Advanced paternal age overview
It has become common knowledge that women’s fertility declines with age. In contrast, the assumption traditionally has been that men have no similar “biological clock,” that they are virtually as fertile at age 60 or 70 as at age 30. Increasing studies, however, now strongly indicate that assumption to be incorrect. It appears that men, too, may need to start thinking about biological parenthood before they turn 40.
The impact of male age for men is about more than just fertility. Evidence shows that older men have greater chances of fathering offspring at higher risk for birth defects and developmental disorders.
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Age and fatherhood
Over time, men and women both experience naturally occurring decreases in the hormones related to reproductive function. For men, that manifests in decreased testosterone, estrogen and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands as a precursor to the production of testosterone), plus higher follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).
Men’s bodies are constantly making new sperm cells but the quality is impacted by age.
One study of about 90,000 births concluded that the older a man is when his partner conceives, the more likely she is to miscarry – even when all her pertinent reproductive factors such as health and age are taken into consideration. Another study of 2,000 men indicated that even with IVF treatment, a father’s age figures into pregnancy success or failure.
Unlike women, who are born with all the egg cells they’ll ever have and promptly start losing them on a regular basis, men’s bodies are constantly making new sperm cells. The problem, though, is that time and lifestyle have their impact on the parts that manufacture the cells. The result is more sperm that are impaired in the DNA department. Hence, the pregnancy is at greater risk for miscarriage and any children born have increased chances for problems.
DNA affects sperm behavior in the reproductive process, as well as the development of the resulting embryo, fetus, and child. Chromosome damage can occur not only because of aged reproductive function, but also as result of choices a man has made in his lifestyle.
Smoking, drinking alcohol, use of legal and illegal drugs, radiation exposure – these are some of the most common environmental assaults on the integrity of a man’s sperm cells. Oxidative damage, too, can cause sperm break-down at the DNA level.The influence age on male reproductive ability is of such concern that the American Society of Reproductive Medicine now recommends sperm donors be men who are “ideally less than 40 years of age to minimize the potential hazards of aging.”
Choices with the future in mind
Women may or may not be able to affect egg cell health, but men have many choices in producing healthy sperm cells:
- Avoid steroid use.
- Control blood pressure, but be aware that certain blood pressure medications can be detrimental to sperm.
- Reduce alcohol intake, especially in the several months prior to conceiving.
- Get adequate cardiovascular exercise.
- Avoid regular and prolonged exposure of the groin area to sources of high heat, such as hot tubs, Jacuzzis, and even laptops.
- Avoid exposure to heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, as well as radiation and toxic chemicals, including some pesticides.