The global decline in sperm count is accelerating, research shows

A global drop in sperm count first noted in 2017 is accelerating, according to research showing that the phenomenon seen in other parts of the world is also affecting men in South America, Asia and Africa.

The analysis, conducted by Professor Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Professor Shanna Swan of the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, found that the average sperm count worldwide more than halved between 1973 and 2018.

Since 1972, it had fallen about 1 percent annually, the researchers said. Since 2000, however, the annual decline has averaged more than 2.6 percent.

Levine said the findings served “like a canary in a coal mine.” “We have a serious problem that, if left unsolved, could jeopardize the survival of humanity,” he said.

The paper, published in the journal Human Reproduction Update on Tuesday, was based on data from 53 countries and included statistics gathered since the earlier study. It focused on trends in male sperm counts in South America, Asia and Africa — regions not explored in the earlier report.

Men in those regions shared the significant decreases in total sperm count and sperm concentration previously seen in North America, Europe and Australia, the researchers reported.

Levine said: “Overall, we are seeing a significant global decline in sperm counts of more than 50 percent over the past 46 years, a decline that has accelerated in recent years.”

While the study did not examine the causes of this decline, Levine pointed to recent research showing that disruptions in reproductive tract development in the womb were associated with “lifelong impairment of fertility and other markers of reproductive dysfunction.” He called for global action “to promote healthier environments for all species and reduce exposures and behaviors that threaten our reproductive health”.

Swan said the accelerated decline in global sperm counts meant “more people will need assisted reproduction to conceive”. The implications went beyond reduced fertility, as lower sperm counts were “linked to more diseases later in life — cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and reproductive cancers — and shorter life expectancy.”

The decline was too rapid to be due to genetic causes alone, she argued, noting that some risk factors for lower sperm counts had to do with lifestyle factors such as diet, smoking, obesity, stress and binge drinking. But she emphasized the role of environmental chemicals, particularly those with the ability to affect steroid hormones, which are critical to reproduction.

Chief among them were the “endocrine-disrupting” chemicals that could alter testosterone and estrogen levels, such as the phthalates — found in hundreds of cleaning and personal care products — and the bisphenols (BPA) that are often part of containers used to store food. store and beverages, such as water bottles. These were “critically involved in reproductive function,” Swan added.

She urged men to avoid “smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive weight gain, drug and alcohol abuse, and potentially toxic chemicals.”

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