Dysfunctional Sperm a Possible Cause of Frequent Miscarriages
Node Smith, ND
A small, but significant study from the Imperial College in London has found that a possible cause of frequent miscarriages could be dysfunction in the sperm of the woman’s partner.1 Recurrent miscarriages are defined as three or more miscarriages occurring before week 20 of pregnancy. One in 50 couples in the UK are affected by recurrent miscarriages. The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Chemistry.
Study looked at the sperm function and quality of 50 men
The study looked at the sperm function and quality of 50 men whose female partners had failed to carry a pregnancy to term and had suffered from at least three miscarriages. The healthy sperm from 60 other volunteers was also analyzed – whose partners had successfully completed pregnancies. Comparing the sperm of the two groups of men revealed that men whose partners were suffering from miscarriage had twice as much damage to their sperm DNA compared to the healthy group.
Previous research suggests sperm has important role in the formation of the placenta
Lead author Dr Channa Jayasena from the Department of Medicine said, “Traditionally doctors have focused attention on women when looking for the causes of recurrent miscarriage. The men’s health – and the health of their sperm – wasn’t analysed. For instance, previous research suggests sperm has an important role in the formation of the placenta, which is crucial for oxygen and nutrient supply to the foetus.”
Free radical content of semen could be due to previous infection
The researchers found that the DNA damage to the sperm was caused by reactive oxygen species – free radicals – inside the semen. Speculation is that these increases in free radical content of the semen could be due to previous infection. However, obesity, or higher male age could also be a factor in the oxidative damage of the sperm.
A limitation of the study
A limitation of the study was that the average age of men in the two groups was quite different. For the group with partners suffering from miscarriage the average age was 37 years, whereas the healthy control group had an average age of 30 years. The men in the miscarriage group also were more overweight.
Both partners contribute to recurrent miscarriage
Dr Jayasena said in a statement, “Although none of the men in the trial had any ongoing infection it is possible there may be other bacteria from previous infections lingering in the prostate gland, which makes semen. This may lead to permanently high levels of reactive oxygen species. It has taken medicine a long time to realize sperm health has a role to play in miscarriage – and that the cause doesn’t lie solely with women. Now we realise both partners contribute to recurrent miscarriage we can hopefully get a clearer picture of the problem and start to look for ways of ensuring more pregnancies result in a healthy baby.”
- Jayasena CN, Radia UK, Figueiredo M, et al. Reduced Testicular Steroidogenesis and Increased Semen Oxidative Stress in Male Partners as Novel Markers of Recurrent Miscarriage. Clin Chem. 2019;65(1):161-169.
Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.