Men and Fertility Problems: Is Age Relevant?

The Definition of Clinical Infertility

The clinical definition of infertility is men and women who, after 12 months of having unprotected intercourse, are unable to achieve a pregnancy; and for women it’s those who have experienced two or more failed pregnancies. Overall, though, approximately one third of infertility cases are caused by female productive issues, another one third is caused by male reproductive issues, and the final third is due to unknown factors, including both female and male reproductive issues.

The quality and quantity of the male’s sperm typically determine a male’s fertility. If the sperm are of poor quality or the number of sperms ejaculated is low, it could be difficult or even impossible for a male to cause a pregnancy.

Does Age Affect Fertility?

The answer to this question is yes, although age-related fertility problems are typically viewed as the female’s fertility issue. In fact, age-related fertility problems not only affect a woman’s ability to conceive, they also affect the male’s ability to achieve a pregnancy. As they age, both women and men will experience a decline in their ability to conceive, and the sperm quality in men can deteriorate while a male is only in his 30s or 40s. In most individuals this will happen very slowly, so-much-so that the signs are insignificant enough to not interfere with the male’s ability to conceive. This slow decline in quality is the reason why some men are able to conceive whilst in their 70s and even 80s.

However, with males in their 60s this deterioration in sperm quality eventually catches up with them, and it’s then that males start experiencing issues dealing with age-related fertility. These issues may include:

Sperm Health

As the male ages, both the motility (movement) and morphology (shape) of his sperm begins to decline. With the loss of motility, the sperm are unable to swim through to the female’s fallopian tubes, thus preventing natural conception. Misshapen sperm show that the male is producing damaged, abnormal, or unhealthy sperm.

Shrunken Testes

As a male ages, his testes will naturally reduce in size and grow softer. This may well affect the quantity of sperm produced by the male.

Sperm Production

Typically, a male is consistently producing new sperm, which means that, due to the quality and health of his ageing DNA, an older male’s sperm may contain certain defects. There is also a natural process known as apoptosis which is the body’s way of eliminating unhealthy or damaged sperm. As a man ages, this process becomes less efficient, which means that males over the age of 35 typically have more damaged, abnormal sperm than men under the age of 35. It is unlikely that this damaged sperm will be able to fertiliser an egg or result in a healthy pregnancy.

Testosterone Levels

A male’s testosterone levels typically decrease from around the age of 40 years, which can reduce libido, thus making regular sex more difficult.

Illnesses and Medication

Decreasing fertility caused by illness is more common among older males. Fertility can also be affected by medications taken for later-life medical issues.

Because of the above three points, which are natural ageing fertility issues, men often struggle to conceive later in life.

Can an Ageing Male Avoid These Issues?

Unfortunately, we cannot avoid or reverse the ageing process itself; however, there are several steps ageing men can take to improve their fertility.

A Healthy Lifestyle Is Key

It’s vitally important that both males and females trying to conceive a baby maintain a healthy lifestyle. We now know that men’s fertility issues are often due to their overall lack of good health. The obvious factor here is being overweight, because weight is a known infertility problem. This is the time to lose those extra pounds you’ve been carrying around! And this is the time to enjoy a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Some studies show that conception can be helped by a diet rich in antioxidants. Exercise is also very important, because when a man exercises it helps improve the health of his sperm, thus reducing the overall impact his health has on his fertility.

In order to produce healthy sperm men must also quit smoking and avoid drug or alcohol abuse. A male’s fertility can be adversely affected by these unhealthy habits. When compared to non-smokers, men who smoke typically have lower quality sperm. It should also be noted that second-hand smoke is very dangerous to both a mother and her new baby. With alcohol, sperm quality can be reduced if the male consumes more than the daily recommendation of 3 to 4 units.

Avoid Environmental Pollutants

There are some environmental toxins that can adversely affect the health of the male’s sperm, and these include lead and pesticides. If a man works in an environment where there is exposure to toxins, he should endeavour to minimise his exposure and take every available precaution to prevent the known side-effects.

Have Regular Health Check-Ups with Your Doctor

Speak to your local medical practitioner about how to stay healthy and give your fertility a boost. Your doctor will be able to address any issues which may be affecting your fertility, such as your weight and any possible side-effects which may be related to existing conditions. Your doctor will also be able to test for any possible issues with your reproductive system, because these issues should be addressed sooner than later.

Keep Your Groin Cool

It’s at the time when your testicles are slightly cooler than the rest of your body that they make the best sperm. For this reason, try to avoid sitting still in hot rooms for lengthy periods of time, and avoid using your computer or other devices on your lap. It’s also worth wearing loose fitting underwear, although the research on this is still out.

Avoid Unnecessary Stress

We can’t avoid all stress, but a lot of our stresses can be minimised. We do know that prolonged and extreme stress can reduce sperm quality, so take whatever actions necessary to stay calm and relaxed as much as possible.

So, yes, ageing can affect a male’s fertility, but rest assured that most men in their 50s and 60s are still fertile and functioning. Men should always focus on living a healthy lifestyle, which, in turn, promotes a healthy reproductive system. Thus, men can maintain their natural fertility at a high and healthy level for many years to come.

Photo Credit: “Me, on bed, in room_remix_MMIX” (CC BY 2.0) by andronicusmax

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