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Men who wait longer to have children run an increased risk of passing on potential health conditions to their offspring due to sperm health, a new study from University of Otago has found.

The study analyzed the results of 90 existing studies on male fertility and found consistent findings—the quality of a man’s semen declined as he aged. It’s already recognized that a woman’s age can lead to increased likelihood of health problems in children but it has been less clear whether a man’s age had similar effects.

“While female age is well known to have negative effects on fertility, reproductive success and the health of offspring, the influence of male age on a couple’s fertility has been largely neglected,” said the study’s lead author Dr Sheri Johnson.

Not only did older sperm increase the risk of miscarriage and other complications during pregnancy, they increased the likelihood of a range of conditions such as Autism, Down syndrome, epilepsy and schizophrenia. It could also be a big factor in infertility.The study was not designed to identify the rate of decline, but Johnson said existing studies showed that consistent downward trend could begin as early as 35.

The specific problem with older semen was lower volume, poor sperm performance, and increases in malformed and DNA-damaged sperm. Semen quality is used to show how fertile a man is. However instead of relying on semen volume, sperm concentration and total sperm count, which are common clinically measured traits, Johnson said a greater focus on the ratio of DNA-fragmented sperm cells and their ability to swim, could be more important aspects of sperm quality: these are likely more accurate and consistent predictors of a man’s fertility status.The findings were significant because many couples were waiting longer to have children, Johnson said.

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