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Aging Sperm – Effects on Infertility, Miscarriage and Genetic Abnormalities
By Rosalind Haney, RN, CCN

It is commonly accepted that men, unlike women, remain fertile well into old age. But like women, men do have a biological clock (although more gradual) that affects both their likelihood of fertility and their risk of passing on genetic abnormalities.

Fertility specialists will tell you that overall men and women are equally responsible for infertility (40% female factor, 40% male factor, and 20% combined or unexplained). Yet, beyond a basic semen analysis, little attention has been given to men’s contribution to infertility and pregnancy loss --- until now.

Current evidence suggests that children born to older fathers have an increased risk of birth defects, some cancers, autism, schizophrenia and reduced fertility as adults. A significant increase in the risk of miscarriage has also been observed in couples where the male partner was older than 40 and the female partner was older than 35.

Improved testing capabilities are showing that sperm in men over 45 are more vulnerable to genetic mutations and a large portion of their sperm does not reach maturity. A basic semen analysis does not measure these parameters of semen quality and function. It is expected in the near future that a method of testing for DNA strand breakage, such as the DNA Fragmentation Index (DFI), will be added to a basic semen analysis to more correctly determine potential for viable fertility. This is important because men with a high percent of DNA fragmentation have a very low potential for in vitro fertilization success.

So what happens to aging sperm? Studies point to reactive oxygen species (ROS), a type of free radical damage that peroxidizes the lipid plasma membrane of sperm, affecting the fluidity of sperm and the integrity on DNA in the sperm nucleus. Medical consensus is that with age men see a decline in the body’s ability to protect sperm cells. They specifically point to a decline in glutathione peroxidase – enzymes that prevent lipid peroxidation of sperm cell membranes.

Glutathione is a protein amino acid that is a powerful antioxidant against oxidative stress and an essential antioxidant to slow aging. It helps produce, protect and repair DNA. It is also known to be a powerful detoxifier of drugs in the body, which can be effective in protecting sperm from exposure to environmental toxins, medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), alcohol and inhalant drugs.

Glutathione supplements are not well absorbed unless they are in a reduced state. The unreduced form of glutathione is cheaper but is not metabolically active. Increasing the glutathione precursors and cofactors that make, synthesize and reduce glutathione has been shown to raise tissue levels of glutathione peroxidase.

To improve the youthful vitality of your sperm and protect its genetic material:

  • Minimize or eliminate all over-the-counter meds, cigarettes, alcohol and inhalant drugs, which may be toxic to sperm. Caffeine does not appear to affect male sperm as negatively as it does female ovulation. Yet, caffeine does deplete B vitamins, which are precursors to glutathione and strong antioxidants in their own right. Be moderate with your caffeine intake and still enjoy up to two cups of coffee a day.
  • Read the article “Hormone Disruptors – 10 Ways to Minimize Your Exposure to Toxic Chemicals”. According to the EPA more than 87,000 new chemicals are in use since World War II. Sperm counts in the United States have declined 50% during that same period and other parts of the world are seeing similar declines. A coincidence??
  • Cool the groin after exercise by removing tight, hot clothes. Avoid hot baths, hot tubs, and heated Jacuzzis. A three-year study concluding in March 2007 has confirmed that exposure to high water temperatures as seldom as once a week for 30 minutes or more adversely affects sperm quantity and quality.
  • Increase your dietary sources of glutathione precursors and other antioxidants. Dietary sources include wild game, lean meat, fish, vegetables, avocados, walnuts, asparagus, yogurt, eggs, oatmeal, whey protein concentrates, and all brightly colored fruits and vegetables.
  • Begin a multivitamin/mineral complex with optimal levels of glutathione precursors (B vitamins, vitamin C, selenium, and N-acetyl cysteine).
  • Depending on your age and fertility history, you might consider a highly absorbable reduced glutathione supplement, which Rosalind can provide. Other antioxidants suggested in research literature may be considered.
  • For an evaluation of your dietary and supplement needs specific to your age and medical history, please contact Rosalind.


Reactive oxygen species as an independent marker of male factor infertility.
Fertility & Sterility
, Oct 2006; 86(4): 878-85 (ISSN: 0015-0282)
Ashok Agarwal, Ph.D., …..and Sruesh C. Sikka, Ph.D.
Conclusion: High reactive oxygen species (ROS) is an independent marker of male factor infertility, irrespective of whether these patients have normal or abnormal semen parameters. We suggest the inclusion of ROS measurement as part of idiopathic
infertility evaluation. Treatment with antioxidants may be beneficial in such patients.

Value of sperm deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) fragmentation level, as measured by the sperm chromatin dispersion test, in the outcome of in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection.
Fertility & Sterility
, Feb. 2006; 85(2): 371-83 (ISSN: 1566-5653)
Murial L; Garido N; Femandez JL, ….., A Coruna, Spain.

Advanced paternal age: How old is too old?
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
, Oct 2006; 60(10): 851-853
I.Bray, D. Gunnell, and G. Davey Smith

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