Semen quality linked to overall health

(Reuters Health) - A man’s overall health may be reflected in the quality of the semen he produces, according to a new study.

Men with low quality semen were more likely to have other health problems - especially hormone, circulatory and skin conditions, researchers found.

“We used a well known marker for overall health,” said lead author Dr. Michael Eisenberg. “The less healthy men were, the lower sperm quality overall.”

While doctors know that obesity and smoking are tied to worse semen quality, less was known about the links between other health conditions and fertility, said Eisenberg, director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

For the new study, published Wednesday in Fertility and Sterility, the researchers calculated a score of overall health based on the medical records of 9,387 men who were evaluated for infertility at Stanford between 1994 and 2011.

The men’s health was measured on the Charlson Comorbidity Index, a scale that takes into account what conditions a man is currently living with and predicts his likelihood of death within the next 10 years.

The researchers then checked the volume, concentration and general health of the men’s sperm cells in semen samples.

The tests found that men whose overall health scores indicated worse health were more likely to have lower measures of semen and sperm quality.

For example, about 31 percent of men in the healthiest group had one of the semen abnormalities that the researchers were looking for. That compared to about 36 percent of the men who were in the worst health.

In addition, about 14 percent of men in the best health had two or more semen abnormalities, compared to about 36 percent of the men in the worst health.

Men who were living with hormone, circulatory, urinary and skin conditions were significantly more likely to have semen abnormalities.

Among the circulatory conditions the researchers examined, high blood pressure, vascular problems and heart disease were tied to higher rates of semen abnormalities.

The new study can’t demonstrate that cause and effect are at work, but Eisenberg said there are many ways these circulatory conditions can be linked to poor semen quality, including the fact that they’re all tied to obesity and smoking.

It would be worth checking to see if treatment for circulatory conditions affects fertility among men, he said.

“It just speaks to the idea that the human body is a finely tuned machine,” said Dr. Joseph Alukal, director of Male Reproductive Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

Alukal, who wasn’t involved in the new study, said past research found that about one in six men who come to a clinic with infertility will likely have a major medical condition.

Unlike women, who are more likely to see a doctor for yearly exams, he said men often go years without seeing doctors. For those who test positive for semen abnormalities, he said it’s likely worth getting those men examined.

“I think it’s just good common sense, Alukal said. “I don’t think there’s anything that could hurt.”

Eisenberg said these results are another reason for men to lead a healthy lifestyle and get examined by their doctors.

“I think for men just living their lives, they should think about this as another consequence of poor health,” he said. “For men having trouble having kids, it’s also motivation to go in and see what’s going on.”

SOURCE: Fertility and Sterility, online December 10, 2014.