His Biological Clock Is Ticking, Too
“My biological clock is ticking!” In the past, this expression has come mostly from childless women who were beginning to feel their most vital child-bearing years slipping away from them. Their choice to delay having children may have stemmed from pursuing their careers first, choosing marriage at a later time in life, or from other personal choices.
The term biological clock is defined as an internalized bodily mechanism that regulates everything from sleep cycles, metabolic rates, and fertility in women and men, even though it applied mostly to women in the recent past. The truth is, however, that men, too, have a ticking biological clock as it relates to fertility. While a man’s biological clock may not evidence itself the same way as a woman’s biological clock, there are still serious child-bearing implications to the passage of time.
Fertility does not decrease as quickly and dramatically for men as it does for women. For women, there is more of a rapid decline in fertility—a dramatic drop in estrogen levels and ovarian function around menopause. For men, however, the decline begins in his 30s and then steadily drops through his 40s and 50s.
Another difference between women and men is that women are born with all the eggs they will ever produce, while men produce a hundred million sperm each day through cell division. Men will most likely continue to have healthy sperm counts as they age, but men aged 35 and older are more likely to have sperm with broken strands of DNA—or damaged sperm. Therefore, the problem that affects an older man’s fertility lies in the lessened quality of the sperm. As men age, their “cell division” abilities may produce potential genetic code glitches that appear in their offspring—resulting in anomalies such as schizophrenia and Down syndrome.
A published study (Archives of General Psychiatry 2001) indicated that older paternal age was related to the risk of schizophrenia in children—with children of fathers who were over 50 three times more likely to be schizophrenic compared with children born to the youngest fathers.
In another study (The Journal of Urology, June 2003) the correlation between Down syndrome and a father’s age was studied. Researchers noted that the father’s age—especially if he and the mother were over 35 at the time of conception—had a lot to do with a child being born with Down syndrome. Researchers reported that the incidence of Down syndrome is related to sperm nearly 50 percent of the time.
So how do you prevent the biological clock from taking its toll on couples wanting to have children? Simple. If you want children, consider planning a family sooner rather than later. After all, the clock is ticking . . . .