male biological clock

Sorry Guys, Your Sperm Ages Too

For centuries, older fathers have been admired for their fertility.

The oldest father documented in medical literature is George Isaac Hughes, who in the 1930s fathered a son at age 94.

More recent examples of male virility include Mick Jagger, whose youngest child was born when he was 73; George Clooney, who fathered twins at age 56; and Jeff Goldblum, who became a first-time father at age 62.

And it’s not just celebrities becoming older fathers: Since the 1970s, the percentage of births to men aged 40 or older in the U.S. has doubled. In 2015, they accounted for 9 percent of births.

Only recently have studies focused entirely on the impact of older fathers, from the length of time it takes to conceive to the health of mother and child.

As it turns out, men do have a sort of biological clock.

While women are born with their lifetime supply of eggs, men start making sperm at puberty and continue this for the rest of their lives. As women age, declining egg quantity and quality puts them at increasing risk for infertility, miscarriages and having children with health problems due to chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down’s syndrome.

Because sperm production doesn’t end, it was long believed that men would remain fertile their entire lives, with age not having a significant impact on length of time to conceive or the mother and child’s health.

However, a recent study of more than 40.5 million births at the Stanford University School of Medicine concluded that “more than 12 percent of births to fathers aged 45 years or older with adverse outcomes might have been prevented were the fathers younger.”

The study found that men over age 40-45:

·         Take five times as long to impregnate their partner compared with men under 25;

·         Are more likely to have children born prematurely with a low birth weight; 

·         Have a higher chance of their partner miscarrying, and;

·         Have a higher chance of children being born with birth defects, autism and mental health disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia.

What’s a man to do?

Fortunately, there are ways for men to protect and maximize their fertility:

  • Body weight. Higher body weight is linked with decreasing both sperm count and motility.
  • Diet. Choose plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in antioxidants, especially vitamin C, vitamin E and CoQ10, to improve sperm quantity and quality.
  • Manage stress. Stress can cause lower sperm function and sexual performance anxiety – think stage fright! If you are experiencing stress with difficulty conceiving – and who isn’t? – reach out to your partner and/or a counselor for health coping strategies and stress-reduction techniques.
  • Exercise. Moderate physical activity can have positive or neutral effects on sperm, but intensive exercise can reduce sperm function. So, remember there’s a sweet spot with exercise intensity.
  • Don’t smoke. Men who smoke cigarettes inhale passive smoke are more likely to have impaired sperm and higher rates of genetically damaged sperm.
  • Limit alcohol. While there is debate on alcohol’s effect on sperm, prolonged abuse can cause impotence.
  • Talk to your doctor about medications. Many medications impact fertility, including calcium channel blockers (reduce fertilization), testosterone and anabolic steroids. 
  • Avoid exposure to toxins. Exposure to environmental toxins, especially phthalates (used in many plastics and hundreds of products) may reduce sperm function.
  • Stay cool. Increased temperature to the scrotum can impair sperm production. Wear loose-fitting underwear, avoid saunas and hot tubs and limit scrotum exposure to warm objects (such as laptops.)

Mark Trolice, M.D.

View posts by Mark Trolice, M.D.
Mark P. Trolice, M.D., is a Board-certified OB/GYN and reproductive endocrinologist who founded and directs Fertility CARE: The IVF Center in Winter Park, Fla. He also is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine in Orlando, FL.

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