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In a study of 80 healthy men, aged 22 to 80, investigators found that those older than 44 who consumed the most vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and folate had 20 percent less sperm DNA damage than those who consumed the lowest amounts of these so-called "micronutrients."
However, a higher intake of these vitamins and minerals was not associated with improved sperm DNA quality in younger men.
The study, published in the Aug. 27 online issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility, was led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
"It appears that consuming more micronutrients such as vitamin C, E, folate and zinc helps turn back the clock for older men. We found that men 44 and older who consumed at least the recommended dietary allowance of certain micronutrients had sperm with a similar amount of DNA damage as the sperm of younger men," Andy Wyrobek, of the Life Sciences Division at Berkeley Lab, said in a lab news release.
"This means that men who are at increased risk of sperm DNA damage because of advancing age can do something about it. They can make sure they get enough vitamins and micronutrients in their diets or through supplements," Wyrobek added.
The findings are important because an increasing number of men over 35 years of age are having children, which raises public health concerns, the researchers pointed out in the news release.
Previous research has shown that as men age, they are more likely to have sperm DNA damage. This explains why older men are less fertile and at increased risk for having children with genetic defects.
Until now, scientists haven't known whether a diet high in antioxidants and micronutrients might help protect against age-related damage in sperm DNA. Further research is needed to determine if higher vitamin intake and improved sperm DNA quality in older men will help improve their fertility and the health of their children.
While the study uncovered an association between consumption of micronutrients and sperm DNA quality, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
-- Robert Preidt
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