Male Biological Clock
While the focus of infertility treatment for couples having difficulty getting pregnant has traditionally rested with the female partner, issues surrounding male infertility have increasingly come under the microscope.
More specifically, recent studies have found that there is a link between male fertility and age, as well as between male age and genetic disease in his offspring. In fact, the age of a male partner can have an equally important impact on fertility and how long it takes a couple to conceive. These results point to the existence of a male biological clock, a phenomenon previously attributed only to females. But what exactly is the male biological clock, and at what age does it begin to affect a man’s fertility? Also, what can men do to "turn back the clock"?
The Male Biological Clock and Fertility
The term male biological clock is a term that refers to the physical and mental changes that accompany the process of aging in males. Some of these changes include male fertility issues, such as infertility, decreased sex drive and erectile dysfunction.
The main culprit of these reproductive changes is the decline in testosterone levels that, it has been found, decrease naturally with age. While most men’s testosterone levels decline in their thirties, testosterone levels can begin to decline as early as a man’s twenties. Some men simply have biological clocks that work at a faster pace than others.
How Does Age Affect Men’s Fertility?
A recent study found that it takes up to five times as long for a man over 45 years of age to successfully get his female partner pregnant, compared with a man who is under 25 years of age. The study is groundbreaking because it is the first to find a definitive link between male fertility and age. Previously, male age was thought to be inconsequential with regard to fertility because men make sperm on a daily basis, while women are born with all the eggs that they will produce in their lifetime.
In fact, the study found that there was a stronger link between successfully getting pregnant and male age, than between successfully getting pregnant and female age. The study found that age impacts male fertility around 30 years of age, at which time a male’s fertility slowly starts to decrease, while a sharper decline in fertility is experienced at 45 years of age.
Because the study focused on couples who were successful in their attempts to get pregnant, experts are calling for further studies to include couples who were unsuccessful in their attempts to get pregnant, as the findings of this initial study may actually underestimate the effect of male age on infertility.
The age-related decrease in male fertility contributes to a decline in sperm quality, a fact that is even more severe in men who have conditions that affect sperm production and the ability of the testes to cool, such as undescended testes.
Male age is also associated with decreased sperm count, as well as decreased sperm mobility.
The Male Biological Clock and Genetic Problems
In addition to fertility problems, a separate study found that there was a sharp increase in genetic problems in offspring associated with the decline in sperm quality. Some such genetic disorders linked to male age include Down’s syndrome and schizophrenia. One study found that there was a dramatic increase in the number of Down syndrome births to parents who were both over the age of 40.
There are a variety of options available to men who want to minimize or prevent the effects of aging on their fertility.
Such options include dietary and lifestyle changes: men are advised not to smoke or consume alcohol or caffeine. In addition, men should consume a diet that is low in white bread and sugar and that features a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Men should also exercise regularly in order to maintain a healthy weight, which has been linked to improved fertility.
Fertility drugs may be prescribed in cases when hormonal imbalances are the cause of male infertility, which can block the message sent to the testicles by the pituitary gland to produce semen. Fertility drugs prescribed to women, clomiphene and human menopausal gonadotropin (hMG) are also the most common fertility drugs prescribed to men, in conjunction with human chorionic gonadotropins (hCG). Such fertility drugs may be prescribed to improve sperm count and sperm motility.
Another option for men who want to prevent infertility is semen cryopreservation, in which semen is collected and then cryogenically frozen for future use. For couples experiencing more severe male fertility problems, finding a sperm donor through a sperm bank is another option in male infertility treatment.