Fertility of obese boys may be protected by early weight loss

Early management of obesity in childhood could help prevent future fertility problems in men.


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There is now emerging evidence on the impact of obesity on male fertility. It reduces sperm quality and alters the physical and molecular structure of germ cells in the testes and, ultimately, mature sperm.

A recent study suggests that male fertility can be improved through early weight loss. Even after short-term weight loss, alterations in reproductive function could be partially reversed in young boys with obesity.

Leydig cells in the testes become active in puberty to produce the primary male hormone, testosterone. Sertoli cells in the testes are critical for the production of healthy sperm and produce several reproductive hormones, essential for sperm maturation.

Past study has shown that obesity alters the Sertoli cell from the age of 12. From the age of 14, it starts altering Leydig cell function.

However, whether losing weight could help restore the function of these cells remains elusive.

In the new study presented today at the 59th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting, scientists determined -how a 12-week educational weight loss program in 34 boys, aged 10 – 18 years, affected markers of Leydig and Sertoli cell function, as well as metabolism.

The boys had a healthy, balanced diet, undertaking physical activity for at least 1 hour per day.

Scientists measured their levels of reproductive hormones, body fat composition, and blood glucose before and after the program. Over the 12 weeks, the boys significantly lost weight and had improved insulin levels and increased testosterone levels.

Scientists didn’t notice any significant changes in markers of Sertoli cell function. Since fat cells produce an enzyme that converts testosterone to oestrogen, the actual loss of fat mass may account for some of the increased testosterone levels, in addition to the reversal of Leydig cell altered function.

Dr. Solène Rérat at the Angers University Hospital in France said, “These findings underline the need to consider childhood obesity as a factor in future fertility issues. We strongly recommend that early management of childhood obesity is necessary to reverse these impairments and to help prevent future reproductive problems, as well as lowering the risks of other debilitating diseases.”

“Our study only evaluated the effects in a small number of obese boys after a twelve-week therapeutic, educational program. Further studies with longer follow-up are needed to help us fully study the effect of weight reduction on reproductive function.”

In the future, scientists will measure the reproductive function of the group more long-term. By including more participants, they will gather more data to confirm and extend these findings.