Sunshine could help fix male infertility

Australian fertility experts say a dose of daily sunshine could help men with fertility problems and they suggest couples struggling to conceive should consider getting out in the sunshine more often.

According to Dr. Anne Clark, the medical director of the Fertility First assisted reproduction clinic in Sydney, blood tests of 794 men who visited the unit found more than a third of them had vitamin D deficiency - they were also found to be deficient in folate and had elevated levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood associated with cell toxicity.

While previous research has shown vitamin D, produced from natural light and found in oily fish and eggs, is important for a healthy pregnancy, this latest research shows a deficiency may also affect sperm.

Dr. Clark says the results show lifestyle changes can be beneficial and just spending ten minutes outside in their shirt sleeves would be enough of a boost along with giving up smoking, losing weight, and reducing caffeine and alcohol intake.

Dr. Clark says the vitamin D deficiency could have been caused by worries about skin cancer and by men trying to avoid too much exposure to sunshine.

A group of 123 men agreed to make the changes, and to also take multivitamins and antioxidants for two to three months, after which time tests revealed 'an improvement in the shape of the sperm which saw a 75% reduction in the level of sperm fragmentation among the 123 men and 31 of the men went on to achieve a pregnancy.

Dr. Clark says the results clearly show that lifestyle changes and dietary supplements can be beneficial for the conception of a healthy on-going pregnancy.

Dr. Clark presented the paper to Fertility Society of Australia conference in Brisbane - the research is part of a study by University of Sydney doctoral student Laura Thomson who is investigating DNA fragmentation of sperm, a significant factor in male infertility which is most often the result of cellular damage resulting from infection, smoking or advanced paternal age.

Dr. Clark says their findings support a European study earlier this year that showed women's vitamin D levels strongly correlate with their ability to conceive.

She says vitamin D and folate deficiency are known to be associated with infertility in women, but the outcomes of the screening among men in our study group came as a complete surprise.

Among the group of males tested, 40 pregnancies had been achieved, with more than half of those pregnancies occurring naturally or with minimal intervention such as intrauterine insemination and with only three miscarriages (6%) compared to an average 22% miscarriage rate among women using fertility treatment.

Dr. Clark says the findings could have major implications for the costs of fertility treatment as one in six Australian couples experiences infertility - a blood screening test costs about $450 while a cycle of IVF treatment is about $4,500.

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