Men Have a Biological Clock too.
By Sue Leonard.
Published by The Irish Examiner ‘Feelgood,’ 18th July 2008.
We all know that women have a biological clock. And that its ticking becomes louder the older that she gets. But did you know that men have a biological clock too?
A new French study has found that the chance of a successful pregnancy recedes when a man is over 35; and falls significantly when he is over 40.
French researchers at the Eylau Centre for Assisted Reproduction conducted a study of over 12,000 couples undergoing Intrauterine Insemination- IUI. They examined the man’s sperm, checking its quantity, motility and its size and shape. Then they recorded the couple’s rates of pregnancy, miscarriage and birth.
The team found that where the father was in his late 30’s, the rate of miscarriage increased. And if the man was over 40 the chances of a successful pregnancy were even lower.
Presenting the research, Dr Stephanie Belloc told a conference in Barcelona that such couples should be offered ICSI. (Where a sperm is injected directly into an egg.)
Dr Edgar Mocanu of HARI; the infertility clinic attached to the Rotunda Hospital, sees an increasing number of males coming forward for ICSI.
“What was perceived as a female problem is now recognised more as a couple issue,” he said. “And thus the investigation and treatment of the male has now a recognised place in the practise of infertility.”
Dr David Walsh of the SIMS clinic, whilst always aware that infertility is a ‘couple’ issue,’ is surprised by the degree of the problem as highlighted by the research.
“We knew that age matters, and that under 35 is a better time to have a baby, but with men, the talk was always of the risks for much older men; those in their fifties and sixties.
“There was, for example, an increased risk of achondroplasia (dwarfism), in their children. We now see that in men beyond 35 there is an increase in quite a lot of abnormalities; in things like autism, schizophrenia and cleft lip.
“The rate of change in the female is higher than in the male, but the difference is just in the magnitude. The same changes do happen to men.
“The research is, ultimately useful,” he says, “It gives out a good message. The couple need to address infertility as a shared problem. And that is good. It brings you closer to a shared solution.”
Zita West, who runs a fertility and preconception clinic in London, is not at all surprised by the research.
“When I first started out I just saw women; now I see couples,” she says. “Men have 50pc of the genetic material. Up to a year ago they only made lifestyle changes if they had a poor sperm count. Research like this shows that men are just as involved in the reproduction process as women. ICSI only takes one sperm, but the quality of that sperm is really important.
“Men are becoming far more accepting. Especially when they have had a couple of failed ICSI’s. They say, ‘I don’t want to go through all that again. I want to do everything I can to improve my sperm.’
“With IVF the whole focus is on getting pregnant,” she says. “I am trying to educate couples that what you are looking for is for the healthiest egg and sperm, and there is a lot that men can do to improve their sperm.
“It is, though, all down to luck and genetics,” she warns. “The quality of sperm can improve enormously for some men when they change their lifestyles; others make the changes and there is no difference.”
Sarah Leather, a Naturopath specialising in fertility, says that men tend not to take the fertility issue seriously enough.
“Some men refuse to come to my clinic; especially if their sperm analysis test is normal. But this needs to be maintained, and they could be doing things this weekend that inhabit their sperm in 3 or 4 months time, when they are trying for a baby. Sperm quality changes all the time.
“Men in their 30’s are under a lot of stress. They feel they have to achieve a lot, and if they don’t have children they tend to party. They do not see the need to change their lifestyle, and they will go out and drink 10 to 15 pints every Friday and Saturday night. They should decrease to 7 drinks over the course of the week. Women tend to take the issue more seriously.
“Never apportion blame,” she says. “And above all remember that fertility for a man in no reflection of his virility. There is absolutely no link between the two.”
Acupuncture has been proven to boost the quality of sperm. A 2006 study at Shanghai University, for instance, found that it helps male infertility in a significant way.
“And it’s worth men getting treated, even where his sperm has been tested, and he’s been told that it’s ok,” says Paul O’Brien, of the Meridian Acupuncture Clinic. “I might find a pattern of disharmony.”
One couple who went to see Paul had been trying for a baby for fifteen months. They’d been referred to a clinic for IVF because the man’s sperm was abnormal.
“The motility was only 10pc and it should be at least 50pc,” says Paul.
“While they were waiting for their appointment they came to me for acupuncture. They also made changes to their diet. When the clinic next tested the husband’s sperm, they discovered it was normal. It has risen to 50pc motility and they no longer needed IVF.
“I’ve continued to treat them, and the husband’s sperm now has over 90pc motility. That’s just amazing. I’m hoping they will soon have some good news.”
Steve 39, and 36 year old Louise had been trying for a baby for 3 years. They’d been to a fertility clinic, and although Louise’s tests came back normal, Steve’s sperm had been slightly low in number and in motility.
“The Clinic advised us to go for ICSI,” says Steve, “but we found the clinic daunting. I was terrified I’d meet someone I knew there.
“It was my decision to see Sarah Leather,” he says. “I wanted to feel there was something I could work on. It was tough having bad news every month. Everyone tells you to ‘relax and it will happen,’ but that isn’t helpful.
“Sarah gave us a long list of ‘things to do.’ She made me realise that I was in a cycle of stress. She told me to stop using a laptop on my lap all day; and to try and relax in the evenings. She told me to cut right down on my drinking, to exercise, and to improve my diet.
“We both made changes. We stopped getting takeaways and convenience food and started to plan and to cook. And we cut our drinking down to 2 or 3 glasses twice a week.
“We saw Sarah two months later, and we both felt so much healthier. She suggested that we get another semen test done, and see her in another two months. Before I had organised it, Louise had a positive pregnancy test. The baby is due in January. We are both over the moon.”
WAYS TO BOOST THE HEALTH OF YOUR SPERM
Quit smoking. Or if you can’t do that, cut down to around five a day.
Stop binge drinking. Limit yourself to two to three drinks twice a week. And cut out all recreational drugs.
Improve your diet. Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and cut down on convenience food and takeaways. Eat fish, meat and nuts and seeds for zinc.
Take a good all round supplement like Fertility Plus for men by Marian Granville.
Cut stress. It’s worth working fewer hours for a while if it means you can produce a family.
Take a moderate amount of exercise. But don’t over exercise, and don’t cycle all day in tight or padded shorts.
Avoid sitting in a sauna or a Jacuzzi.
Don’t sit with your laptop on your lap all day. And take that mobile phone out of pocket. Take hourly breaks to stretch and get your circulation going.
Avoid toxins. Get somewhere else to kill the weeds on your drive, and don’t strip leaded paint off your walls.
Don’t wait until your wife has had all her tests done to get your semen tested. Go to a clinic, if that has been recommended. Get assessed, and then decide whether you want to go for IVF or ICSI. The older you are, the more panic there is.
For More Information.
Sims Clinic – www.sims.ie
Zita West – www.zitawest.com
Paul O’Brien- 087 901 9627.
Sarah Leather – 087 233 2023.
© Sue Leonard. 2008.