What your sperm says about long life

Correlations between lifestyle and low sperm count have been made in numerous studies in recent years. Experts warn that bad diet and lifestyle choices are important causes of male infertility and reduced longevity. Sperm counts are declining in many countries across the world up to 38 per cent in a decade, and the trend is believed to be linked to diet, lifestyle and ‘gender-bender’ chemicals - and possibly even tight underwear. A recent analysis found that, in France, the sperm concentration of men decreased by nearly one-third between 1989 and 2005.
In addition, many studies from other European nations found that, over the last two decades, the counts of healthy men aged 18 to 25 have dropped by half over the last half-century. Scientists concerned that men may be producing less sperm for reasons other than the male fertility and reproduction issues suggested the possibility of environmental factors possibly harming sperm count as well as other organs or body systems. Those concerned with environmental factors have focused on pesticides, Bisphenol A, and sedentary lifestyles as possible contributions to decreased sperm counts. But in addition, sperm count has been associated with life expectancy, regardless of the cause of death. Is poor semen quality a new longevity risk factor? Is it also a good predictor of men’s overall health? A low sperm count is diagnosed as part of a semen analysis test. Sperm count is generally determined by examining semen under a microscope to see how many sperm appear within squares on a grid pattern. More often than not, a doctor trying to predict long-term health and longevity of a person’s health will ask questions about smoking, drinking, diet, and exercise and then measure cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight or waist size. But scientists are always looking for additional measurements that can predict survival and research from Denmark proposes an unlikely candidate: semen quality. The study found that the men with the highest sperm counts enjoyed a mortality rate 43 per cent lower than the men with the lowest counts. Between 1963 and 2001, the Copenhagen Sperm Analysis Laboratory performed semen analyses on 51,543 men, most of who were referred because they or their partners had concerns about fertility. Men who lacked sperm in their semen and men with various diseases related to the testicular function or sexual health were excluded from the analysis of life expectancy, leaving a study population of 43,277 men. Each of the men had been given a unique personal identification number linked to the Danish Civil Registration System, which contains comprehensive information on all cases of cancer, all causes of death, and the number of children in the population. The researchers correlated each sperm donor’s ID number through the registries to the results of the original semen analysis with subsequent parenthood and health outcomes during a 38-year period. The findings indicated that as the number of sperm increased up to a threshold of 40 million per millilitre of semen, the death rate declined steadily. The men with the highest sperm counts enjoyed a mortality rate of 43 per cent lower than the men with the lowest counts. Similar survival benefits were evident, as other measurements of semen quality improved, including semen volume, sperm motility, and the percentage of structurally normal sperm. No doubt, fatherhood can have a substantial impact on socioeconomic status, emotional well-being, and other aspects of lifestyle. Given the similar relationship between better semen and improved survival in men with and without children, the scientists reasoned that fertility and parenthood cannot explain the relationship between semen quality and life expectancy. No doubt, correlations between lifestyle, life expectancy and sperm quality are understandable. “It is logical that lifestyle can affect our health. If you take a lot of alcohol, for instance, you are more likely to destroy your pancreas and as such develop diabetes. If you smoke cigarette, you are likely to develop cancers in different parts of the body,” said Dr Augustine Takure, a consultant urologist, University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, Oyo State. “Individuals that take junks or eat carelessly are likely to put on fat and become obese. This could predispose to many problems, including heart problems, liver disease and respiratory infections. “In addition, hard drugs such as cocaine and hemp have been documented to affect sperm count and motility as well as increase the number of abnormal sperms; thus, by extension, making the man relatively infertile or sub-fertile. In fact, such medications as those used in the treatment of HIV could also reduce sperm count. A man with low sperm count because he has abused some drugs, he said could also become depressed. While saying that the link between low sperm count and poor lifestyle could be easily explained, Dr Takure said proving that low sperm count could be predictive of longevity could require an unbiased study that cuts across different races and gender. Correlations between lifestyle and male fertility have been made in numerous studies over recent years. A recent study on young Danish men found that those who had a diet high in foods containing a lot of saturated fats (cheese, cream, fatty meats, chocolate and processed foods) also had 38 per cent lower sperm concentrations and 41 per cent lower sperm counts than men who did not consume an excess of saturated fats. Last year, a Brazilian study found that whole grains have a positive impact on sperm counts and viability and that increased consumption of fresh fruits boosted sperm speed and agility. Things like obesity, drug, alcohol and coffee consumption, but also excessive heat, have the opposite effect, reducing motility (which describes how well the sperm “swims”). In addition, researchers in a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggested that poor sleep may be one of the reasons for decreasing sperm counts. Experts believe the ideal amount of rest is seven to eight hours a night.
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