Age-related fertility issues are a well known source of conception difficulties. Yet for the most part, they are viewed as a women’s fertility issue. The reality is that age related fertility issues can affect a man’s ability to conceive as well as a woman’s.
Men, like women, experience a natural decline in their ability to conceive as they age. In fact, sperm quality begins to deteriorate as early as a man’s 30s or 40s, although it happens very slowly in most individuals – so slowly that at first, any developing quality issues aren’t significant enough to interfere with a man’s ability to conceive. This slow paced drop in quality is why men are often able to conceive well into their 60s, 70s or even 80s.
Eventually, though, this deterioration can catch up with a man – often when he enters his 60s. At this point, men are more likely to find themselves dealing with age-related fertility issues, such as:
- Shrunken Testes: A man’s testes tend to naturally grow smaller and softer as he ages – which may affect his ability to produce high numbers of sperm.
- Sperm Health: Both the shape and motility of a man’s sperm tends to decline as he ages. As sperm lose their motility, they lose their ability to swim through the vagina to a woman’s fallopian tubes – eliminating the possibility of a natural conception. Misshapen sperm, on the other hand, are a sign that a man is producing unhealthy, abnormal, or damaged sperm. This issue relates to another common factor behind age related fertility issues in men:
- Sperm Production: Because men produce new sperm on a regular basis, there is a greater chance that an older man’s sperm will contain defects due to the health and quality of his aging DNA. Additionally, a natural process that typically eliminates damaged or unhealthy sperm – apoptosis – becomes less efficient as a man ages. As a result, men over 35 tend to have more abnormal, damaged sperm in their semen than men under 35. Damaged sperm, unfortunately, are not likely to successfully fertilize an egg or contribute to a healthy pregnancy. Some experts even believe age-related sperm defects can increase the risk of a child being born with development issues or mental illnesses, although this link is heavily debated at this point in time.
Due to these natural aging related fertility issues, men often find that they have a lowered chance of conceiving later in life. BabyCentre notes that the chance of conception taking more than a year is about 8% when the man is under 25, and about 15% when the man is over 35. If a man’s health declines as he ages as well, that percentage is very likely to increase due to the effects a medical condition can have on a man’s testosterone and other hormone levels. Dips in testosterone in particular can affect a man’s sex drive, sexual function and sperm quality.
So, can anything be done to avoid these issues? Yes and no. While the aging process itself cannot be reversed or avoided, men can take several steps to maximize their fertility as they age:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. In some cases, men experience fertility issues due to their overall health. Weight, for example, is a known infertility factor. Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains – and exercising regularly – can help men improve their sperm health and reduces the impact their health can have on their fertility over time. Men should also avoid smoking and alcohol or drug abuse, as these unhealthy habits can also affect fertility.
- Avoid environmental toxins. Certain environmental toxins – including exposure to pesticides and lead – can affect a man’s sperm health. Depending on the industry he works in in, a man may want to consider talking with his supervisors and doctors about how he can go about minimizing his exposure to, and any side effects related to, these sorts of toxins.
- Visit a doctor regularly. Like in women, taking action early to stay healthy can help men give their fertility a boost. Medical appointments will allow men to address weight issues and any side effects related to any chronic conditions they may be living with – both of which can affect fertility. And of course, regular doctors visits can also help ensure that any issues developing in a man’s reproductive system are addressed sooner rather than later.
While age can affect a man’s fertility, thanks to the gradual progression of changes that aging can have on health of their sperm, the majority of men will still be fertile and functioning into their 50s and 60s. And by focusing on living as healthy a lifestyle as possible throughout his life, a man is very likely to experience a minimal number of changes in his reproductive health, allowing him to keep his natural fertility at a healthy and relatively high level for years to come.