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Men Have Biological Clocks Too: Age and Male Fertility

When we think of the effects of age on fertility, our minds often gravitate towards women, focusing on the declining egg supply, chromosomal issues, and infertility. One study even found that 1 in 5 men consider infertility to be only a woman’s issue. But here’s something that’s not talked about as often – the impact of age on male fertility. Are men ever advised to pay more attention to their biological clocks?

 

The Age Factor: Delaying Fatherhood

Surprisingly, in many countries, there’s no discouragement for older men wanting to become fathers, unlike the way older women are often advised against motherhood. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence in England and Wales, for example, recommends against the NHS offering IVF to women over 42, but there’s no such mention of paternal age in the guidance. The question of what’s considered “old” in the context of fatherhood remains largely unaddressed.

Nevertheless, research indicates that around the age of 40, men’s sperm starts to slow down, making conception more challenging. Moreover, children born to older fathers face an increased risk of conditions such as autism, schizophrenia, and leukemia.

In the United States, the trend of men becoming fathers at older ages is on the rise. In 1980, around 43 in 1,000 babies were born to men aged between 35-49. By 2015, this number had increased to about 69 in 1,000 babies.

 

Why Sperm Quality Matters: The Impact of Age

The age of the father also affects the quality of sperm. A systematic review in 2015, which examined 90 studies involving 93,839 subjects, revealed that a man’s age negatively impacts sperm quality, including appearance, motility, and DNA damage.

Sperm quality plays a vital role in conceiving a child. In a study involving 2,112 UK couples, it was found that men over 45 were nearly five times more likely to take more than a year to conceive compared to men under 25, even when the female partner was young.

 

The Risks of Having Kids Later

In vitro fertilization (IVF) outcomes for older men also appear to be less favorable. A recent study examining 11 research papers and 10,527 egg donation cycles found that increasing male age was associated with a slight decrease in the live birth rate.

Children conceived by older men are also at a higher risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and being born preterm. This highlights the misconception that if sperm can swim and penetrate an egg, everything is fine – a notion that many, including some medical professionals, are yet to fully grasp.

Older fathers are more likely to have children with birth defects, certain cancers, and neurological disorders. Research shows that older fathers are more likely to have children with birth defects such as cleft lip, and they face an increased risk of certain childhood cancers.

So, what’s behind these alarming statistics? Why is it that we see more older fathers in the news, like male celebrities having kids into their 70s and 80s? The reason lies in the continuous production of sperm throughout a man’s life. Sperm is generated fresh every 74 days or so, and men don’t run out of it. However, research suggests that the longer the sperm production process continues, the higher the likelihood of introducing genetic mutations.

 

Understanding the Reproductive Process

Sperm production is based on spermatogonial stem cells, which continuously replenish themselves through cell division. However, with each replication, there’s a chance of copying errors. The older a man is, the more times these stem cells replicate, leading to more opportunities for mistakes. Children of older fathers are likely to have more genetic mutations than those born to younger ones.

While most of these mutations are harmless, some can have serious consequences. They can contribute to genetic diseases, affecting about one in every 300 live births. These “de novo” mutations are responsible for various disorders, including achondroplasia and Apert syndrome.

Moreover, the age-related changes in epigenetic marks found on DNA in human sperm can play a role. These epigenetic marks control gene expression and can be modified due to various environmental factors. These changes are not just related to sperm development but are also associated with neurodevelopment, although the exact reasons remain unclear.

 

Paternal Age and the Need for Awareness

It’s evident that paternal age matters, and more men are embracing fatherhood at older ages. A combination of factors, including delayed marriages, second marriages, assisted reproduction, and changing societal norms, has led to more men becoming older fathers. But as we’ve seen, it’s not without consequences.

In this landscape, companies like ExSeed have introduced innovative solutions to help men assess and monitor their fertility conveniently from home. The ExSeed at-home sperm test, paired with a smartphone app, provides men with the ability to gauge their sperm’s motility, concentration, and overall quality, all within the comfort of their own space. This empowers men to take control of their reproductive health.

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