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Sperm quality linked to general health

15 December 2014
Appeared in BioNews 784

Men with poor semen quality are more likely to also suffer from unrelated health problems, such as hypertension, a study suggests.

Investigators at the Stanford University School of Medicine in the US uncovered a link between semen quality and general health after analysing the medical records of 9,387 men with a mean age of 38.

The men had provided semen samples as part of investigations to determine the cause of their infertility between 1994 and 2011. Several routine semen parameters were tested, including semen volume, sperm concentration, motility, and morphology.

Investigators found that 44 percent of men with semen defects also had at least one other health problem unrelated to their infertility.

Men with diseases that affect the circulatory system – such as hypertension or heart disease – showed significantly higher rates of semen abnormalities. As the number of different defects in a man's semen increased, so did the likelihood he also had a skin or endocrine disease.

Dr Michael Eisenberg, director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford, led the study. He said: 'A man's health is strongly correlated with his semen quality. 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.'

However, the study did not determine what might be causing the link between poor semen quality and general health.

One explanation is that semen quality and overall health are connected at a biological level. Dr Eisenberg says that 'some 15 percent of all genes in the human genome are connected fairly directly to reproduction, and most of these genes also have diverse functions in other bodily systems'.

He added: '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.'

But Dr Eisenberg also said it may not be a disease but rather the medical treatment for that disease, that could be the root cause of the subfertility. His team are currently investigating this possibility.

The study was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

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