Men with low sperm counts at increased risk of illness, study suggests

Men with low sperm counts are more likely to have a number of health issues that put them at increased risk of illness, new research suggests.

A study of 5,177 men found those with low sperm counts were 20% more likely to have more body fat, higher blood pressure and more “bad” cholesterol.

They were also much more likely to have low testosterone levels.

The study’s authors said it showed that men with low sperm counts should also be tested for other health problems.

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    ‘Risk factors’

    Low sperm count and problems with sperm quality are factors in around one in three couples who are struggling to get pregnant.

    But for this new study scientists analysed men in infertile couples in Italy, to see whether semen quality is also a marker for men’s general health.

    They found more of the men with low sperm counts had metabolic syndrome – a cluster of risk factors including a higher body mass index (BMI) and raised blood pressure. These increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

    The men were also 12 times more likely to have low testosterone levels, which reduce muscle mass and bone density and can be a precursor to osteoporosis, a condition that weakens the bones and makes them more likely to break.

    Dr Alberto Ferlin, professor of endocrinology at the University of Bresci, who led the study, said: “Infertile men are likely to have important co-existing health problems or risk factors that can impair quality of life and shorten their lives.

    “Fertility evaluation gives men the unique opportunity for health assessment and disease prevention.”

    However, the study’s authors stressed that their research did not prove that low sperm counts cause metabolic problems, but rather that the two are linked.

    They said low testosterone levels in particular were associated with these health issues.

    Dr Ferlin said the research showed that it was important that men being treated for infertility were given proper health checks.

    “Men of couples having difficulties achieving pregnancy should be correctly diagnosed, and followed up by their fertility specialists and primary care doctor because they could have an increased chance of morbidity and mortality,” he said.

    ‘Canary in coal mine’

    Kevin McEleny, a consultant urologist at Newcastle Fertility Centre, said at the moment men with sperm problems are rarely investigated for other health problems.

    “This is a message to fertility clinics, particularly, to think about these other health issues in the patients they see.

    “It might be the case that it’s not just about fertility, about sperm in the men, but taking a slightly wider view of male health when they see these people and think about what else needs to be done to get the patients as healthy as possible.”

    Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield, said more research is needed to properly understand the relationship between fertility problems in men and other health issues.

    “There is currently no suggestion that male sub-fertility causes health problems later in life and in my opinion, it is more likely that they both have a common cause.

    “However, this highlights why we need to design better studies to investigate male sub-fertility as it could be an important ‘canary in the coal mine’ for other aspects of male health.”

    The study will be presented at ENDO 2018, the Endocrine Society’s 100th annual meeting in Chicago.

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Why is spitting so bad?

There’s been outrage over a video of footballer turned TV pundit Jamie Carragher spitting towards a family in a car in an angry outburst in response to being “goaded”.

Carragher has been suspended from his job as an analyst at Sky Sports.

But why is spitting seen as so offensive?

Yuck factor

“Disgusting”, “vile” and “doesn’t get any lower than spitting” are among the comments posted about the video.

To some people, spitting is in a class above everything – even violence.

It’s often seen as an action of anger and disrespect, but it hasn’t always been the case.

In the past spitting was a socially acceptable habit in Europe, but by the 19th Century manners changed.

This coincided with greater awareness of the transmission of contagious diseases that could be spread by spitting, so public health campaigns were launched against it.

During the 1940s, when tuberculosis (TB) was widespread, it was common to see “spitting prohibited” signs on buses.

Health risks

Today the risk of catching a contagious disease if you’re spat at is very low.

You do stand a small chance of catching a cold or possibly the flu.

Other diseases that are spread through saliva include TB, hepatitis, viral meningitis, cytomegalovirus – a common virus similar to the herpes virus – and the Epstein-Barr virus, which is a common herpes virus that causes many diseases such as glandular fever.

If you are in the unfortunate situation that you are spat at, the NHS recommends you should:

  • Immediately wash the saliva off with soap and lots of water
  • If the saliva goes into your eyes, nose or mouth wash it out with lots of cold water
  • If you think you’re at risk of infection, get immediate medical advice

    Is spitting assault?

    On the football pitch, spitting on the ground is a common sight but spitting at your opponents is categorised as “violent behaviour” by world governing body Fifa.

    Spitting at an opponent or any other person is a sending-off offence by the Football Association.

    The police say “in most cases, spitting if done deliberately will be an assault” and they have started to introduce spit hoods to protect officers.

    The transparent mesh fabric hoods are used by 17 of the UK’s 49 police forces.

    The West Midlands Police force is one of the latest to introduce them.

    The force said in 2016, 231 officers were spat on.

    But the garments have been condemned as cruel and degrading by the campaign group Liberty.

    Fining offence

    Until 1990, spitting was an offence carrying a £5 fine in the UK. In recent years the idea of fines for spitting has re-emerged.

    In 2013, Enfield council in London introduced a by-law to make spitting in public illegal.

    Councillor Chris Bond, who led the campaign to introduce it, described spitting as “utterly foul” and the “sort of disgusting behaviour” that “shouldn’t be tolerated in a civilised society”.

    “It is my belief that most people find spitting a wholly obnoxious, filthy habit which can spread germs and causes health issues,” he said.

    “Banning spitting in Enfield will help combat tuberculosis which has been on the increase in London.”

    In the same year, Waltham Forest Council in north-east London introduced fixed penalty notices of £80 for those caught spitting. It classified spitting as “waste”, which meant that creating a by-law was not necessary and it successfully took two men to court.

    ‘Spit bags’

    In some parts of the world spitting is commonplace.

    China has attempted to tackle the issue a number of times.

    One campaign ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics saw volunteers handed out special “spit bags” and banners across the city urged people not to spit as a way of “improving manners”.

    “Take part, contribute and enjoy yourself by welcoming the Olympics, being civilised and behaving better,” said one slogan.

How exercise in old age prevents the immune system from declining

Doing lots of exercise in older age can prevent the immune system from declining and protect people against infections, scientists say.

They followed 125 long-distance cyclists, some now in their 80s, and found they had the immune systems of 20-year-olds.

Prof Norman Lazarus, 82, of King’s College London, who took part in and co-authored the research, said: “If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it.

“It has wide-ranging benefits for the body, the mind, for our muscles and our immune system.”

The research was published in the journal Aging Cell.

Prof Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, at the University of Birmingham, and co-author of the research, said: “The immune system declines by about 2-3% a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer.

“Because the cyclists have the immune system of a 20-year-old rather than a 70- or 80-year-old, it means they have added protection against all these issues.”

The researchers looked at markers in the blood for T-cells, which help the immune system respond to new infections.

These are produced in the thymus, a gland in the chest, which normally shrinks in size in adulthood.

‘Out of puff’

They found that the endurance cyclists were producing the same level of T-cells as adults in their 20s, whereas a group of inactive older adults were producing very few.

The researchers believe that being physically active in old age will help people respond better to vaccines, and so be better protected against infections such as flu.

Steve Harridge, co-author and professor of physiology at King’s College London, said: “Being sedentary goes against evolution because humans are designed to be physically active.

“You don’t need to be a competitive athlete to reap the benefits – or be an endurance cyclist – anything which gets you moving and a little bit out of puff will help.”

Prof Harridge and Prof Lazarus believe that highly physically active older people represent the perfect group in which to analyse the true effects of biological ageing.

A separate paper in Aging Cell found that the cyclists did not lose muscle mass or strength, and did not see an increase in body fat – which are usually associated with ageing.

I met a dozen of the cyclists, on a morning ride in Surrey. Despite the bitter cold, they were universally cheerful, and clearly used to riding in all weathers.

They are members of Audax, a long-distance cycling organisation that organises events ranging from 100km to 300km.

The older members – in their 80s – say they do only the “short” 100km (62-mile) rides, but this is still highly impressive.

So why do they do it?

Pam Jones, 79, told me: “I do it for my health, because it’s sociable, and because I enjoy the freedom it gives you.”

Brian Matkins, 82, said: “One of the first results I got from the medical study was I was told my body fat was comparable to that of a 19-year-old.”

Aged just 64, Jim Woods, is a comparative youngster in the group. He averages 100 miles a week on his bike, with more during the summer.

He said: “I cycle for a sense of wellbeing and to enjoy our wonderful countryside.”

Cycling 60 miles or more may not be your idea of fun, but these riders have found something that gives them pleasure, which is a key reason why they continue.

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Millennials ‘set to be fattest generation’

UK millennials are on track to be the most overweight generation since records began, health experts say.

Based on population trends, more than seven in every 10 people born between the early 1980s and mid-90s will be too fat by the time they reach middle age.

In comparison, about half of the “baby boomer” generation, born just after World War Two, were fat at that age.

Being fat as an adult is linked to 13 different types of cancer, says Cancer Research UK, who did the analysis.

The list includes breast, bowel and kidney cancer, but only 15% of people in the UK are aware of the link, according to the charity.

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‘Generation fat?’

Britain is the most obese nation in Western Europe, with rates rising faster than in any other developed nation.

Obesity prevalence has been increasing in the UK, from 15% in 1993 to 27% in 2015.

In 2015, the highest obesity levels were seen in people aged 55 to 64, but experts are concerned that younger generations are on track to become fatter still.

Cancer Research UK wants to make the associated health risks clear to the wider public.

Spokeswoman Prof Linda Bauld said: “Extra body fat doesn’t just sit there; it sends messages around the body that can cause damage to cells.

“This damage can build up over time and increase the risk of cancer in the same way that damage from smoking causes cancer.

“While these estimates sound bleak, we can stop them becoming a reality.

“Millennials are known for following seemingly healthy food trends, but nothing beats a balanced diet.

“Eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and other fibre filled foods like whole grains, and cutting down on junk food is the best way to keep a healthy weight.”

Prof Russell Viner, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “There is a danger that being overweight is becoming normalised, as we know that many people struggle to recognise obesity in themselves, and often are unable to see when their child is overweight.

“Knowledge of the links between cancer and smoking have driven smoking rates down dramatically amongst our young people.

“We need the same recognition of the dangers of obesity.”