When a couple seeks help for fertility issues, the male is often evaluated for sperm and semen quality. Once these all-important measures of fertility are eliminated as a cause of the couple’s infertility, all attention is focused on the female. An award-winning presentation at the Australian Society for Medical Research in South Australia in early June suggests improvements may be needed in assessing male infertility. Obese men may face fertility challenges not routinely measured at this time.

Dr. Jared Campbell won the Best Poster Award at the annual society conference for his presentation of the results of a meta-analysis of obese men involved with assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Campbell is a research fellow at the University of Adelaide’s Joanna Briggs Institute.

Meta-analysis involves pooling and analyzing data gleaned from a collection of previous studies on a given subject. Campbell’s study involved review of 24 papers published in various peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Sperm and semen quality, according to Campbell, are usually measured by examining sperm concentration (how many sperm per unit of semen), volume of semen, and motility (how effectively the sperm can move toward an egg). Campbell’s analysis indicated that obese men whose sperm and semen quality tested within healthy ranges often still had problems with fertility. On a per-cycle of IVF basis:

  • “Obese men were significantly less likely to have a clinical pregnancy.”
  • Obese men were “also significantly less likely to have a live birth.”

These outcomes, say Campbell, confirm data from the general population that indicates obese men experience infertility more often than men of healthy body weight.

Although Campbell’s research did not find any connection between male obesity and sperm concentration and motility or semen volume, it did reveal other factors that could hinder conception and healthy childbirth. He found two critical elements of chromosomal health were present to a greater degree in obese men:

  • DNA fragmentation
  • Altered mitochondrial membrane potential

Both these chromosomal abnormalities affect a sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg. This finding suggests the value of “using more cutting edge techniques (that) would allow a better understanding of where some infertility problems lie,” said Campbell.

According to Campbell, no studies have yet been conducted to determine if losing weight can restore poor sperm health to overweight men experiencing infertility issues but restoration has been documented in studies on animals.

Professor Robert Norman, a reproductive health specialist familiar with the Campbell study, said the health — and the weight — of both the man and the woman need to be part of the infertility conversation when a couple seeks reproductive assistance. He suggests fertility clinics routinely include diet and lifestyle discussions with men seeking treatment as well as with women.

Source: Keenihan, Sarah. “Male fertility tests don’t measure the right things.” The Lead. The Lead South Australia. Jun 6, 2014. Web. Jun 26, 2014.