If you are struggling to conceive, a diabetes check for your man could be worth your while, especially if diabetes runs in his family or if he is overweight; diabetes is extremely common, especially as men age. In men diabetes is now known to cause sperm DNA damage, a factor which can hinder natural conception and IVF/ICSI success even when standard sperm tests are normal.
Some studies have revealed that diabetic men have a 60% increase in sperm DNA fragmentation compared to healthy non-diabetic men. The sperm DNA fragmentation test is not usually included in the batch of standard tests for sperm count, motility and morphology in common use though many experts feel it is vitally important to measure.
Sperm DNA can be excessively fragmented even when the other parameters of sperm health are within the normal limits so sometimes there is no warning that crucial damage has occurred.
Dr. Sheena Lewis of Queen's University, Belfast, tested the sperm specimens of 56 males in their mid-30s, of whom almost half were diabetic. In the diabetic men it was discovered that the rate of sperm DNA fragmentation was 52% compared to only 32% in the healthy male controls. The diabetic men also had evidence of genetic damage in the mitochondria of the sperm cells of the diabetic men. The study concluded that:
"Diabetes is associated with increased sperm nuclear and mtDNA damage that may impair the reproductive capability of these men."
"...From a clinical perspective this is important, particularly given the overwhelming evidence that sperm DNA damage impairs male fertility and reproductive health."
Interestingly, the other aspects of sperm health were similar between the diabetics and the control group. Co-author of the study, Ishola Agbaje, stated that:
"These findings cause concern as they may have implications for fertility...Sperm disorders are thought to cause or contribute to infertility in 40% to 50% of infertile couples. The increasing incidence of systemic disease such as diabetes may further exacerbate this decline in male fertility."
The research did not uncover how diabetes causes adverse changes in sperm but it is possible that elevated blood sugar levels causes and increase in free radical activity which is known to attack sperm DNA. If so, it is possible that controlling the diabetes may have a positive effect on sperm health.
Previous studies have highlighted how diets low in fruits, vegetables and fiber and high in fast foods can increase sperm problems including DNA damage. If you have diabetes, consider taking special care with your diet and consider consulting a dietitian for help creating a diabetes-friendly diet. Talk to your doctor about getting a fasting glucose / insulin test and a thorough diabetes check.
This article is for purely informational purposes and in not intended to diagnose or replace medical or nutritional advice for which you should consult a physician or dietitian.
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Insulin dependant diabetes mellitus: implications
for male reproductive function
I.M. Agbaje1, 4, D.A. Rogers1, C.M. McVicar1, N. McClure1, 3, A.B. Atkinson2, C. Mallidis1
and S.E.M. Lewis1
Human Reproduction pp. 1–7, 2007 doi:10.1093/humrep/dem077