More Research Needed on Link Between Obesity, Male Infertility, Authors Say

The authors say increased attention to gut and adipose hormones will reveal pathways to treat infertility.

Rising global obesity rates have been public health officials’ radar for some time. In January, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report from a special commission that called for soda taxes, limits on marketing of unhealthy food, and other steps to stem the epidemic.

But besides diabetes and cardiovascular disease, there’s another silent health effect of obesity: male infertility, which authors of an editorial say doesn’t get enough attention.

Pedro F. Oliveira, PhD, and Marco G. Alves, PhD, both specialists in endocrinology and cell biology, write in a special issue of Current Pharmaceutical Design that recent attention to gut and adipose hormones will reveal more information about the links between obesity and infertility in males, as well as pathways for a therapeutic approach to treat this problem.

“Obesity is a metabolic disease that promotes strong hormonal dysfunction,” said Alves, who is first author on the paper. “Gut hormones are known to be strongly affected by energy unbalance induced by overconsumption of food. However, the impact of those hormones on the male reproductive system remains unknown.”

In their abstract, the authors write that overweight and obese men not only look different, but they have severe hormonal differences as well. Levels of ghrelin, leptin, and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) are altered. Despite knowledge of the links between nutrition and reproductive health, distinct research into the effects of obesity on these hormones and resulting reproductive problems is lacking, the authors say. All 3 could be targets for anti-obesity drugs (GLP-1 is already a target for a class of anti-diabetic therapies.)

Thus, the authors suggest, targeting these hormones in anti-obesity therapy could also have positive reproductive health benefits for overweight men.

Olivera’s research team publishes frequently on this issue, and their work on Klinefelter syndrome, a genetic cause of infertility associated with metabolic disease, recently appeared in Molecular Reproduction and Development.

As the numbers of obese males increase, especially in developing countries, there is potential for related infertility to cause not only health but cultural challenges. The authors say policymakers and the media should pay more attention to findings in this area, as they highlight the global health problem.