Dec 12, 2014 07:14 PM EST
Sperm quality could be an indicator of a man's overall health, according to a recent study. This means that males with fertility issues are more likely to acquire health problems later in life, the Stanford University study says. Amongst the illnesses linked to poor semen quality are skin disease, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.
The researchers studied some 9,400 men, aged 30 to 50 years old and who visited a fertility clinic between 1994 and 2011.
Lead author Dr. Michael Eisenberg, and assistant professor of urology and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford University in California said, "About 15 per cent of all couples have fertility issues, and in half of those cases the male partner has semen deficiencies. We should be paying more attention to these millions of men. Infertility is a warning: Problems with reproduction may mean problems with overall health."
Forty-four per cent had at least one medical diagnosis unrelated to infertility. Using the Charlson comorbidity index, the researchers showed that men with a higher index had lower semen volume, concentration, motility, total sperm count, and morphology scores.
Rates of semen abnormalities were significantly higher among men with endocrine, circulatory, genitourinary, and skin diseases than in men without these conditions. For instance, 56 per cent of men without hypertensive disease had normal semen quality, but only 45 per cent of men with hypertension had normal semen quality.
"To the best of my knowledge, there's never been a study showing this association before," Eisenberg said. "There are a lot of men who have hypertension, so understanding that correlation is of huge interest to us."
"A man's health is strongly correlated with his semen quality," Eisenberg explained. "Given the high incidence of infertility, we need to take a broader view. As we treat men's infertility, we should also assess their overall health. That visit to a fertility clinic represents a big opportunity to improve their treatment for other conditions, which we now suspect could actually help resolve the infertility they came in for in the first place."
He also said that genetics can play a part. "About 10 percent of the genes in a man's body are involved in sperm production, so it is possible that some of these genes may have overlapping effects on other functions."
In a separate interview by FoxNews, study author Barry Behr, professor of OBGYN at Stanford University, and lab director of Stanford Medicine Fertility and Reproductive Health, said: "This could be a great opportunity for young men to get a window into their future health. Sperm cells move and are large, and we can quantify them. If this pans out to be true- which we believe it will- your sperm condition is a great surrogate marker for your overall health."
The study authors noted that while there's a link between semen quality and other health problems, it is not clear whether the semen quality determines the health problems or medication affects sperm production.
However, the researchers' findings still suggest that men with fertility issues may want to have some changes in their lifestyle or health habits.
"I think that for a man who feels or seems otherwise healthy and has aberrant semen parameters,it may provide additional motivation for the individual to drill more into their health assessment to make sure they don't harbor a condition later in life that they may be able to change their lifestyle for," Behr said.
The research was published Wednesday Dec. 10 in the journal Fertility and Sterility.
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