Low Sperm Count a Marker for Other Health Risks

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Male infertility should be taken as a sign of larger underlying health problems, says an international expert who will speak in Vancouver Saturday at a conference for fertility specialists.

Dr. Paul Turek, who runs clinics in San Francisco and Los Angeles, says men are typically reluctant to get medical help but infertility might get them through the door of doctor’s office. Once they arrive, he finds they’re less healthy than the average man for a host of reasons.

“Stress can affect your heart, it can affect your sex drive, it can affect your erection. But men aren’t going to go in (to a doctor’s office) if it affects their heart because they don’t feel it. They’re going to go in if they don’t have good erections or a good sex drive,” he said Friday in an telephone interview from San Francisco.

“We’re learning that men with low sperm counts are just plain unhealthier than men with normal sperm counts and men with infertility tend to die sooner.”

Some of the reasons behind this are factors men can change.

“The influence of lifestyle choices is becoming more apparent as a cause of infertility. We published on hot tubs (lowering sperm count through excessive heat), but certainly steroids — use or abuse — medications, social drug use and lots of other things can affect fertility and, over time, affect health.”

Low or no sperm count has been linked to higher risk of prostate cancer in a number of studies, including work from Turek’s clinic. The exact reason behind this connection is unknown.

Even mechanical causes of infertility — not being able to have an erection, for instance — are linked to cardiac illness.

“We’ve known for 10 years now that if you have organic problems with an erection in your 40s, your risk of heart disease and heart attack is twice as high as a guy who doesn’t have that problem. The risk is the same as if you were a smoker or someone in your family has a history of heart disease.”

Sperm counts can be a biomarker of health, Turek says, and a factor men should consider in trying to improve their overall well-being.

Known causes of male infertility are smoking, excessive alcohol, being overweight, use of steroids and recreational drugs and overheating the testicles.

Although male infertility is a contributing factor in half of couples who seek help, it’s often under-treated, Turek says. Women are much more likely to seek help from a specialist than their partners.

Turek has also developed a procedure for men with low or no sperm count called sperm mapping. It’s a 45-minute procedure in which up to 36 fine biopsy needles are inserted into the testes to collect tissue samples and determine whether there are hidden pockets of healthy sperm that could be used for in vitro fertilization.

Source: Vancouver Sun

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