Dealing with infertility can be a stressful time for the seven million Americans who seek treatment each year. Half of all male infertility cases are due to subpar semen quality, which can be affected by lifestyle factors like smoking, obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption. A new study led by Michael Eisenberg of Stanford University School of Medicine has found that semen quality is also linked to seemingly unrelated health issues such as hypertension, heart disease, and endocrine disorders. Understanding this link could provide the basis for a more thorough approach to treating infertility. The paper was published in Fertility and Sterility.
"About 15 percent of all couples have fertility issues, and in half of those cases the male partner has semen deficiencies," Eisenberg said in a press release. "We should be paying more attention to these millions of men. Infertility is a warning: Problems with reproduction may mean problems with overall health.”
The current research builds off of a previous study by Eisenberg’s group which discovered that men with poor semen quality died an average of eight years earlier than men with normal semen. The new paper utilized semen samples and medical histories of over 9,300 men who had sought infertility treatment at Stanford between 1994 and 2011. The age of the men ranged from 30-50, with 38 as the median. Roughly half of the infertility cases were deemed to be due to semen quality, while other issues were present in the other half. These groups were compared against one another to find possible links to other health problems.
Eisenberg’s team found that the men with abnormal semen had much higher instances of cardiopulmonary and vascular disease than the men who were infertile for other reasons. Surprisingly, the men whose semen had multiple deficiencies related to motility, sperm count, and volume also increased the amount of co-morbid conditions requiring treatment, including those affecting the skin and endocrine system.
"To the best of my knowledge, there's never been a study showing this association before," he continued. "There are a lot of men who have hypertension, so understanding that correlation is of huge interest to us.”
Eisenberg pointed out that though the disorders may seem disconnected, many of the genes responsible for reproduction are also widely utilized in other areas of the body. Going forward with this research will hopefully reveal the mechanism behind these disorders, which could potentially lead to new treatment options and promote overall health.
"A man's health is strongly correlated with his semen quality," Eisenberg concluded. "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.”