The mystery of a declining sperm count
CHILDREN of Men. The Handmaid’s Tale. It appears the premise behind these hit shows is disturbingly real.
A new study shows something is decimating the sperm of Western men.
According to a study published in the journal Human Reproduction Update, sperm production has fallen some 60% in the past 40 years.
And this is mainly a Western problem.
In what is the first systematic review of trends in sperm count studies, researchers from the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Israel have identified a 52.4% decline in sperm concentration, and a 59.3% fall in total sperm count, among men in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The researchers screened 7500 studies, and conducted deeper analysis on another 185, published between 1973 and 2011.
Such studies are useful in determining what is happening. But not why. There has also been much research in recent decades surrounding a burgeoning reproductive assistance industry.
The research has fingered a broad range of potential suspects. Primary among them is obesity.
But potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals found in plastics such as BPA (bisphenol-A) and phthalates have also been linked to sperm production.
However, Professor Rob McLachlan, director of clinical research at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Victoria, says all may not be as it seems.
“Ultimately the concern is that a fall in sperm output will be reflected in delays in natural conception rates,” he says.
“To date this has not been established.”
Prof McLachlan points out that the nature of such trends research is inherently flawed, and said examining for trends in semen quality was “extremely challenging”.