We all know about the increased risks of infertility or birth defects in older women who want to have a child. Many of us who became pregnant in our 40's have had to decide what level of testing we will undergo in order to conceive a child, and once pregnant, to find out the health of our unborn baby. We are all aware that these risks are due to chromosome changes in the egg that occur as women age.
However, as with most things reproductive, the medical community has lagged far behind in evaluating the effect of aging in men on sperm quality. Several recent studies have begun to paint a picture of aging of the male reproductive tract which is very similar to that seen in women.
Specifically, in a study of 2,000 couples published last year (Hassan & Killick, Fertility & Sterility; June, 2003), men that were over 45 years of age had a five fold increase in time to pregnancy (how long it took to become pregnant) as compared to younger men. This effect was seen even after taking into account the variables of their wife's age, how often they had intercourse and whether or not they had fertility adverse life styles (smoking, drinking etc). Even older men who had very young wives (<25 yrs of age) had a 4 fold increase in time to pregnancy.
In this study, 57% of these 2,000 unselected couples became pregnant within 3 months of trying to conceive, and 81% after 1 year. The average time to pregnancy increased from 7 months in men that were 25 years of age or younger, to 37 months in men that were over 45 years of age.
Other work suggests that similar to the changes seen in women, these delays in fertility may be due to DNA or chromosomal abnormalities in the sperm of older men. Singh et al (Fertility & Sterility, Dec 2003) found that the DNA of sperm in men ages 36-57 had far more breakage in the strands than did sperm from men ages 20-35. These strand breaks have been associated with infertility, early embryo losses, miscarriages and even birth defects or cancer in children.
Another study (Sloter et al, Fertility & Sterility April, 2004) also showed age related increases in the number of sperm with broken or damaged DNA for men, especially sperm with structural chromosomal abnormalities. This study suggested that these changes may be due to environmental toxin damage, or a loss of antioxidant effectiveness in aging individuals.
Unfortunately, there are not studies yet to confirm if taking antioxidant vitamins can help sperm quality in older men that desire to father children. However, there is a growing body of evidence that vitamins with antioxidants help men with sperm damage in general. Visit the www.helpconceive.com Reference Library to see these studies.
What can be done to help the chances of conceiving for older men? Men should be sure to have a sperm chromatin assay done in addition to a normal semen analysis (visit www.scsadiagnostics.com to learn more), so that you know what you are working with. His~Seed Moisturizer for men can help make semen sample collection feel better, and the more fun ejaculation is, the more sperm a man can produce for these samples. Talk to your doctor about supplementing with a vitamin containing antioxidants, especially one formulated for fertility issues. Finally, make sure you have well timed intercourse with ovulation to optimize the chances of sperm and egg meeting. Vaginal dryness issues that occur with daily intercourse around ovulation can be relieved with Pre~Seed, a sperm-friendly Intimate Moisturizer that does not harm sperm, as do vaginal lubricants.
Dr. JE Ellington is CEO of INGfertility which has develops products for TTC couples, including Pre~Seed sperm friendly intimate moisturizer. She has been awarded the 2003 Young Andrology Award from the American Society of Andrology recognizing her federally funded research in gamete biology and infertility, and her 75 publications that have resulted from this work.
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