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Sperm, Semen Defects May Be Tied to Shorter Lives

Men with 2 or more defects have more than double the risk of dying early, study suggests


"This striking increased death rate in men with abnormal semen parameters highlights the urgency and need to investigate the causes of male infertility and not to just proceed with assisted reproductive technologies," said Dr. Natan Bar-Chama, director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Bar-Chama, who was not involved with the study, added that "it is equally important to identify potential modifiable causes of male infertility that could be acted upon and subsequently decrease this increased mortality rate."

It's important to keep in mind that this study wasn't designed to prove that semen abnormalities lead to a higher rate of death, only to show there is an association between these factors.

However, the researchers have a number of theories as to why poor semen quality might be linked to premature death risk, Eisenberg said.

For example, reproduction is an essential human activity, with 10 percent to 15 percent of the male genome dedicated to propagation. "It's very easy to figure if you can't make sperm, there are probably other things your body can't do well," he said.

Sperm defects also could be caused by low levels of testosterone, an important male hormone that has been linked to longevity, Eisenberg noted.

And, Eisenberg added, social factors associated with fertility should not be ruled out. "If you look at studies, men who have children enjoy extended life and lower mortality," he said.

Women who are infertile likely face a similarly increased risk of death, he suggested, although this study only evaluated men.

"My belief is that infertility provides a window into a man's later health, and I think it would apply to both sexes," Eisenberg said. "We can expect to see the same effects in women as well."

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