Recently, a new study suggests that being obese may diminish a man's chances of becoming a father, even if he is otherwise healthy.
Researchers found that among 87 healthy men ages 19 to 48, those who were obese were less likely to have ever fathered a child. They showed hormonal differences that point to a reduced reproductive capacity. Compared with their thinner counterparts, obese men had lower levels of testosterone in their blood, as well as lower levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which are essential to reproduction.
Researchers explained that these relatively low levels of FSH and LH are suggestive of a "partial" hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. The testes do not function properly due to signaling problems in the pituitary gland or hypothalamus, two brain structures involved in hormone secretion in this condition.
Of the 87 men in the study, 68% had had a child. Pauli's team found that the average body mass index, or BMI, was lower among these men compared with those who would never fathered a child; in the former group, the average BMI was 28, which falls into the range for "overweight," while the average BMI for childless men was nearly 32 that falls into the "obese" range.
According to Dr. Eric M. Pauli and his colleagues at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine in Hershey, the findings suggest that obesity alone is an "infertility factor" in otherwise healthy men.
When the researchers assessed the men for several reproductive hormones, they figured out that the more obese a man was the lower was his LH and FSH levels. On the other hand, increasing obesity correlated with increasing estrogen levels.
Excess body fat, Pauli's team explains, may increase the conversion of testosterone to estrogen in a man's blood. Such hormone alterations could signal the brain to suppress LH and FSH production.
The researchers note that past studies have linked obesity with an increased risk of erectile dysfunction and dampened libido. Those impacts, they say, along with the hormonal alterations seen in this study, could act together to decrease an obese man's fertility.
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