A new study presented at ENDO 2018, the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago, IL, found that low sperm count may not only be a problem for fertility, but is also a marker for a man’s general health.
The study looked at 5,177 male partners of infertile couples in Italy and found that low sperm counts were associated with metabolic alterations, cardiovascular risk, and low bone mass. Low sperm count was defined as less than 39 million sperm per ejaculate.
When compared to men with normal sperm counts, men with low sperm counts were 1.2 times more likely to have greater body fat, higher blood pressure , higher LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lower HDL cholesterol levels. Men with low sperm counts were also more likely to have metabolic syndrome. Overall, these are all risk factors for developing diabetes, heart disease, and strokes.
In addition, men with low sperm counts were found to have a 12-fold increased risk of hypogonadism, or low testosterone levels. Half of the men with low testosterone levels were found to have low bone mass or osteoporosis on bone density scans.
“Infertile men are likely to have important co-existing health problems or risk factors that can impair quality of life and shorten their lives,” said lead study investigator Alberto Ferlin, M.D., Ph.D. “Fertility evaluation gives men the unique opportunity for health assessment and disease prevention.”
For couples who are having difficulty conceiving due to abnormal semen parameters, treatments such as intrauterine inseminations (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF) with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may help them achieve a pregnancy. The male partner though should be evaluated not only by a fertility specialist, but also a primary care physician, so that his overall health can be optimized for fertility and future fatherhood.