- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Gentleman, the biological clock may toll for thee, as well. New findings released yesterday by separate American and French research teams indicate that a man’s age can compromise his fertility — a concern that has long plagued women.

Such revelations might not resonate with Paul McCartney, who fathered a healthy girl at age 61, not to mention other older dads, such as Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Douglas, Hugh Hefner, Donald Trump, Warren Beatty and Luciano Pavarotti.

This gaggle of singers, actors and financial moguls sired children without much ado in their 50s, 60s and even 70s. As a kind of historical precedent, actor James Doohan of “Star Trek” fame and author Saul Bellow became fathers when they were more than 80 years old.

Still, science suggests that fatherhood pans out better for all concerned during a man’s younger days.

“There is a consequence to delaying fatherhood,” said Andrew Wyrobek, a geneticist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is managed by the University of California.

He has determined that the DNA in sperm can fragment as men get older, increasing the risk of infertility and genetic abnormalities such as achondroplasia (dwarfism) or schizophrenia in offspring. The chance of miscarriage during the mother’s pregnancy itself also increased.

Mr. Wyrobek analyzed semen samples from 97 men from 22 to 80 years old, examining the movement of the sperm and the presence of certain DNA abnormalities that would indicate future problems for the offspring. He did not find an abrupt age cutoff for trouble, however. The risk simply rises over the years.

“The risk gradually goes up,” Mr. Wyrobek said. “The longer a man waits to become a father, the higher the chance there could be a problem.”

More men are choosing to wait, though. The number of men ages 35 to 49 fathering children has risen by 40 percent since 1980, while there has been a 20 percent drop in the number of fathers younger than 30, according to the current National Vital Statistics Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers at INSERM, the French national health institute, also found that age affects fatherhood — this time citing a specific threshold of concern. Male fertility plummets after 40, said Elise de la Rochebrochard, a public health epidemiologist who studied close to 2,000 French couples undergoing fertility treatments.

She found that the couples were 70 percent more likely to fail in their attempts at parenthood if the man was older than 40 — regardless of the wife’s age.

“In reproduction, age must no longer be considered as the concern of the woman, but as that of the couple,” she said in the study, published in Fertility and Sterility, a medical journal.

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