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Men have biological clocks, too

Monday, November 05, 2007

Most of us are familiar with female menopause. As women get older, they become less fertile and the risk of delivering a baby with genetic defects increase. But what about men? From Hugh Hefner to Donald Trump, men father children well into middle and old age. However, doctors believe there is a biological clock ticking away for men, too. As men age, they face an increased risk of passing genetic defects along to their children and lower fertility rates. The clock starts ticking faster around age 40 -- not too long after a woman's clock stops!

THE RISKS: Links have been made between paternal age and neurological disorders like autism, birth defects like Apert's syndrome, and mental illnesses like schizophrenia. In fact, according to one study, one in every 47 children born to men ages 50 to 54 developed schizophrenia. Another study conducted at Columbia University concluded the older a man is when he conceives a child makes his partner three-times more likely to miscarry, even when she is young, healthy and has no other risk factors. Older fathers are also more likely to have children who are dwarfs or are born with progeria, a rare genetic disease that causes children to age as much as an 80 year old would before the child reaches his or her teenage years.

THE SCIENCE AT WORK: The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has set the maximum age for semen donors at 40. Men produce sperm every day after puberty. Their reproductive, sperm-producing cells divide and replicate about 770 times by age 45. The more times a cell replicates, the greater the chance there will be a copying error, thus creating a mutation, which almost always means trouble. According to Dave McCulloh, Ph.D., embryologist at Hackensack University, as a man ages, chemical changes occur in his body. "He has lower testosterone levels, lower DHEA, lower estrogen, plus higher levels of FSH and LH, which signal pretty much the same thing in women -- reproductive failure," Dr. McCulloh was quoted as saying.

WHAT CAN MEN DO? For the most part, there is little men can do to ward off these effects -- short of inventing a pill to halt the aging process. But there are some lifestyle changes men can be aware of to lessen the effects of environmental factors that impact sperm. Smoking and heavy drinking appear to damage sperm, as do some pesticides. Studies have also shown men who smoke a lot of marijuana tend to have lower sperm counts.

SOURCE: Paul D. Thacker; Karine Kleinhaus, M.D.

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