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Does Age Affect Male Fertility?

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Updated December 16, 2010

Question: Does Age Affect Male Fertility?

Male fertility and age -- does it matter how old a man is? With all the media attention on a woman’s age and fertility, one may wonder if men are forever fertile. Turns out that age also has an effect on fertility in men.

Answer:

Despite not hearing much in the news on male fertility and age, there are quite a few studies on the subject.

One research study, conducted at Soroka University in Israel, looked at semen quality in normal males and compared the quantity and quality of the sperm and semen to the men’s ages. The study looked at everything a semen analysis would include as well as how often they had sex (since sexual abstinence also has an effect on semen quality).

Male Fertility, Age and Strong Swimmers

In the study, they found that, overall, semen quantity peaked between the ages of 30 and 35, while overall semen quantity was found to be lowest after age 55.

They also found that sperm motility – in other words, how well the sperm swim – was best before age 25 and lowest after age 55. In fact, when comparing the number of “good swimming” sperm in men between the ages 30 to 35 with men over age 55, sperm motility decreased by 54%.

These strong variations could not be blamed on sexual abstinence, which was tracked in the study. (In other words, the lower quality semen in the older men could not be blamed on infrequent sex, which can also lead to low-quality sperm.)

Male Fertility, Age and Genetic Quality of Sperm

Besides low-quality semen, age also affects the genetic quality of male sperm. In a study conducted at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and the University of California at Berkeley, researchers discovered that genetic defects in the sperm increase with age in men, possibly leading to decreased fertility, increased chance of miscarriage and increased risk of some birth defects.

The scientists reported that older men are not only at risk for infertility, but they are also more likely to pass on genetic problems to their children.

Male Fertility, Age and IVF Success

In yet another study, this one also conducted in Israel at the Assuta Medical Center in Rishon LeZion, researchers found a link between male age and IVF success rates, even when donor eggs were being used.

For women over age 40 or women with low-ovarian egg reserves, donor eggs often offer the best chance for IVF success. What if the man is also older, though? Does age make a difference?

According to this research study, age did have an effect on the outcome. The study compared the sperm and embryos of couples whose IVF treatment led to pregnancy with couples for whom IVF treatment failed. All the couples in this study were using egg donors, so the age of the mother was not an issue.

They found that until age 40, the man’s age didn’t seem to have a significant effect. After age 40, though, the quality of the semen diminished, possibly leading to IVF treatment failure. They also found that embryos in the nonpregnant group were of lower quality than the pregnant group, perhaps related to poorer quality sperm.

The Final Answer:

We already know that as a woman ages, her fertility decreases, but as these studies show, age also has an effect on male fertility. Both men and women must contend with their biological clocks.

Sources:

Girsh E., Katz N., Genkin L., Girtler O., Bocker J., Bezdin S., and Barr I. “Male age influences oocyte-donor program results.” Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics. April 5, 2008. [Epub ahead of print.] Accessed June 5, 2008.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (2006, June 6). Study Shows That Genetic Quality Of Sperm Deteriorates As Men Age. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 5, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2006/06/060606091933.htm

Levitas E., Lunenfeld E., Weisz N., Friger M., and Potashnik G. “Relationship between age and semen parameters in men with normal sperm concentration: analysis of 6,022 semen samples.” Andrologia. April 2007. 39(2):45-50.

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