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Men Have A Biological Clock, Too — Here's What You Need To Know

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May 13, 2019

"Your biological clock is ticking" is a phrase that's been historically—usually abrasively—toggled to women. However, recent research is suggesting that's not the full picture. A new study conducted at Rutgers University adds to this, revealing that men who delay starting a family have a ticking biological clock just like women, and waiting too long to have kids might be putting their partner's health at risk.

The study, published in the journal Maturitas, reviewed the effect of parental age on fertility, pregnancy, and children's health by carefully inspecting 40 years of research on this subject. There's no globally definitive definition for "advanced age" when it comes to paternity, but it typically averages between 35 and 45. That said, over the past 40 years, infants born to fathers over the age of 45 have risen 10 percent in the United States, likely as a result of evolving reproductive technology.

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"While it is widely accepted that physiological changes that occur in women after 35 can affect conception, pregnancy, and the health of the child, most men do not realize their advanced age can have a similar impact," said Gloria Bachmann, one of the study's authors and director of the Women's Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, in a news release.

How men's age can affect fertility and pregnancy health.

This particular Rutgers study is crucial in informing both men and women of their equal part in fertility and childbearing—and not only to diminish double standards but also to protect women and fetuses from severe pregnancy-related complications. According to the study, men ages 45 and older can experience decreased fertility, which, in turn, can put their partners at risk for pregnancy-related complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and preterm birth. Further, children born to advanced-aged fathers were more likely to be late stillbirths, have low Apgar scores, low birth weights, and higher incidences of newborn seizures and birth defects such as cleft palate and congenital heart disease. As the children matured, they were more likely to have psychiatric and cognitive disorders, childhood cancers, and autism.

According to Bachmann, a natural decline in testosterone that occurs with aging can be the cause of these outcomes, along with poorer semen quality and sperm degradation, though the correlations need more research. "Just as people lose muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance with age, in men, sperm also tend to lose 'fitness' over the life cycle," she said. "[And] in addition to decreasing fertilization potential, this can also influence the pregnancy itself, as is noted by increased pregnancy risks when conception is successful." Considerably, the study also found that advanced-aged males struggled with fertility issues even if their partner was under 25.

Double standards when it comes to biological clocks.

The inaugural Modern State of Fertility—another report released last month by Glamour and women's health care company Modern Fertility that polled hundreds of women on what they know, what they wish they knew, and how their outlook on fertility is shifting—suggests there's a pretty big lack of awareness around how men's age affects fertility. The survey showed women too often feel they're the only ones bearing the burden of the infamous biological clock. While 86 percent of women understand that female fertility significantly declines between the ages of 35 and 39, only 28 percent are aware that a man's age is also an important factor in a couple's chances of becoming pregnant. More than one in four women didn't know there's a "significant decline" in a man's ability to impregnate someone after he reaches age 45.

These studies emphasize the importance of raising awareness of advanced age and biological clocks in men and for the protection and knowledge of their partner during pregnancy. It's important to instill a greater sense of bodily autonomy for both parties who want to take these risk factors into consideration–and, of course, to stop dumping all the weight of the biological clock burden on women. As journalist Nicole Spector wrote on NBC, "As a woman of a certain age (35) who is hoping to have children, I'm flooded with information, suggestions and unsolicited advice about what motherhood (in the biological sense) might look like for me. My fiancé, Patrick is pushing 40 and just as eager to raise kids as me, but the subject doesn't much come up for him. He may be asked if he wants to be a dad, but never does his 'yes' lead to a bombardment of follow-up questions and a recitation of scientific tidbits."

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What men can do.

This new information isn't meant to be a scare tactic toward men, of course, but rather evidence that they should take it upon themselves to start consulting their physicians regarding their reproductive health if they do hope to have kids. Physicians, too, should begin counseling older men as they do older women on the effect aging will have on conception, pregnancy, and their child's health. If men plan on delaying fatherhood, Bachmann suggests they consider banking sperm before their 35th (and no later than their 45th birthday) to stunt the increased risks to the health of both mother and child.

There are also plenty of ways to increase male fertility, according to Alisa Vitti, female biohacking pioneer and founder of The FLO Living Hormone Center: Taking supplements and probiotics can help, as can losing weight and avoiding pesticides. "We often get caught up in the importance of female fertility and forget to acknowledge the profound role men play in the baby-making game," Vitti tells mbg. "But there are plenty of things that can potentially stand in the way of a man's successful fertility and (thankfully) also plenty of things a man can do to increase his odds of becoming a dad."

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