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18 July 2002
Smoking Damages Sperm DNA
by George Atkinson

Men who smoke reduce their chances of successfully fathering a child by either standard IVF techniques or by ICSI, according to research carried out in Germany. Dr Michael Zitzmann told the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual conference in Vienna that smoking altered the DNA of sperm and he believed this hampered the development of the embryo.

His team from the Institute of Reproductive Medicine in Münster, Germany, studied 301 couples, of whom 153 were receiving ICSI treatment and 148 were receiving IVF treatment. Amongst those receiving ICSI treatment, 71 men were habitual smokers, and in the IVF group 68 men were smokers.

The researchers found that smoking was the only significant predictor of outcome in couples receiving ICSI treatment. In the ICSI group, 22% of the women with smoking partners became pregnant, compared to 38% of women with non-smoking partners. In the IVF group the results were similar, with 18% of women with smoking partners becoming pregnant compared to 32% of women whose partners were not smokers.

The number of pregnancies amongst couples receiving IVF treatment depended on several factors: the number of embryos transferred to the mother, smoking in men, sperm motility and female age. If the woman smoked, the number of eggs capable of being retrieved from her ovaries dropped significantly from an average of 11.7 per cycle to 9.5 (although these figures were influenced by the woman's age, as the older the woman, the fewer eggs can be retrieved). The chances of the eggs being successfully fertilised also dropped.

Dr Zitzmann said: "These results show that men who smoke, significantly decrease the success rates of assisted reproduction procedures, not only in IVF, but also in ICSI. The chances of the whole procedure failing and no pregnancy occurring was two to three times higher in smoking men compared with non-smokers. Smoking probably has an adverse effect during the fertilisation procedure, but, in addition, smoking damages the DNA in sperm and this may hamper the development of the embryo.

"We would like to stress to couples that smoking not only affects their own health but, under the special circumstances of assisted reproduction, it represents a needless risk to women undergoing futile hormonal stimulation, as well as an unnecessary financial burden."

He concluded: "It can be assumed that quitting smoking will be beneficial to couples undergoing IVF or ICSI. However, we do not know how long the damaging effects of smoking last after quitting as our study did not investigate this."

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