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Scientists find that the pursuit of physical perfection is making men sterile

Posted: 04/06/2019

Researchers have recently described a paradox whereby men’s fertility is being damaged by actions taken to make themselves look fitter and more attractive, the most common of which are overuse of steroids and drugs designed to combat hair loss.

The idea that men are harming what has been dubbed their ‘evolutionary fitness’, ie their ability to have children, in the process of trying to appear fitter, is named the Mossman-Pacey Paradox, after the researchers who identified the issue. The theory was published in the Journal of Internal Medicine after the two scientists, who were conducting work on male fertility, noticed the poor quality of sperm samples from men who had the type of muscular physique associated with steroid use. Indeed, many of the samples from these men contained no sperm at all.

Anabolic steroids are commonly used as performance enhancing drugs by professional body builders, as they replicate the effect of the male hormone, testosterone, and increase muscle mass. Steroid use is becoming more common in the general population as well, as men strive to appear more muscular for aesthetic reasons, perhaps due to increasing numbers of images associated with male fitness in the media.

Overuse of steroids can cause the brain to believe that too much testosterone is being produced by the testes. The glands react by ceasing production of the hormones that create sperm completely. This leads to a number of side effects, including shrunken testicles, erectile dysfunction, the loss of sperm production and therefore infertility. Mossman and Pacey have estimated that as many as 90% of anabolic steroid users are at risk of becoming sterile. Steroid use can also increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Use of the drug finasteride, which is designed to limit hair loss, has similar effects and can lead to erectile dysfunction and loss of fertility as well.

Victoria Johnson, associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team, said: “It is sad to hear of anyone seriously damaging their health in the pursuit of improving their appearance. While there is nothing wrong with taking steps to look your best and feel more confident, unfortunately we see some clients who, in trying to achieve this, have inadvertently harmed their health and wellbeing. Making sure that any drug, treatment or procedure is safe should be the priority, and this includes considering risks and side effects carefully.

“The researchers have called this phenomenon a paradox and have pointed out the irony of men being willing to sacrifice their fertility and sexual function in order to look more sexually attractive. However, they have also suggested that it may be a simple question of the public not being aware enough of the dangerous consequences of steroid use, or the side effects of hair-loss drugs. With greater awareness of the risks, men, particularly those who are concerned about fertility, might change their attitude towards the use of these drugs.”

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