with Fertility Network UK to try to find out more about men’s experiences of fertility problems. They believe not enough is known about how men cope with fertility issues and will use the results of the research to help to raise awareness of men’s needs.
They will also produce a report at the end of the study and present the findings to health care professionals to ensure that the male perspective is taken into consideration in fertility clinics and in fertility counselling settings.
This survey is completely anonymous so please do fill it in – or get your partner to – and ensure that the researchers get a good response and can start to encourage changes in the support for men during treatment.
Could your sleep patterns be affecting your sperm count? New research from China has found that going to bed after midnight along with sleeping much less or much more than average seems to have an impact on sperm.
The research team looked at more than nine hundred men who had regular sleep patterns and divided them into groups who were all given different sleep durations and bedtimes. They then carried out semen analyses over a period of six months, and found that those who were having the shortest sleep had lower sperm counts and lower motility. They also found that those who went to bed after midnight had lower sperm counts regardless of how long they then slept for.
So, if you are trying to conceive, it’s certainly worth ensuring you get to bed before midnight – and that you don’t get too little or too much sleep. You can find the full paper from the team at China’s Harbin Medical University, which was published in the Medical Science Monitor, here
It is often noted that there’s a lack of support for men going through fertility problems and it is certainly true that much of the help on offer is aimed primarily at women. Now, for the first time, one London clinic is offering tailored support for men.
Andrology Solutions is running a male fertility evening on February 16th with a guest speaker, Gareth Down, and a team of andrologists at hand to answer any male fertility questions. You can find out more here.
They are often thought to be the safer version of smoking – but new research has found that the flavourings used in e-cigarettes may contain toxic chemicals which can damage men’s sperm.
A team from University College London found that two of the most popular flavours put into e-cigarettes were particularly damaging to sperm – bubblegum and cinnamon were both found to affect male fertility. You can read more details about their research, which was presented at the Fertility 2017 Conference earlier this month, here
If you haven’t seen them already, do catch the brilliant videos with Professor Allan Pacey titled #spermbanter made by Dr Fertility for National Fertility Awareness Week which give the facts about sperm production and what makes a difference to your sperm count. Professor Pacey is one of the country’s leading experts on male fertility and these videos are incredibly informative and give the facts – and also address many of the common myths about factors which can influence sperm and fertility too.
Do catch them – watch them all – it won’t take long. You may find it reassuring and you will certainly find it informative.
You can catch the videos on How sperm are made
What factors affect sperm quality
on how diet affects fertility
does smoking affect your sperm quality
and why a man might not have any sperm
There are a number of others – you will find them all once you start watching!
If you’d seen the Daily Mail headline earlier this week suggesting that the “Most popular form of IVF given to thousands of couples is ‘ineffective’“, you may well have been worried. In fact, the headline was referring to ICSI which is far from ineffective as a treatment for male fertility problems, and has allowed many men who would otherwise have had to use a donor to have their own genetic child.
The story in the Mail concerned the fact that ICSI isn’t an effective treatment in other cases, and it said that the editor-in-chief of the Human Reproduction journal, Professor Hans Evers, had criticised IVF clinics for offering ICSI to couples who will not benefit from it.
The fact that ICSI isn’t for everyone is not news. The NICE guidance in 2013 made it clear that ICSI should only be used where there were male fertility problems although it could also be considered where previous fertility treatment had resulted in failed or very poor fertilisation. ICSI is sometimes offered more widely, but there is no evidence that this would increase the chances of IVF working, and some research has suggested that it could actually reduce the chances of pregnancy where there is no indication that it is needed.
If you have male factor problems, you can ignore this as ICSI may well be the most effective treatment for you. If you are being offered ICSI where there are female issues or unexplained infertility, then you should make sure you talk to the team treating you about this before going ahead.
Researchers at Sheffield University are examining the way the red pigment compound found in tomatoes may impact on sperm. It’s called lycopene and the Sheffield team led by leading expert Professor Allan Pacey are investigating the impact taking a lycopene supplement has on sperm quality.
The study will use samples from a team of sixty volunteers over three months as that’s how long it takes to produce sperm, so the results may be available later this year. There have been claims that lycopene reverses DNA damage to sperm and can improve quality by up to 70%, so this could be a very interesting study.
There’s more about the story in the Daily Mail, under a headline about a “tomato pill” which may “supercharge” sperm here and a calmer version on the Sheffield University website here !