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Paternal age is important

In the west as couples delay the potential to have children until later in life, infertility is still seen as a mainly female issue. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

For instance, in the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s 2016 report shows male infertility to be the most common reason for couples seeking infertility treatment (37%), while US research has shown conclusively that sperm quality decreases with age, making it harder for older men to sire children.

It is not only in terms of fertilisation of the egg that problems can occur with sperm from older men. Studies in the British Medical Journal have linked aging fathers to an increased risk of babies born with congenital diseases like dwarfism, psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, or developmental ones like autism. Other studies have shown that children conceived from older fathers may be at slightly greater risk from breast cancer and prostate cancer in later life.

While society holds to the idea that men don’t have a ‘biological clock’, the recent studies prove that this is not really true. Although men continue to produce sperm from puberty well into middle age and beyond, there no sudden cut-off point with regard to a man’s fertility. But the quality of sperm decreases, impacting on the chances of egg fertilisation and when successful conception is achieved, there is risk to the health of the offspring in later life.

These are serious issues because in the US the percentage of births from fathers aged 40 or older has doubled since 1970, accounting for 9% of births in 2015 It highlights the need for men as well as women, to consider their age and most importantly their state of health when planning future families.

However, older potential fathers need not panic, as there are things they can do to improve the quality of their sperm in a relatively short space of time:

  • Quit smoking: tobacco smoke decreases sperm production and also, second hand smoke may impact on the female partner
  • Cut down on alcohol intake, as alcohol is another negative factor for sperm production
  • Consume fewer calories as higher body mass indexes (BMI) are linked to lower sperm motility and lower sperm counts
  • Balance that diet, a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrate, fat and fibre is best, with variation to ensure that the correct mix of nutrients, minerals and vitamins is achieved
  • Take up exercise as this will improve your general health and encourage a positive mental attitude, exercise increases antioxidant enzymes, which help protect sperm

The main thing to bear in mind is that although risks can increase with a man’s age, they are really not so significant as to preclude fatherhood for the older man provided he takes care of himself (e.g. by actively following the above advice). Many IVF clinics focus on men’s reproductive issues with the same approach as with female reproductive issues treating the couple as a whole. They will provide specific, tailored, holistic and medical advice on how male partners, older or younger, can best achieve success from treatment.