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Issue 121: His Biological Clock

“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 has applied mostly to women in the recent past. The truth is, however, that men also 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 some implications for men as time passes.

Fertility does not decrease as quickly and dramatically for men as it does for women, however. For women, there is more of a rapid decline in fertility—a dramatic drop in estrogen levels and ovarian function around perimenopause and 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 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry indicates that older paternal age is 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 The Journal of Urology, a study of the correlation between Down syndrome and a father’s age presented interesting results. Researchers noted that the father’s age—especially if he and the mother were both over 35 at the time of conception—has a lot to do with a child being born with Down syndrome. You may have already known that the mother’s age and Down syndrome are related, but why does this have implications on the father’s age? Researchers reported that the incidence of Down syndrome is related to the father’s sperm quality 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.

We already know about her clock ticking away, but his clock is ticking, too.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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