The Ques­tion Why are men’s sperm counts plung­ing?

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - KEVIN COURT­NEY

Men can take the blame for many of the ills of this world: wars, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, golf, pro­gres­sive rock mu­sic. This week, how­ever, we woke up to the news that the hu­man race is in im­me­di­ate dan­ger of ex­tinc­tion – and it’s all our fault.

Male sperm counts in the western world have de­clined by half in the past 40 years, ac­cord­ing to new re­search, and if the trend con­tin­ues we’ll soon no longer be able to pro­cre­ate, and our species will die out. That’s right: half of the time we’re shoot­ing blanks, and now the end is nigh.

The study, by a team of re­searchers in the US, Brazil, Den­mark, Is­rael and Spain, has found that be­tween 1973 and 2011 the con­cen­tra­tion of sperm in the western men’s ejac­u­late has been shrink­ing by about 1.4 per cent a year. In 1973 the av­er­age sperm con­cen­tra­tion was 99 mil­lion per millil­itre; in 2011 it was 47.1 mil­lion/ml – a drop of 52.4 per cent.

The re­search, pub­lished in the jour­nal Hu­man Re­pro­duc­tion Up­date, found the de­cline was worst among men from the US, Europe, Aus­tralia and New Zea­land.

So what are the causes of this shock­ing slump in sperm counts, and is there any way men can get their mo­jos back? Fac­tors such as smok­ing and obe­sity, not to men­tion ex­po­sure to pes­ti­cides and other chem­i­cals, have al­ready been im­pli­cated in the de­cline of sperm qual­ity, and the stress of mod­ern liv­ing has also taken its toll. Could we be reap­ing the whirl­wind of our blokey, smoky, karaoke life­styles? Or were our mam­mies ex­posed to too many house­hold chem­i­cals while clean­ing up af­ter us?

Some of the stud­ies from which the data has been gath­ered have been crit­i­cised for not ac­count­ing for con­found­ing fac­tors, in­clud­ing age and sex­ual ac­tiv­ity. And very few stud­ies have been done out­side the West.

Ac­cord­ing to the lead au­thor of the study, Ha­gai Levine of the He­brew Univer­sity in Jerusalem, the low sperm counts could be the “ca­nary in the coal mine” that in­di­cates a wider men’s-health is­sue. “This is a clas­sic un­der-the-radar huge pub­lic-health prob­lem that is re­ally ne­glected.”

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