The effects of diabetes on a man’s fertility

A study has shown that men with type 1 diabetes are likely to have more DNA damage in their sperm, perhaps hampering their fertility.

The study was small however and cannot prove conclusively that type 1 diabetes results in male infertility.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that happens when the body cannot manage its glucose levels properly. The digestive tract typically breaks down food into glucose, a form of sugar.

After being absorbed, it is released into the blood. The hormone called insulin produced by the pancreas encourages cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream and take it for energy.

Type 1 diabetes, which normally shows up in childhood, occurs as the immune system mistakenly attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Type 2 diabetes is caused when tissues in the body steadily become resistant to the effects of insulin. The pancreas responds by churning out more of the hormone. But eventually, the pancreas cannot keep up with this demand and blood sugar levels begin to increase.

High glucose levels damage nerve and blood vessels, resulting in heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, and gum infections. Advanced type 2 diabetes can lead to blindness and the need to amputate limbs that no longer receive adequate circulation.

It is believed that one of the main causes of type 2 diabetes is the increase in obesity. Over time, the excess weight causes cells in the muscles, liver, and fat tissue to be less responsive to insulin – a condition known as insulin resistance.

The link between diabetes and male infertility

A study suggests that men with diabetes have a lower semen volume than men without diabetes, although the semen volume in diabetic men is still within the normal range regulated by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The study also showed that sperm count, shape, and motion (motility) were the same in both groups of men. However, when experts analysed the sperms’ DNA, they discovered more DNA damage in the sperm of diabetic patients.

It is a known fact that sperm damage may increase the chances of infertility. However, the study could not prove conclusively whether diabetes was the primary cause since many others factors can lead to DNA damage as well.

What does the study suggest? That men with diabetes who do not manage their glucose levels have a less chance of impregnating their partners. The study also suggests that if their partners do conceive, the possibility of either a miscarriage or giving birth to a baby with deformities are much higher.

How is diabetes treated?

In some cases, lifestyle changes can keep the disease entirely under control. Still, many people with diabetes need to take oral medications to lower their blood sugar levels.

When these are not enough to do the job, insulin (which is inhaled and/or injected) become necessary. Patients can also take insulin in combination with oral drugs.

However, keeping diabetes in check is a constant challenge, which is why prevention is the better option.

This article first appeared in hellodoktor.com and was reviewed by Dr Duyen Le. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.