Defects in sperm within semen may be linked to a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and skin and glandular disorders, a new study suggests.
The defects probably don't cause these problems. It's more likely that semen quality reflects overall health, the researchers said.
"It may be that infertility is a marker for sickness overall," said lead researcher Dr. Michael Eisenberg, an assistant professor of urology and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at the Stanford School of Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif.
Semen is the fluid that's released when a man ejaculates. Within that fluid are sperm. Sperm defects can affect the quality of semen. Sperm defects include too few sperm, sperm that don't move well (motility) or low-quality sperm, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).
"There are a lot of factors that involve a man's overall health that turn out to impair sperm production," Eisenberg said.
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Genetics play a part in sperm production
Treating conditions such as high blood pressure might improve sperm quality, he noted. However, Eisenberg said he isn't sure whether the condition itself is linked to sperm defects or if drugs used to treat health problems are to blame.
"Many things we didn't know about or think about may impact a man's fertility," he said. "It might be treatment for high blood pressure that is causing sperm problems."
Genetics may also play a part, Eisenberg suggested. "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," he said.
In the study published online Dec. 10 in the journal Fertility and Sterility, Eisenberg's group compared the health of men who had semen defects with men who didn't.
The researchers found that 44 percent of men with semen defects also had other health problems. These included high blood pressure, and heart and blood vessel disease.
In addition, as the number of other health conditions - such as skin disease or glandular problems - increased, so too did the likelihood of semen issues, according to the study.
For the study, the researchers analysed medical records of more than 9,000 men who were seen between 1994 and 2011 for infertility, according to the report. The men were mostly between 30 and 50 years old.
The men's semen was assessed for amount, sperm count and activity. In about half of the men, a fertility problem was due to abnormal semen, the researchers said.
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Importance of a healthy lifestyle
"This is another piece of evidence of how important not only fertility is, but overall health. There is a lot of overlap. Regardless of what your goals are, whether it's to live forever or have a baby, it's important to take care of yourself," Eisenberg said.
Dr. Tomer Singer, a reproductive endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said, "This study confirms what reproductive endocrinologists have been detecting - that there is a correlation between medical conditions and semen production."
This study can help fertility specialists understand the complex relationship between semen production and medical problems, Singer added.
"The result of this study will allow us to help our patients lead healthier lifestyles, consume less medication, which can also affect sperm quality, and increase the chance of normal sperm production," he said.
Lifestyle modification, including regular exercise and avoiding smoking and alcohol, can help prevent many medical conditions, Singer suggested, which may help improve sperm quality and the chances of conception.
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Image: Sperm going for the egg from Shutterstock
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