Snuggled babies show lasting changes in DNA

04 December 2017 By Sam Sherratt Appeared in BioNews 929   Close, physical contact – or the lack of it – at an early age may lead to lasting changes to the genes, suggest researchers. The team at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, showed that babies receiving less physical contact during times of emotional distress developed a significantly altered epigenome compared with children receiving lots of contact. Their epigenomes were also under-developed by comparison. ‘In children, we think slower epigenetic ageing could reflect less favourable developmental progress,’ said Professor Michael Kobor, senior author on the study published in Development and Psychopathology. The epigenome refers to the semi-permanent chemical changes or ‘marks’ added on to human DNA that can act as on/off switches for genes. The team asked the parents of 94 five-week-old babies to keep daily diaries recording physical contact with their child and their infants’ behaviours, such as sleeping and crying, during the duration of the study. DNA swabs were taken from the children four to five years later. The researchers looked at a specific epigenetic change called DNA methylation. They found consistent differences in the methylation pattern between children who received a lot of contact, to those receiving less contact, at five DNA sites. Of these, two sites were within genes: one involved in metabolism and the other in the immune system. The researchers were concerned by an additional finding: as people age their epigenomes alter according to a predictable pattern as genes are turned on and off during development. But the children who showed higher levels of emotional distress and received less physical affection had a younger ‘epigenetic age’ than they should have had. ‘We plan to follow up on whether the “biological immaturity” we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development,’ said lead author Dr Sarah Moore. ‘If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.’ A second study published last week in JAMA Psychiatry also suggested that early emotional experiences may impact across generations. It found that the daughters of Finnish women who were evacuated to foster homes in Sweden during World War II as children were twice as likely to be hospitalised for a psychiatric disorder than their female cousins whose mothers were not evacuated. No effect was seen for boys. The study used the Finnish National Archives to identify and study over 93,000 children of war evacuees. Lead author Dr Torsten Santavirta, at Uppsala University in Sweden, told the New York Times that it was possible that trauma cause changes in gene expression that are then inherited, but that the team did not have access to genetic information in this...

read more

Fertility: Vitamin D may influence success rate

Published Saturday 18 November 2017 By Tim Newman Fact checked by Jasmin Collier www.medicalnewstoday.com A new meta-analysis has concluded that there is a relationship between a woman’s vitamin D status and the success rate of assisted reproduction therapy. Infertility is a common and distressing issue, and it affects an estimated 6.1 million couples in the United States. That’s around 10 percent of all couples of childbearing age. Over the years, assisted reproduction therapy (ART) — including in vitro fertilization (IVF) and fertility medication — has become much more widespread and its success rates have increased. As an example, depending on the woman’s age and the clinic involved, success rates of IVF in the U.S. range from 13–43 percent. An initial uptick in ART success rates was thanks to improved methods of picking out embryos with the highest chances of survival. But more recently, success rates have started to stagnate. Vitamin D and reproduction Researchers believe that there is room for improvement in ART success rates. A range of potential factors are being explored, and some scientists have turned their attention to the potential role of vitamin D. The vast majority of our vitamin D supply is generated in our skin after exposure to sunlight. This means that individuals who live in colder or darker environments are more susceptible to lower vitamin D levels, as are people with darker skin, those who regularly wear clothes covering the majority of their skin, and those who rarely go outside. A link between vitamin D and fertility has been theorized based on a number of observations. For instance, vitamin D receptors and enzymes have been found in the endometrium. Also, in animal studies, vitamin D deficiency causes poorer fertility and reduced function of the reproductive organs. In humans, vitamin D deficiency has been shown to increase the risk of preeclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension, gestational diabetes, and lower birth weight. Researchers from the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust, both in the United Kingdom, decided to take a look at existing data to probe the links further. They carried out a meta-analysis, reopening 11 studies including 2,700 women undergoing ART. Their findings are published this week in the journal Human Reproduction. Vitamin D deficiency and lower success rates The featured studies involved women undergoing IVF or intracytoplasmic sperm injection, frozen embryo transfer, or both. All the participants’ vitamin D levels were checked by blood test. Vitamin D concentrations of more than 75 nanomoles per liter of blood were considered as sufficient, under 75 nanomoles per liter of blood as insufficient, and under 50 nanomoles per liter of blood as deficient. The analysis showed that procedures in women with adequate vitamin D levels were one third more likely to lead to live births than in women who were deficient. When the researchers looked at positive pregnancy tests and clinical pregnancies — that is, where a heartbeat can be detected — rather than live births, the results were similar. When compared with women who had insufficient vitamin D concentrations, those with sufficient amounts were 46 percent more likely to have a clinical pregnancy, and 34 percent more likely to have a positive pregnancy test result. The analysis showed no associations between miscarriage and vitamin D concentrations. “One startling finding was the high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency among these women. We found that only 26 percent of women in the studies had sufficient concentrations of vitamin D; 35 percent had deficient concentrations, and 45 percent had insufficient concentrations.” The researchers are quick to explain the study’s limitations. Team leader Dr. Justin Chu says, “Although an association has been identified, the beneficial effect of correction of vitamin D deficiency or...

read more

What are the best ways to increase sperm count?

Last reviewed Tue 14 November 2017 By Jennifer Huizen Reviewed by Daniel Murrell, MD www.medicalnewstoday.com   Sperm count or total sperm count refers to the average total number of sperm present in one sample of semen. Sperm count is one of the several qualities that are assessed during routine semen analysis and is considered an important factor for fertility. Based on the most current World Health Organization guidelines, a healthy sperm count is 15 million per milliliter (ml) or at least 39 million per sample. A sperm count lower than 10 million per ml is considered abnormal and commonly associated with male infertility. Anything that impacts the hormones that control the production of sperm or acts as an anti-oxidant may aid the healthy development of sperm and help improve sperm count. Overall, factors that influence testosterone levels are thought to have the most significant impact on sperm number and quality. Contents of this article: Ways to increase sperm count naturally Foods to improve sperm count Medications to increase sperm count Fast facts on how to increase sperm count: Exercise and sleep have been shown to improve sperm count. The first recommended line of treatment is to try non-pharmacologic remedies. Smoking has long been known to reduce overall health, sperm production, and quality. Men with very low sperm counts may be prescribed medication. Ways to increase sperm count naturally For several decades, researchers have known that sperm quality and fertility rates have been in decline in most Western nations. According to a 2017 study, between 1973 and 2011 the average sperm count in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand dropped by 59.3 percent. Despite studies identifying the problem, the reasons for this decline and ways to reliably reverse it are still unknown Several non-pharmacologic remedies have been used by ancient, herbal, and traditional medicines to increase sperm count and overall sperm health for thousands of years. Researchers have shown that most of these remedies influence sperm count in some way. Natural ways to increase sperm count include: 1. Exercise and sleep Several studies have shown that weight loss and exercise in obese and overweight individuals can lead to improved or increased sperm counts. However, the science linking a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) to a healthy sperm count is still weak. A 2017 study found that performing a 16-week aerobic exercise program of at least 50 minutes of moderate exercise at 50 to 65 percent peak heart rate 3 times weekly, increased sperm volume and concentration in 45 sedentary, obese men. 2. Reduce stress Any form of stress can cause the body to take defensive actions and conserve energy. In times of distress, it makes biological sense for the body to become less concerned with reproduction and more focused on surviving. Reducing stress requires addressing the cause, though factors such as exercise and a healthful diet are thought to lessen the effects of stress. For men who are experiencing severe stress, a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications. 3. Stop smoking A 2016 study reviewing the results of over 20 different studies with a total of nearly 6,000 participants found smoking consistently reduced sperm count. 4. Avoid excessive alcohol use and drugs The number of studies exploring the link between sperm health and drugs is limited given ethical considerations. However, some researchers have linked the worldwide use of drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine to decreased sperm production. 5. Avoid several prescription medications Some prescription medications can potentially decrease the healthy production of sperm. Once a person stops taking the drug, his sperm count should return to normal or increase. Medications that temporarily reduce the production and development of sperm include: some antibiotics...

read more

Male infertility care ‘insensitive’ says survey

06 November 2017 By Lea Goetz Appeared in BioNews 925 http://www.bionews.org.uk/   Men with infertility experience stigmatization and a lack of support, a first survey on the subject found. In spite of male infertility being the cause in 40 percent of cases of couples who can’t conceive, fertility care is often ‘female-focused’ according to the charity Fertility Network UK, which carried out the study with researchers at Leeds Beckett University. ‘Men are half of the fertility equation; when they cannot create the family they long for without medical help they suffer and struggle physically and mentally just as women do,’ said Susan Seenan, chief executive of the charity. Of the 41 men completing the survey, about half had a diagnosis of male infertility. However, only 39 percent had sought support, feeling unable to talk to their partners, family and friends. On average, they had been trying to conceive for five years, and 93 percent reported that this had affected their well being. Men said they felt worthless or ‘less of a man’. ‘Fertility and fatherhood are really important traditionally for men and masculinity, so men’s identity and self-esteem is deeply affected by the process of infertility,’ said study author Professor Brendan Gough at Leeds Beckett. With infertility treatments based around women, men felt marginalised. ‘The whole experience has been focused towards my wife… even consultants’ letters about my genitalia are addressed to my wife,’ said one man. Furthermore, men reported that their infertility was not being treated like other medical conditions, and that they had encountered ‘rude’ and ‘insensitive’ healthcare professionals. ‘It’s still quite a taboo subject – made even worse when you’re made to feel like you’re wasting NHS time and resources,’ Gareth Down, a patient who started a support group, told the BBC. The men said they want to see a change in how society views fertility issues. ‘In light of the findings from the study, we really need to think more about how men might be supported better when they’re going through infertility so that they’re able to access the advice and information they might need,’ said Dr Esmée Hanna, one of the team at Leeds...

read more

Sleep Duration Linked to Sperm Structure

23 October 2017 By Taqdeer Sidhu Appeared in BioNews 923   Sleep duration is associated with sperm integrity, according to a recent study in China. Researchers analysed sperm and sleep duration in 796 male volunteers from local colleges between 2013 to 2015. ‘This is new information after our previous finding that sleep duration has an inverse U-shaped association with semen volume and total sperm count,’ said Dr Jia Cao of Third Military Medical University (TMMU) in Chongqing, China, and co-author of the study. Previous research in 2016 had shown a relationship between sleep duration and sperm count and semen volume, which were highest in volunteers that had between 7 – 7.5 hours of sleep per day. Participants who had longer or shorter sleep showed lower count and semen volume. The latest study from TMMU used the same population of volunteers to observe the relationship between high DNA stainability (HDS) in sperm and sleep duration. HDS is used as an indicator for the maturity of sperm chromatin; a high HDS index indicates immature chromatin in sperm, which has previously been linked to low motility. Volunteers answered a questionnaire on sleep duration of volunteers and provided semen samples. HDS was highest in volunteers that had between 7 – 7.5 hours of sleep per day, meaning they had the highest proportion of chromatin-immature sperm. But volunteers who had over 9 hours of sleep, or 6.5 hours or less, showed a decrease in HDS of nearly 41 percent and 30.3 percent, respectively. The researchers say their findings highlight the complex relationship between sleep duration and male reproductive health, and further research is needed to explore this relationship. The study was published in the Journal of Sleep...

read more

Human sperm maturation study may hold insights

09 October 2017 By Shaoni Bhattacharya Appeared in BioNews 921 http://www.bionews.org.uk/   Researchers hope that a study detailing the four stages of human sperm stem cell development may shed light on infertility and certain cancers. The study is the first to look at sperm stem cell maturation specifically in humans, says the study team. ‘This information yields new insights into how sperm stem cells function and develop under normal circumstances,’ said Dr Bradley Cairns, lead study author at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. ‘We have built a very important framework we can now use to help us understand what happens when things go wrong, resulting in issues like infertility and cancer in men.’ The team examined the gene expression profile of sperm stem cells during development. They identified four distinct phases: starting with a ‘quiescent’ state, to a ‘proliferation’ state when stem cells divide, to a ‘differentiation’ state when they mature to become sperm. Most notably the study found distinct transitions in factors that influenced the different cellular states including cell cycle regulators, transcription factors, and signalling factors. The researchers suggest their findings may also help in the understanding of certain cancers. For example, men with infertility are at higher risk of testicular and prostate cancers. ‘Our study sheds new light on how genes normally function in sperm stem cells,’ said Dr Cairns. ‘The next steps will be to use this knowledge to better understand what changes happen when sperm stem cells don’t develop normally and instead convert into cancer cells.’ The findings were published in Cell Stem...

read more