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Ate Anna

The male biological clock is ticking too

Dear Ate Anna,

We already know that as women get older, they have more difficulty getting pregnant. What about men? Does age affect a man’s fertility?

Michael

Dear Michael,

When women reach a certain age (usually sometime between 45 and 55 years) they stop producing eggs and will no longer be fertile. Unlike women, men continue to produce sperm throughout their lifetime. A man may be able to father a child even when he is sixty or seventy years old. Two examples are celebrity Paul McCartney and the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, former Prime Minister of Canada who fathered a child when he was 72 years old.

The question is: “Does age affect the fertility of men?” Before Ate Anna answers this question, let’s first look at how pregnancy happens.

For each act of intercourse, there are millions of sperm that are deposited inside a woman’s body. It takes only one sperm cell to fertilize an egg and start a pregnancy. But there are three important factors that play a role in deciding whether or not the sperm will succeed: sperm count (number of sperm), sperm quality (shape and size) and sperm motility (movement).

Experts think that if a man has enough sperm in the semen (about 20 million sperm per millilitre of semen) he is most likely fertile. Although the sperm count is important, sperm shape and structure are equally important. If the sperm have the normal shape of an oval head and long tail, they are more likely to propel forward. To reach the egg, sperm movement is vital. Sperm have to be “strong swimmers” – swimming upward to meet the egg. If at least half of the man’s sperm are healthy and moving, he is more likely to be fertile. Some research shows that a man who has high quality sperm with good movement can still be fertile, despite a low sperm count.

But, as a man gets older, his body goes through some natural changes. The level of testosterone (the male hormone) in his body gradually declines. This can affect his sex drive and sexual function. He will notice that there is a need for more time and stimulation to get an erection. The erection may feel less firm and it often takes longer to reach orgasm. There is also less semen ejaculated.

Studies also show that a man’s fertility generally starts declining around age 35. The semen quantity (number of sperm) is at its peak between the ages of 30 and 35 and decreases with age. In addition, the quality of a man’s sperm may diminish and the sperm motility can also decline with age. Like women, age affects the fertility of men.

Michael, regardless of a man’s age, healthy sperm are important for increasing the chances of fertility. Following are some suggestions to keep sperm in “top performance”:

Make healthy lifestyle choices

Eat healthy food. Avoid alcohol, smoking, and recreational drugs. Heavy drinking may reduce the quality and quantity of sperm. Smoking, tobacco use and recreational drugs may slow the movement of sperm, damage the sperm’s DNA, decrease sex drive, and cause erectile dysfunction.

Exercise regularly

Physical activity is good for your health - but don’t overdo it. Too much exercise may cause a drop in sperm quality and a change in hormone levels.

Maintain a healthy weight

Too much or too little body fat can reduce the sperm count and increase the numbers of abnormal sperm.

Keep cool

A high temperature in your scrotal area can impair sperm production and decrease the quality and quantity of sperm. Avoid hot baths, saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms. Avoid tight-fitting underwear and pants. Sitting or cycling for a long period of time can also increase the temperature in the scrotal area.

Watch out for toxins

Certain workplace and household chemicals and environmental toxins can affect sperm count and quality. Use proper ventilation and facemasks to reduce the risk of absorbing such toxins.

Avoid lubricants during sex

Personal lubricants such as KY jelly, oil, lotion and even saliva can interfere with sperm motility.

Stay away from hormones

Avoid using anabolic steroids (for muscle and body building) and other hormone supplements. These hormones can reduce sperm production and decrease fertility.

For more information about healthy sperm, visit: www.mayoclinic.com/health/fertility/MC00023

Take care,

Ate Anna

Ate Anna welcomes your question and comments. Please write to: Ate Anna, 2nd floor, 555 Broadway, Winnipeg, MB R3C OW4 or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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