Dr. H. Singh, ND
Male Biological Clock: Risk of Miscarriage and Poor Health in Offspring
When it comes to the biological clock, the first thing patients and healthcare providers will mention is the decline in female fertility with age. The previously held belief that Men are fertile throughout their entire lifetime is inherently flawed. There are many age-related health changes that occur and may have a role in decreased fertility, increased risk of miscarriages, and increased risk of congenital abnormalities in their offspring.
When looking at advanced paternal age (APA) research over the last few years has shown that the more male patients are looking to conceive after the age of 40 in the States (increased from 6.1% in the 1970’s to 12.7% in the 2010’s). Essentially, there are changes in the immune system, DNA integrity, and levels of oxidative stress that can negatively affect sperm function and therefore fertility.
Mechanisms that negatively affect Sperm Health with age:
Increased Oxidative Stress: with age the total antioxidant capacity (TAC) decreases and the vulnerability of sperm cells to oxidative stress increases. Increased oxidative stress can also damage sperm cells and has a significant role in increasing sperm DNA fragmentation rates (when elevated are correlated with increased miscarriage rates). Increased oxidative stress can also harm basic sperm parameters (i.e. morphology and motility)
Immune system weakening with age: with APA the immune system function may also decline. Fathers at an advanced age can become more vulnerable to infections. We have recently discussed the importance of different bacterial strains in the ejaculatory duct and the male reproductive tract. The presence of certain bacterial strains negatively affects sperm health and other types of bacteria have a protective effect on sperm health. With an increased risk of low-grade infections which may be undetected, this can significantly impair sperm function and fertility.
The blood-testis-barrier (BTB) is what protects the sperm cells from damage by the body’s own immune system. However, animal studies have demonstrated that this barrier may be at an increased risk of becoming compromised with APA. A damaged BTB increases the risk of sperm cell damage by the body’s own immune system. There is also a possibility for an increased risk for auto-immune disease with aging due to DNA damage in immune cells that may not be repaired as efficiently when compared to patients at a younger age.
It is important to be aware of the biological clock for all patients. By ignoring the male biological clock couples may be at increased risk for infertility as well as a potentially increased risk for congenital abnormalities (cleft lip and heart malformations), schizophrenia, autism, and childhood cancers in their offspring. It is important to evaluate for the role of antioxidant therapies to help protect sperm function and health in couples that are planning on trying to conceive. Certain modifiable risk factors may also help to reduce the level of oxidative stress in the body (i.e. exposure to pollutants, diet, tobacco use, weight, etc.).
This article is in no way a replacement for medical advice or medical care, it is advised that anyone concerned about their Health should speak with their Naturopathic Doctor. Please discuss with your healthcare provider and only make changes to your medications regimen if recommended by your doctor and under their guidance.
Nguyen-Powanda, P., & Robaire, B. (2020). Oxidative Stress and Reproductive Function in the Aging Male. Biology,9(9), 282.