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Fat, smokes, booze will hurt sperm

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Monday, September 10, 2007 | 0 comments

MEN over 40 are being warned that their stomach fat, smoking habits and love of alcohol will damage their sperm and their chance of fatherhood.

Reproductive experts say there is emerging evidence that a man's fertility declines steadily with age just as it does for a woman, seriously impairing the couple's chance of having a baby.

It was well documented that the window of opportunity for women to conceive falls quickly in their late 30s, but evidence for men has been less clear, said Dr Anne Clark, chairwoman of the Fertility Society of Australia's fertility protection group.

"While the amber light of infertility comes on at the age of 35 for women, it is not so well known that it starts to shine for men at around 40," Dr Clark said at the fertility society's conference in Hobart.

Sperm count, shape and "travel path" has been the traditional method of analysing male fertility but new evidence suggests that DNA breakages in sperm may be a principal reason for male infertility problems.

For men with more than 20 per cent of their sperm "fragmented" the chance of pregnancy is significantly reduced, chance of miscarriage increased three to four times and there is also increased risk of birth defects.

Lifestyle factors like smoking, caffeine, excessive drinking, recreational drugs, obesity and exposure to toxic chemicals are all known to affect male fertility and researchers now believe DNA damaged sperm may be the link.

Fragmentation increases with age, particularly from the age of 40, Dr Clark said.

"This is one of the main reasons that when a man hits 40 the chance of his partner in her 30s conceiving either naturally or with IVF is halved," she said.

"But there's extremely little awareness of this, and it's hard to convince men this is an important part of the assessment process."

Male infertility plays a major role in couple infertility but a recent study shows that only 2 per cent of 2400 Australians interviewed believed it has any bearing at all.

The good news is that infertility in men can be slowed and even reversed with lifestyle changes, including shedding 10kg, and cutting out cigarettes and heavy drinking.

Dr Clark said antioxidants given to male partners undergoing IVF had been proven to bring levels of fragmented sperm back into the ``normal'' range.

"But the bottom line in all of this is that couples should consider conceiving earlier when their fertility is at optimum levels," she said.

Dr Bill Watkins, convenor of the conference and director of Tas IVF, said the general perception of male fertility was largely inaccurate.

"We hear anecdotes about these older men, Charlie Chaplin many years ago and our own Rupert Murdoch more recently, having children but they really are the exception, not the rule.

"People need to treat it seriously."


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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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