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You are here: Home > Fertility & Trying to Conceive > Fertility Health

Male Fertility Declines With Age, Too

by Katlyn Joy | August 14, 2013 12:00 AM
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A woman's ticking clock is all too well known, but how about the shelf life for a man's fertility?

Actually, for men the decline appears to start around the age of 40. Today the cause of infertility in couples is pretty much evenly split between males and females, but cases of male infertility are on the rise and expected to overtake female cases soon. Over 2 million cases of male infertility a year on average are reported by The National Women's Health Information Center.

Reasons for male infertility include sexually transmitted diseases particularly multiple infections, disorders affecting sperm, problems affecting the testicles, health problems such as infections or infectious diseases, exposures to chemicals and toxins in the environment, lifestyle issues such as smoking, drinking or drug use and obesity.

A recent study of 2000 couples found that a man's fertility can drop off by as much as 70 percent after age 40, which isn't too far off from female trends of fertility. This flies in the face of the common misconception that men can father children throughout their lifetimes just as long as they are still capable of having sex. Certainly there are cases of much older men fathering children, but apparently these are the exceptions rather than the rules.

A 2003 study linked toxic levels of lead in men's bloodstream with infertility. The surprising finding was that the lead was believed to not come from occupational hazards but rather from lifestyle factors such as drinking, smoking and not staying fit.

Lead keeps sperm from being functional and therefore will be unable to fertilize a woman's egg.

At a 2011 meeting of American Society for Reproductive Medicine a study was presented by a nurse researcher at the Huntington Reproductive Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil which looked at the outcomes of over 500 IVF treatments with egg donors. Egg donors were all healthy women between the ages of 18 and 30.

The men involved in the study who were most successful at achieving pregnancy were younger, and the mean age of the men with success were 41 years of age while the mean age of those who were unsuccessful was 45. Researchers found that fertility decreased by 7 percent for each year of age of the male partner. Chances of pregnancy declined from 60 percent at age 41, to 35 percent at age 45 showing a steep drop-off.

A study from the University of California Berkeley found that men's sperm actually begins to deteriorate in their 20's and by age 60, 85 percent of men's sperm is abnormal. Sperm function and motility is reduced by .7 percent each year. The study looked at 100 men ages 22 to 80.

Older men are also more likely to have children with genetic problems. This is because with men's age more breaks in the DNA strands occur. For instance, dwarfism increases by 2 percent each year with men. Researchers are also looking at cases of schizophrenia as being linked to older fathers. Other research has found that older men play a role in fathering children with Down's syndrome.

A 2010 Spanish study looked at 450,000 newborns and sorted out offspring of mother's under 30 years of age to determine the role of the age of the father in fertility. The finding was the male fertility began to decline at 35 to 39 years of age. Fertility of males showed a decline of 21 to 23 percent each year beginning at age 39.

However, there are things men can do to protect and boost their ability to father a child.

Sources: National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Katlyn Joy is a mother to 7 children, and a freelance writer. She earned her Master of Arts in Creative Writing and Poetry, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and was previously an adviser to new mothers on breastfeeding through a maternity home program. She currently resides in Colorado with her family.

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