male biological clock

Male Aging and the Decline in Fertility Potential

Studies assessing sperm deficiencies and the reduction in male factor fertility are numerous. More recently, studies have been investigating the effect of male aging and its association with reduced male fertility potential.  It’s no mystery that it requires both a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm to create a baby. Women are quite familiar with the term of the “biological clock” and as it ticks a woman’s fertility potential decreases. But, is there a “male biological clock” as both men and women often believe that time has little impact on the male fertility potential. In fact, turn on your local news or visit your favorite entertainment news website and you are likely to learn of a pregnancy fathered by a famous entertainer in their 50s or beyond.  The constant stream of such news stories has created the stigma that  men’s fertility doesn’t or just slightly decreases with age; a myth that can cause months and even years of frustration for couples trying to conceive.

Sperm quantity and quality are both important factors with regards to a man’s fertility potential; however, defining exact thresholds of “normal” ranges are difficult. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set criterion for normal values for several parameters including sperm concentration, sperm count, motility and morphology. These values are:

Sperm Concentration: 15 million ml

Total Sperm Count: 39 million

Motility: 50%

Morphology: 4%

While the most recent WHO standards indicated that a sperm concentration of 15 million ml is normal, studies investigating male fertility potential have shown an increased time to pregnancy when sperm concentration levels fall less than 30 to 55 million ml.  Other recent studies have also shown that the median sperm concentration of young men (ages 18-21 years) ranged between 41 and 55 million ml. This indicates many, likely, have suboptimal fertility potential, already, at these young ages and the clock has just begun to tick for them.

Additional recent studies have gone further to research the impacts of age on the male fertility potential. One such study indicated that after age 34, both total sperm count, and total motile sperm declines and after the age of 40 sperm concentration levels and the amount of normal morphological sperm declined.  A separate study evaluated the effect of aging of men on similar parameters plus that of sperm DNA Fragmentation. Their findings concluded that as a male’s age increased, age had a negative impact and significantly affected all semen parameters except sperm concentration. So, while, many young men may have suboptimal levels of concentration and potential early stages of lower fertility potential, these levels tend to stay unchanged through aging; however, other and more significant parameters such as motility, morphology and DNA Fragmentation are impacted leading to increasing lower fertility potential with age.  One of the most notable findings was that DNA Fragmentation significantly increased with age.  DNA Fragmentation has been shown to be a major factor in male factor fertility and is considered a detailed, qualitative assessment of a man’s sperm. As DNA Fragmentation increases, the potential of natural and assisted conception with IUI decreases.

It is clear that over the past 2 decades the male population is suffering from declining sperm counts and declining sperm quality. This reflects what we see at MCRM Fertility. We have been looking at the male factor and assessing quantity and quality parameters for many years. We look at DNA fragmentation of the sperm and see a rising trend that mimics the recent study findings in these quality issues with couples, even when the sperm counts are normal. Studies like this support the beliefs of the fertility specialists at MCRM Fertility which are male factors are more common than they used to be and contribute to a couple’s fertility issues. Also, that age affects sperm counts and quality.

The male factor in a couple’s fertility assessment is very important and as such must be investigated as completely and thoroughly as possible. Men should not simply settle for just a basic a semen analysis. Basic semen analysis which includes, generally, just count and motility are simply not enough to properly assess the sperm quality. Knowing the DNA fragmentation value of one’s sperm is important.  By knowing this information, one can better determine the best course of treatment which provides the highest likelihood of success in the shortest period of time such as determining between natural conception, intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF).

MCRM Fertility offers on site DNA Fragmentation testing. If one is interested in learning the full scope of their fertility potential they we encourage you to request an appointment.

Listen and learn more about semen analysis testing: their importance and differences in methodologies

Conquering the Male Biological Clock with Sperm Banking

Consistent age-dependent declines in human semen quality; a systematic review and meta-analysis. (Johnson SL, Dunleavy J, Gemmell NJ, Nakagawa S)

Human semen quality in the new millennium; a prospective cross-sectional population-based study of 4867 men, BMJ Open (Jorgensen N, Joensen U, Jensen T, Jensen M, Almstrup K, Olesen I, Juul A, Andersson A, Carlsen E, Petersen J, Toppari J, Skakkebaek N)

Age thresholds for changes in semen parameters in men, Fertility and Sterility (Stone BA, Alex A, Werlin LB, Marrs RP)

Semen Quality in the 21st Century, Nature Reviews Urology (Virtanen H, Jorgensen N, Toppari J)