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Repeated miscarriages might actually be caused by men’s weakened sperm, study says

Men whose partners struggle with recurrent pregnancy loss, or at least three miscarriages, might have sperm with damaged DNA caused by reactive oxygen species, according to a study in the journal Clinical Chemistry.
Men whose partners struggle with recurrent pregnancy loss, or at least three miscarriages, might have sperm with damaged DNA caused by reactive oxygen species, according to a study in the journal Clinical Chemistry. Emily Michot / Miami Herald file

Dr. Channa Jayasena says he hopes that his new study will change the perception that a miscarriage is probably caused by the woman’s body.

“Traditionally doctors have focused attention on women when looking for the causes of recurrent miscarriage,” the researcher from the Imperial College of London said in a press release. “The men’s health — and the health of their sperm, wasn’t analyzed. However, this research adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests sperm health dictates the health of a pregnancy.”

The study, which features Jayasena as its lead author, was published in the journal Clinical Chemistry. It found that among men whose wives had at least three miscarriages, there was double the damage to the genetic makeup of their sperm than in the average man’s sperm.

Dr. Kevin McEleny, from the British Fertility Society, told The Guardian that this study’s findings “agree with some of the previous research into a link between DNA damage in sperm and miscarriage.”

“We know that the partners of older men are more likely to suffer miscarriage,” McEleny told The Guardian. “The study group was generally older than the control group, which might go some way to explain the results.”

An international study published last week found that sperm counts have plummeted in the last 40 years among men in developed nations. A Kansas City fertility specialist says that fits with what he's seeing locally.

For the study, researchers from the Imperial College of London found 50 male subjects whose partners suffered from “recurrent pregnancy loss,” which happens after a woman has “the consecutive loss of three of more pregnancies before 20 weeks gestation,” the press release says.

Their sperm had a marked increase in DNA damage, the study says, and four times the reactive oxygen species than the other group of men, too.

But just what is a reactive oxygen species? They are “molecules formed by cells in semen (the fluid that contains sperm cells) to protect sperm from bacteria and infection,” according to the press release from the Imperial College of London. As noted by the study, it’s known that the cells in sperm can be damaged if exposed to too much of the reactive oxygen species.

It could be caused by an “ongoing infection such as chlamydia,” Jayasena said in the press release, or by something else such as obesity or age. But the study calls for more research to find a clear reason for the increase in reactive oxygen species.

As researchers continue to look for the root cause of the issue, Jayasena told The Independent that he hopes the issue of miscarriages can be viewed in a different light going forward.

“By recognizing men’s sperm plays a role and understanding how that happens at a molecular level, we can design drugs to actually reduce oxidative stress and reduce DNA damage,” he said, according to The Independent. “There are efforts to develop these drugs currently … as well as looking at things in [the men’s] lifestyle – for example being severely obese or having an infection – that could cause this effect.”

Video: WRAL’s Renee Chou discusses her miscarriage and how she found support and comfort on social media.

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