Diabetes reduces sperm count, damages DNA in men: Study

MUMBAI: Diabetic men are twice as likely to suffer from DNA damage to sperms than healthy individuals, an ongoing study by Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre has revealed. The study also showed that diabetes significantly reduced sperm count and affected the movement and appearance of sperm.

Doctors said the findings are worrying, especially when India has emerged as the diabetes capital of the world. Also, with diabetes affecting more and more young people in the country, the study has sent alarm bells ringing.

The study found that diabetic men were nearly three times more likely to suffer from sperm apoptosis— self-destruction of a cell due to break-up of the DNA—than healthy individuals.

Fragmented or broken DNA may not only lead to fertility issues but also higher miscarriage rates in couples.

Dr Firuza Parikh, director of the Jaslok Hospital’s IVF and genetics centre, said the findings were in conjunction with global observations that diabetes could contribute to changing the morphology or the look of sperm. The study showed that in diabetic men, 92% sperm looked abnormal whereas only 11% healthy donors showed abnormality.

Diabetic men also fared poorly in sperm count and motility—the agility of a sperm to fertilize an egg. In diabetic men, sperm motility hovered around 22% while it was more than double in case of those who did not suffer from the disease. Sperm count in diabetic men was found to be less than half of that of healthy individuals.

The study, initiated about three years ago by the Pedder Road hospital’s assisted reproduction and genetics department, compared the sperm quality in 120 diabetic and non-diabetic men in the 24-45 age group. Smokers were excluded to avoid any interference in the findings.

Dr Arundhati Athalye and Dr Meenal Khandeparkar, the main investigators, said the study underlined the need to perform routine DNA fragmentation testing in every diabetic patient seeking infertility treatment as that could be the underlying cause.

Dr Prochi Madon, head of genetics, pointed out that early diagnosis was the key to beat diabetes and associated health problems. “The diabetic men chosen for the study had come to the clinic seeking treatment for infertility.”

In a recent seminar at Jaslok Hospital, Dr Craig Niederberger, head of urology at the University of Illinois in Chicago, stressed that in addition to sperm function tests, it was important to thoroughly evaluate men suffering from infertility. He said the link between low testosterone, male infertility and the risk of prostatic cancer later in life was already established.

But it is not all bad news for young men with diabetes. Parikh said some couples grappling with infertility managed to conceive naturally after working on ways to de-stress. “Lifestyle modification or simple things like taking a vacation have worked for many.”