A recent large-scale study of 5,177 male partners of infertile couples from Italy, suggests that having a low sperm count may be an indication of a larger health problem in men.
This study is very significant since it is the largest study to date evaluating semen quality, reproductive function and metabolic risk in men referred for a fertility evaluation.
In this study, the men had to undergo a comprehensive health checkup including a physical exam, semen analysis, reproductive hormones analysis and several metabolic parameters. The study defined low sperm count as having less than 39 million sperms per ejaculate and the control group had a sperm count above this threshold.
“Our study clearly shows that low sperm count by itself is associated with metabolic alterations, cardiovascular risk and low bone mass,” said the study’s lead investigator, Alberto Ferlin, M.D., Ph.D. who conducted the study at the University of Padova in collaboration with professor Carlo Foresta, M.D.
The results of the study showed that men who had a low sperm count were 1.2 times more likely to have the following conditions as opposed to the control group (normal sperm count):
- a bigger waistline,
- Higher body mass index (BMI)
- Higher blood pressure (Systolic, or top reading)
- “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides
- lower “good” (HDL) cholesterol
- A higher frequency of metabolic syndrome – Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of conditions such as increased blood sugar, BP, cholesterol and triglyceride levels that increases the susceptibility to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
- Men with low sperm counts also had a 12-fold increased risk of hypogonadism, or low testosterone levels.
In other words, a man’s semen count is also, a marker of his general health.
The study results was presented at ENDO 2018, the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois.
These study findings, according to Ferlin, suggest that low sperm count of itself is associated with poorer measures of cardiometabolic health but that hypogonadism is mainly involved in this association.
He cautioned that their study does not prove that low sperm counts cause metabolic derangements, but rather that sperm quality is a mirror of the general male health.
The bottom line, Ferlin stressed, is that treatment of male infertility should not focus only on having a child when diagnostic testing finds other health risks, such as overweight, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
“Men of couples having difficulties achieving pregnancy should be correctly diagnosed and followed up by their fertility specialists and primary care doctor because they could have an increased chance of morbidity and mortality,” he said.