A new study suggests that men have a ticking “biological clock” just like women, that may affect not just their partner but their unborn child as well. According to researchers from New York, men who delay fatherhood should consult their doctor and consider banking sperm before age 35.
The study, published in the journal Maturitas, has reviewed 40 years of research on the effect of parental age on fertility, pregnancy and the health of children.
“While it is widely accepted that physiological changes that occur in women after 35 can affect conception, pregnancy and the health of the child, most men do not realise their advanced age can have a similar impact,” said Gloria Bachmann, Director of the Women’s Health Institute at Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
The study found that men aged 45 and older can experience decreased fertility and put their partners at risk for increased pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and preterm birth.
It was also found that infants born to older fathers were found to be at a higher risk of premature birth, low birth weight, higher incidence of newborn seizures, late stillbirth and birth defects such as congenital heart disease and cleft palate. The study also noted that as the children matured, they were found to have an increased likelihood of childhood cancers, psychiatric and cognitive disorders, and autism.
Bachmann attributes most of these outcomes to a natural decline in testosterone that occurs with ageing, as well as sperm degradation and poorer semen quality.
“For example, just as people lose muscle strength, flexibility and endurance with age, in men, sperm also tends to lose ‘fitness’ over the life cycle,” said Bachmann. The study also found that older men struggled with fertility issues even if their partner was under 25.
“While women tend to be more aware and educated than men about their reproductive health, most men do not consult with physicians unless they have a medical or fertility issue,” Bachmann said.
She recommended that physicians ought to offer counselling to older men as well on the effect of their age on conception, pregnancy and the health of their child.
As per the 2013 study, ‘The effects of advanced paternal age on fertility’ published in the Asian Journal of Andrology, noted that ‘We are currently moving towards an era where a man’s reproductive age is considered as important as the females, however, further work is required to elucidate the strength of these associations.’
It is observed that unlike female infertility, male infertility is not well reported on a general basis especially in countries where cultural differences and patriarchal societies may prevent accurate statistics from being collected and compiled. The female partner is often blamed for infertility. Men, therefore, do not usually agree to undergo fertility evaluation.
Considering that most men fail to accept treatment for their sub-fertility, even to the extent of being in denial of their problem, male infertility has never been defined as a disease, which has resulted in sparse statistics.