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First US study suggests infertile men could die younger

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Infertility in men linked to earlier death

Male infertility has now been linked to a shorter lifespan. According to researchers, men with semen defects were found to die sooner than their fertile male counterparts, but the risk is low. The finding doesn't mean a shorter lifespan for some men but it could mean physicians should counsel men who might be at risk.

The finding, published in the journal Human Reproduction, is the result of data collected from 12,000 men between the ages 20 and 50. The researchers looked at sperm motility, shape, total sperm count and volume.

Why infertility in men could shorten lifespan

The reasons for the link between abnormal semen and shorter lifespan isn't entirely clear, but could include other health risks that trigger defects in sperm production such as diabetes or abnormalities in the blood vessels of the testes.

Other reasons for poor sperm quality include certain medications, alcohol and drug use and genetic abnormalities

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Dr. Michael Eisenberg of Stanford University School of Medicine in California, says the study is the first in the US to investigate how fertility affects a man's lifespan.

The researchers found 69 men out of 12,000 died within the 8-year study period. Though the number of men who died is small, the authors point out it is "statistically significant" because their average age was 36.6 years.

The researchers admit there is no way to know that male infertility was the cause of mortality found in the study. The reason could be from other health conditions, but either way "something is going on" Eisenberg explains.

Eisenberg said: "Could it be genetic, developmental or hormonal factors? Or could it be that something about the experience of having and raising kids - even though you may sometimes feel like they're killing you - actually lowers mortality?"

Men in the study were more likely to be better educated and have a higher socioeconomic status. Compared to the general population, mortality rates were lower for the men studies - something the authors say might come from following a healthier lifestyle overall.

More studies are needed to understand why male infertility might shorten lifespan. Dr. Eisenberg said researchers are continuing their investigation in the US and Canada. In the meantime, the study authors suggest clinicians counsel men with sperm defects to ensure they are following a healthy diet and lifestyle.

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