Beware couples… the biological clock is ticking!
The biological clock has been the subject of much media attention in recent years, any practitioner in reproductive medicine is painfully aware of the difficulties in achieving a healthy pregnancy after a woman reaches the late 30’s. in this respect, two important points need to be understood by all couples.
Firstly, it should be understood that ovaries of a woman may age using a different clock from that used by the rest of her body. This means, her age may be 35 but her ovaries may function like those of a 40 year-old. Now occasionally, the reverse is also true, e.g. a 42 year old functioning like having 30 year old ovaries… but it is much less likely, and the reason for this is not clear. One conclusion can be made out of this for sure, which is that to delay childbearing much beyond 30 carries a risk of not being able to use one’s own eggs to have a baby.
Secondly, it is important to know that it is possible to estimate the ovarian age. Hormone testing is used to measure the functioning level of a woman’s ovaries. The common test used is called the clomiphene challenge test (CCT). This test involves taking tablets and having blood drawn on certain days of the cycle. The results can measure where the person is on the biological clock.
At present the only therapeutic option for aged ovaries is to utilize the oocytes (eggs) of another woman. That person is known as the “donor” and the patient is the “recipient”. In egg donation, the donor can be anyone such as family member, friend, or a person recruited by an agency for that purpose. This process involves in vitro fertilization IVF. Oocytes are retrieved from the donor’s ovaries by needle. Those oocytes are then fertilized in the laboratory by the sperm of the male partner of the recipient. After initial development in the laboratory, the embryos are placed in the uterus of the recipient. Her uterus will have been prepared to receive the embryo using hormones.
In near future, it will be possible to borrow only part of donor eggs. The genes (or the nucleus) of the patient will be inserted into the donor’s eggs. The donor’s genes would have been removed. This means that the baby will have the mixture of genes which would happen as if the patient’s own eggs were used.
Now what about men infertility? It is true that men and women experience the aging process differently. The concept of male menopause (or andropause) is misleading when applied to the subject of male fertility. Usually, men generally remain fertile throughout their entire adult lives. Their thirties are the optimal years for reproduction. Conditions influencing male fertility also include quality of life, stress, related medical conditions, and other environmental factors other than the aging process itself. Human reproduction is a subject about which there are still many questions, we have already understood now that men do change as they age, experiencing a change in their fertility. However, it is still not the same as the physical changes women undergo during menopause.
Staying healthy, keeping a good level of exercise and fitness, as well as minimizing stress and negative factors in life are still keys to increasing the likelihood of conception, for men as well as women. Seeking medical advice and treatment early for any conditions or problems that arise will also increase chances of conception.