Men with fertility problems are at increased risk of metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis and diabetes as they age, a new study has found. Around 15 per cent of all couples experience infertility, and in about half of these cases it is due to male infertility. Men with poor semen quality have been shown to have a decreased life expectancy, but the causes are unknown and no biochemical markers or prevention strategies have been developed.
Researchers from Skane University Hospital and Lund University in Sweden have measured the levels of sex hormones and other biochemical parameters in infertile men, and have shown that many of them are at risk of hypogonadism (low levels of sex hormones) as well as signs of metabolic disease and osteoporosis.
The group took 192 men with a low sperm count and compared them with 199 age-matched controls. They compared sex hormone levels between the groups, as well as other markers such as bone mineral density (which indicates risk of osteoporosis) and HbA1c (a biomarker for diabetes).
They found that one-third of men under 50 with fertility problems, had biochemical signs of low sex hormone levels (eg low testosterone), which is known as hypogonadism. This was 7 times as common as amongst controls.
These men also had low bone density - especially in men with low testosterone - leaving them at increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis. Hypogonadal men also showed biochemical signs of elevated glucose (with elevated HbA1c), and greater signs of insulin resistance - indicating a tendency towards diabetes.
“We found that a significant proportion of men from infertile couples show biochemical signs of hypogonadism,” said Aleksander Giwercman, from Skane University Hospital. “This may be affecting their fertility, but they can also serve as early warning signs for metabolic diseases in later life, such as osteoporosis or diabetes,” Giwercman said.
“We would recommend that levels of reproductive hormones should be checked in all men seeking advice for fertility problems,” he said. The study was published in the journal Clinical Endocrinology.