Study Shows Sperm Count Halved in The Last 40 Years

The latest study in the area of male reproductive health was conducted under the aegis of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem by the Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The study published in the Human Reproduction Update journal in July 2017 records the alarming rate at which sperm concentration and total sperm count are significantly and steadily declining among the Western men.

According to the research, sperm concentration and sperm count of men in the Western countries have halved in the last 40 years and the trend shows no sign of leveling off. The steep and steady decline in male reproductive health was countered in men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In contrast, no such trends were recorded in men from Asia, Africa, and South America.

In a first of its kind systematic review and possibly the largest, most comprehensive study till date, it involved data from 42,000 men around the world screened between the years 1973 and 2011. This team of international researchers reviewed 7,500 previous studies in the category and conducted a meta-regression analysis on 185 studies. All the studies and the research findings showed a steady decline of 52.4% in sperm concentration and a 59.3% decline in total sperm count among men in the Western countries.

The contrast with non-western countries could be very well attributed to the smaller amount of studies conducted there; however, recent studies in the said region have also noted a declining sperm quality. In a study evaluating the quality of sperm in Chinese men, it was found that over the course of 15 years semen parameters had worsened. The study noted that the rate of qualified sperm-donor applicants to a clinic in Hunan Province that stood at 55.8% in 2001 came down to 17.8% in 2015. The study was published in Fertility and Sterility journal in October 2016.

Since the inception of this study in 2013, lead researcher Dr Hagai Levine has stressed on avoiding the limitations that rendered previous studies on the subject controversial. This research employed rigorous meta-regression methods, used a broader scope including global data points, conservatively addressed the reliability of study estimates, age, abstinence time, and selection of the study population.

Professor Richard Sharpe from the University of Edinburgh who is an expert in male reproductive health highly commended the research methodology and findings in tackling the many problems that plagued the previous studies. The study has important public health implications indicating the cause for concern in male fertility and reproductive function. The data shows that the proportion of the male population with sperm counts below the threshold of sub-fertility and infertility is increasing. Moreover, reduced sperm count has also been shown to be related to various diseases and mortality in men according to recent studies.

The research did not investigate the causes for the lowering sperm count and concentration among Western men but the geographical focus points do point to environmental and lifestyle factors. There are many theories in the scientific community regarding the degrading fate of sperm. These include pre-natal chemical exposures, adult exposure to chemicals in commerce, smoking and other sedentary habits, stress, and obesity, primarily among other causes that are yet to be determined. The study sounds the alarm on male reproductive health and related issues that need to be taken seriously and needs to be further researched. In comparison to female reproductive health, the male counterpart has not received the required scholarly funding and interventions.

A 2014 study by Stanford University School of Medicine and published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, found links between deficiencies in the quality of semen and the likelihood of other health problems in men. The lead author Dr Michael Eisenberg also co-authored another previous study that showed infertile men had higher rates of overall mortality, as also mortality related to cardiovascular problems.

The issue of sperm is not just about reproducing but about the overall health and well-being of men. This study should provide the much-needed impetus towards putting more resources in finding out reasons for the deteriorating sperm quality.

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