Biological Clock Strikes Men At Age 35
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BIOLOGICAL CLOCK STRIKES FOR MEN TOO - AT AGE 35
By Mark Henderson and Patrick Barkham
October 15, 2002
Men who put their career before having a family should beware: the ticking
of the biological clock is as important for fertility in men as it is in
American scientists have discovered that genetic damage to sperm routinely
starts to cause infertility in men as young as 35. The strongest biological
evidence yet for a significant drop in male fertility in the late thirties
is a warning to the increasing number of grey-haired fathers who are leaving
it later to have children.
The popular worry that career women risk losing the chance to have children
has long been supported by infertility research focusing on how the quality
of women's eggs deteriorates with age. Researchers from the University of
Washington in Seattle have now provided the first firm molecular explanation
for why childless career men should worry too. The chances of having a baby
are reduced if the man is in his late thirties or forties.
The study, led by Narendra Singh and unveiled at the American Society for
Reproductive Medicine conference in Seattle today, examined the sperm of 60
volunteers aged between 22 and 60. All the men had healthy sperm counts.
Dr Singh's team found that, whatever the sperm count, its genetic quality
was closely related to age, with a cut-off point for serious damage of about
Men in the older group had higher concentrations of sperm with broken
strands of DNA, more acute levels of such genetic damage and their immune
systems were much less efficient at weeding out faulty sperm by programmed
cell suicide, or apoptosis. The sperm of the older men were also less
Clare Brown, of the British infertility charity Child, said the findings
cast new light on the often overlooked problem of male infertility.
"About a third of all infertility is male factor," she said. "Male-factor
infertility is more prevalent than people think. It's not generally in the
public's mind that male sperm quality does indeed go down with age, from, as
we now see, the age of 35."
William Keye, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine,
said that men concerned about their fertility should avoid activities such
as smoking that may damage the DNA of their sperm. He added: "While there's
nothing anyone can do about getting older, men who want to retain their own
best capacity to father children should try to minimise contact with toxic
agents and maintain a healthy lifestyle."
The proportion of British men aged over 40 becoming fathers increased by
half in the 1990s. In 1999 one in ten children was born to a father aged
over 40. The number of children born to fathers over 40 has risen by nearly
a third to 42,000 a year in the past 20 years. Older fathers include David
Jason, who had his first child at 61, Tony Blair, John Humphrys, David Bowie
and Mick Jagger. James Doohan Scotty from Star Trek was an 80-year-old
great-grandfather when his wife gave birth to his seventh child.
The findings do not suggest that most men who wait until after 35 to try for
children will have problems, particularly if the man's partner is in her
twenties or early thirties. But the study does alert fertility doctors to
another potential problem when older couples have difficulty in conceiving.
RELATED NHNE NEWS LIST ARTICLES:
NEW MALE INFERTILITY SYNDROME (7/17/2001):
BEATING THE BIOLOGICAL CLOCK (9/29/2001):
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