28 Jun Sperm counts decline: the latest global trend in male fertility
A worrisome trend was revealed in the latest follow-up to the 2017 meta-analysis on men’s reproductive health: sperm count (the number of sperm in a single ejaculate) is declining worldwide, at an accelerated rate, estimated at 2.64% per year. The significant implications of this phenomenon are gaining momentum and are undoubtedly considered a major public health concern.
Numerous studies were conducted between the years 1981 and 2013, but they all focused primarily on men from North America, Europe, and Australia. Still, they all reported a noteworthy decrease in sperm concentration and count. The most recent analysis expands the scope of the previous studies by including data from South America, Central America, Asia, and Africa as well, up to the year 2019. This allowed for a broader perspective, which in turn provided a more comprehensive understanding of global sperm count trends.
For what concerns the implications for infertility in men, the authors of the studies acknowledge that while lower sperm count may not be a perfect indicator of infertility, it is, without a doubt, closely linked to fertility chances. They explain that higher probability of conception is not guaranteed even in cases where sperm concentration is above the threshold of 40-50 million/ml, but there’s also evidence that the likelihood of conception significantly decreases below this threshold. The decline in mean sperm concentration from 104 to 49 million/ml, as reported in the most recent study, suggests that more and more men are prone to experiencing reduced capability for fertilizing their partners. Put simply, the declining fertility rates worldwide can, at least in part, be attributed to the lower sperm quality in men. Thankfully, the assisted reproduction techniques that we employ at Reproclinic can partially compensate for this.
Experts are concerned that we may be approaching a tipping point where most men will be sub-fertile, which is alarming because this would not only have an impact on the affected families, but on societies at large as well, especially in countries with shrinking populations. Yet, it’s crucial to understand that the decline in sperm counts is not an isolated phenomenon. In fact, it often coincides with low testosterone levels and changes in male genital development during the early fetal stages. Sperm production in men relies on adequate testosterone levels and the testes’ ability to regulate tissue temperature. While damage inflicted onto male babies during the critical “reproductive programming window” of early pregnancy is permanent, the silver lining is that any damage done to a man’s sperm during his life can be reversed. Since it takes approximately 75 days for sperm to mature, men have regular opportunities, approximately every two and a half months, to improve their sperm quality through adopting healthier habits (e.g., quitting smoking) and minimizing harmful exposures (e.g., avoiding pesticides).
As researchers continue to investigate the factors contributing to declining sperm counts, it is essential for both men and women to prioritize their reproductive health. The best way to do that is through adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight, all while abstaining from smoking. If you want to take it a step further, you can become more conscious about your exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These chemicals encompass a range of substances, such as the phthalates (found in air fresheners, perfumes, nail polishes, etc.), bisphenol A (commonly known as BPA, found in hard plastics), perfluoroalkyl substances (found in some non-stick cookware), and pesticides.
At Reproclinic, we understand the importance of addressing all aspects of our patients’ reproductive health, including male fertility. By having an andrologist as part of our medical team, we are well-equipped to treat couples where the male factor is the predominating one. Although the recent findings sound disheartening even to us, we want to reassure you that whatever infertility challenges you’re facing, we’re here to help you overcome them.