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Inside out: Banking on the future of your family; Penny Fray looks at ways of extending your chances of having a family.

Byline: Penny Fray

MEN have been led to believe that they can have it all -but simple biology tells another story. Starting a family may not be as easy as you think, especially if you have spent most of your thirties concentrating on you career and partying. Worries about declining male fertility mean that some men are now having their sperm frozen early to avoid future disappoint ment. Alan, for instance, refused to let a painful divorce dash his dream of becoming afather.

So, after reading an article about American soldiers becoming victims of chemical warfare in Iraq, the 47-year-old Liverpool executive, now living in London, approached a private fertility clinic.

``I discussed my reasons for freezing with aconsultant, had my sperm analysed and the rest was relatively straight forward,'' he explains.

`I AGREED to the procedure, paid a cheque for just over pounds 500 and sent a sperm sample to be stored in liquid nitrogen for a couple of years.

``I know some people may find the whole idea too clinical but I see nothing wrong in using medical science to fulfil my ambition of having a family in the future. I mean, who knows when I'll meet the right woman. I guess it is an insurance policy against time.''

And there is certainly a case for men to freeze their sperm. Both Liverpool Women's Hospital and Bupa Murrayfield in Wirral have had instances where patients have had the procedure done prior to chemotherapy or a vasectomy but few have had patients wanting the storage for socio-economic reasons. So why should an otherwise healthy guy bother to bank his seed?

Well, evidence suggests that modern lifestyle factors such as heavy drinking and smoking, soaring stress levels as well as environmental pollutants are affecting sperm counts, as is age.

Researchers at the US National Institute of Environmental Health conducted a study that indicates that male fertility starts to decline as early as the late 30s.

``Sperm count in men is estimated to fall at a rate of 2.5 million per year, explains Mary Kittel, author of Stay Fertile For Longer. ``But with several hundred million sperm per ejaculation, men can arguably afford to lose some. The real question is how sperm of older men perform. The fact is, they swim slower, and more of them are deformed. They are also more likely to have chromosomal abnormalities, which is one reason why sperm banks draw their age limits at 40.

``Also, men may not perform as reliably as they age. With each succeeding decade after the late teen years, there is a distinct decrease in the ability of men to obtain erections easily. Plus, the force of a middle -agedman's ejaculation is not nearly as strong as a younger man's, and his sex drive wanes as his testosterone levels decline.''

In this light, storing younger, healthier sperm makes sense, especially since it's a relatively cheap and non-invasive procedure.

Of course, the NHS doesn't encourage sperm freezing for the ``just in case'' brigade. But private consultations are available in the Women's Hospital and Bupa.

However,both places admit that they mostly see men with health problems rather than those who have serious concerns about their lifestyle.

`WE ONLY freeze sperm for medical conditions on the NHS, not for social reasons,'' explains Dr I wan Lewis-Jones, Senior Lecturer in the University Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Liverpool Women's Hospital and Honorary Consultant Clinical Andrologist for the Trust. ``Of course, sperm can be stored by patients privately for social reasons such as prior to a vasectomy or if men are working away from home. ``Some forms of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgical therapy can lead to infertility which may be temporary or permanent. So,it is possible to store sperm in liquid nitrogen at -190C using special freezing equipment. But in all situations, freezing can only be done with the correct consent.''

PRE-CONCEPTIONCARE FOR MEN

MEDICAL STEPS 8 Perform a regular testicular self-examination; 8 See a urologist about any concerns with pelvic organs or sex life; 8 Resolve substance abuse, including the use of marijuana; 8 Maintain your weight at no more than 15pcabove or below your ideal body mass index.

EMOTIONAL MAINTENANCE 8 Discuss child-bearing expectations with your partner; 8 Make physical space for a baby in your home; 8

Evaluate your financial plan with your partner and adjust for child raising considerations.

LIFESTYLE FACTORS 8 Avoid steam rooms and long soaks in the tub while attempting conception or three months in advance;

8 Take hourly breaks during car journeys and cycle rides; 8 Take a high quality daily multivitamin/mineral supplement.

INFORMATION 8 Ask your GP if your current medications and nutritional supplements are safe for conception.

CAPTION(S):

FAMILY VALUES:The longer men wait the less chance there is of fathering a child
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 30, 2003
Words:804
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