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Low sperm count is not just limited to infertility, it may also put men at increased risk of illness, according to a new study.
According to the researchers, a man's semen count is a marker of his general health and fertility evaluation gives them the unique opportunity for health assessment and disease prevention.
"Our study clearly shows that low sperm count by itself is associated with metabolic alterations, cardiovascular risk, and low bone mass," said lead author Alberto Ferlin, Associate Professor at the University of Brescia in Italy.
"Infertile men are likely to have important co-existing health problems or risk factors that can impair quality of life and shorten their lives," said Ferlin, who conducted the study when he was in the University of Padova.
For the study, presented at the ENDO 2018: The Endocrine Society's 100th Annual Meeting and Expo, researchers studied 5,177 male partners of infertile couples.
All the men in the study had a sperm analysis as part of a comprehensive health evaluation, which included measurement of their reproductive hormones and metabolic parameters.
The researchers found that about half the men had low sperm counts and were 1.2 times more likely than those with normal sperm counts to have greater body fat; higher blood pressure, "bad" (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides; and lower "good" (HDL) cholesterol.
They also had a higher frequency of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of these and other metabolic risk factors that increase the chance of developing diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, said the researchers.
A measure of insulin resistance, another problem that can lead to diabetes, also was higher in men with low sperm counts.
The researchers found a 12-fold increased risk of hypogonadism, or low testosterone levels, in men with low sperm counts.
Half the men with low testosterone had osteoporosis or low bone mass, a possible precursor to osteoporosis, as found on a bone density scan.
The findings suggest that low sperm count of itself is associated with poorer measures of cardiometabolic health but that hypogonadism is mainly involved in this association.
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