While the biggest problem facing couples who suffer infertility may be rooted in difficulty conceiving children, a new study suggests that male infertility is linked to a host of other health problems as well. In fact, the quality of a man's semen can unlock the secrets of a wide variety of medical issues, from hypertension, to hormonal and skin conditions. Of course, there has been no cause and effect relationship established amongst these various conditions, but doctors are now considering the possibility that treatment for certain medical ailments may have inadvertent positive side effects on others problems as well.
According to lead author Dr. Michael Eisenberg, "The less healthy men were, the lower sperm quality overall." While doctors have long recognized the negative effects of obesity and smoking on semen, less research has been done on the relationship between other medical conditions and overall male fertility. The researchers found that in particular, men suffering from hormone, circulatory, urinary and skin conditions had a significantly higher risk of having problems with their semen and fertility. Moreover, high blood pressure, vascular problems and heart disease were also closely correlated with semen abnormalities. So guys, if you're experiencing fertility problems, it may be a good idea to also have a full physical to check for other potential issues as well.
The study, which involved more than 9,000 men, was published in the journal, Fertility and Sterility, and revealed "a lot of correlations between semen production and medical conditions that we never knew about," as Eisenberg said. Speaking with SFGate, Eisenberg continued, "It’s a relationship that men and their doctors should appreciate. If there’s some problem with reproductive fitness it may be there’s an overall problem in fitness as well."
While infertility tends to be associated with older men, those who participated in this latest study had a median age of around 38, but were already showing signs of health issue, both in terms of fertility and other conditions. 44 percent of the participants had at least one other medical problem in addition to infertility that brought them into the clinic, and the study found that there was a particular link between cardiovascular disease and poor semen quality. Eisenberg told Science Daily, "To the best of my knowledge, there's never been a study showing this association before. There are a lot of men who have hypertension, so understanding that correlation is of huge interest to us."
While "15 percent of all couples have fertility issues, and in half of those cases the male partner has semen deficiencies," Eisenberg also noted that men often go overlooked when a couple is having trouble conceiving. In fact, in one in four cases, the male is never even considered when it comes to fertility issues. This, Eisenberg says, is a huge mistake, as male infertility can obviously contribute to a couple's problems, and can also be a marker for further health problems down the line. Said Eisenberg, "We should be paying more attention to these millions of men. Infertility is a warning: Problems with reproduction may mean problems with overall health."
The study found that 31 percent of men considered to be in the best of health had one semen abnormality, compared to 36 percent of the those in the worst health. While this 5-point difference may not seem like much, when doctors looked at men with two or more semen abnormalities, the margin was much more pronounced — only 14 percent of men in the best health had multiple semen issues, whereas 36 percent of men in the worst of health had these problems.
While Eisenberg and his team have yet to identify what the link between infertility and other health issues may be, Eisenberg noted that up to 15 percent of men's genes are involved in the reproductive process, but these same genes likely also play a role in other bodily functions as well. Dr. Joseph Alukal, director of Male Reproductive Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, told Reuters Health, "It just speaks to the idea that the human body is a finely tuned machine."
Alukal also recommended that men be checked as frequently as women for reproductive issues, saying "I think it's just good common sense. I don't think there's anything that could hurt." And especially considering this new found link between infertility and circulatory problems, a yearly checkup seems doubly necessary.
"I think for men just living their lives, they should think about this as another consequence of poor health," Eisenberg told Reuters. "For men having trouble having kids, it's also motivation to go in and see what's going on." He concluded, "As we treat men's infertility, we should also assess their overall health. That visit to a fertility clinic represents a big opportunity to improve their treatment for other conditions, which we now suspect could actually help resolve the infertility."
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