Although there is evidence that a man’s reproductive function and semen quality start to decline as early as 35, most reproductive specialists reference an age of 40 as Advanced Paternal Age (APA). However, becoming a father later in life does come with certain risks.
As men age they are more likely to develop medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and prostate problems all of which can affect sperm quality. There is also a drop in sperm counts and semen volume. Most importantly, there are increases in genetic mutations (changes in the DNA) in sperm that can lead to miscarriage and in rare cases affect the health of children.
More recently, scientists have observed that aging can affect the switches which turn genes on or off in the sperm, a process called “epigenetics”. Epigenetic changes can lead to infertility and conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia.
While all this gloom and doom is real, and in some cases may be present 7 to 10 times higher than the rates seen in younger men, the overall risk is still very low since these are rare events. The bottom line – men with APA usually have healthy children.
So what should a man with APA do in order to improve his chances of fertility and healthy children?
Unfortunately, we can’t predict which men with APA may have a problem with fertility and offspring health. So, for the time being it’s best to follow certain guidelines that we know historically improve sperm quality
- Get a semen analysis. The semen analysis is a test that looks at the volume of semen, your sperm count, the swimming ability of your sperm (motility) and how they are shaped (morphology). While the semen analysis cannot discriminate between fertile and infertile men, it could point you to the need for further evaluation as abnormal semen analyses may be a sign of underlying medical conditions.
- Investigate your epigenetic health. New studies have revealed that key epigenetic markers correlate with higher chances of conceiving and having a healthy baby. Learn more about tests like Sperm Scan, one of the first generation of epigenetic tests now available.
- Try to maintain ideal body weight. If you are overweight or obese, embark on a program of weight loss, dietary changes, vitamin supplementation and exercise for 3 to 6 months before you plan to conceive.
- If you are using testosterone, discontinue it as soon as possible. Testosterone wipes out sperm within 8 to 12 weeks. It may take up to a year for normal sperm production to return. It’s basically a male contraceptive drug. You should also consider freezing sperm before initiating testosterone treatment.
- Drink caffeine and alcohol in moderation, try not to smoke cigarettes, and limit marijuana inhalation.
- Adopt activities that combat stress – meditation, acupuncture, exercise, or changes in relationship dynamics or work schedule. Small efforts break the cycle of inflammation caused by stress. Getting 7 hours of sleep a night also reduces stress.
What if you’re not ready for a baby, how do you stop the effects of aging on sperm – the answer is sperm banking. Sperm freezing is safe and has been performed for over 50 years. You can bank the sperm from multiple ejaculations and rest assured that they will be the same “age” as the day they were frozen!