- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Men may not hear it as loudly as women, but a study suggests they also have a biological clock that starts ticking in their 30s.
University of Washington bioengineering professor Narendra Singh is saying he would encourage men not to wait until age 35 or older to have children because the body gets less efficient at weeding out sperm cells with genetic defects as the years go by.
The results of a small study on the correlation between age and sperm quality, led by Mr. Singh, were presented in Seattle at yesterday's conference of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Mr. Singh, along with Charles H. Muller and Dr. Richard E. Berger, looked at the DNA in the sperm of 60 men from ages 22 to 60. It turns out, when it comes to the body producing optimum sperm, younger is better.
"The mechanism by which we can remove sperm with damaged DNA fails more often after age 35," Mr. Singh said in an interview from Seattle.
He speculates that in younger men younger than 35 and possibly from adolescence onward "bad" sperm cells carrying defective genes are destroyed by the bodily mechanism that gets rid of inferior cells. As men age beyond 35, that mechanism is more likely to fail.
"If you don't get those cells eliminated, they're going to fertilize the ovum," Mr. Mingh said. Since some of these damaged sperm are capable of fertilization, "you can see an adverse outcome of the pregnancy. It could be birth defects, it could be miscarriage."
The study also showed sperm from men in the over-35 group were also weaker swimmers.
All of this said, "The observed decline is not dramatic, and you could hardly use the results to recommend males to deposit a frozen semen sample at age 35 in case they might want to be fathers at a later age," said Svend Juul, a professor at the Institute for Epidemiology and Social Medicine at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, who was not connected with Mr. Singh's research.
So for men who someday want a family but don't feel any urgency to start, this study might simply be taken as a reminder that their age and personal health habits affect their chances of making a healthy baby.
What to look out for? "Lifestyle factors: stress, smoking, drinking, having a pollutant-free environment and a good diet," Mr. Singh said.
It is common today to read about men becoming fathers in their 50s and 60s, which may foster the idea that age doesn't matter for men.
"While there's nothing anyone can do about getting older, men who want to retain their own best capacity to father children should try to minimize contact with toxic agents and maintain a healthy lifestyle," said William Keye, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Earlier this year, in a study involving 782 couples, researchers reported that on average, female fertility begins its meaningful slide at age 27. Previously it was believed that women's fertility starts to drop significantly in the early 30s, with a big plunge after 35.


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