Skip to content

The following article in a popular magazine follows up on research that came out last year about the alarming steep decline in male sperm counts and sperm concentration over the past few decades. This is true for the U.S., Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and it is thought world wide. The article discusses the causes: environmental chemicals and plastics, especially those that are endocrine disruptors (they disrupt a person's hormones!). These chemicals are all around us, and we all have some in our bodies (but the amounts and types vary from person to person). Some examples of such chemicals are parabens, phthalates, BPA and BPA substitutes.

Even though there are effects from these chemicals throughout life, some of the worst effects from these chemicals seem to be during pregnancy - with a big effect on the developing male fetus. Testosterone levels in men are also droppingBottom line: males are becoming "less male", especially due to their exposure to all these chemicals when they are developing before birth (fetal exposure). Since it is getting worse with every generation of males, the concern is that soon males may be unable to father children because their sperm count will be too low - infertility.

Why isn't there more concern over this? What can we do? We all use and need plastic products, but we need to use safer chemicals in products, ones that won't mimic hormones and have endocrine disrupting effects. Remember, these chemicals have more effects on humans than just sperm quality (here and here). While you can't totally avoid plastics and endocrine disrupting chemicals, you can definitely lower your exposure. And it's most important before conception (levels of these chemicals in both parents), during pregnancy, and during childhood.

Do go read the whole article. Excerpts from Daniel Noah Halpern's article in GQ: Sperm Count Zero

A strange thing has happened to men over the past few decades: We’ve become increasingly infertile, so much so that within a generation we may lose the ability to reproduce entirely. What’s causing this mysterious drop in sperm counts—and is there any way to reverse it before it’s too late? 

Last summer a group of researchers from Hebrew University and Mount Sinai medical school published a study showing that sperm counts in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have fallen by more than 50 percent over the past four decades. (They judged data from the rest of the world to be insufficient to draw conclusions from, but there are studies suggesting that the trend could be worldwide.) That is to say: We are producing half the sperm our grandfathers did. We are half as fertile.

The Hebrew University/Mount Sinai paper was a meta-analysis by a team of epidemiologists, clinicians, and researchers that culled data from 185 studies, which examined semen from almost 43,000 men. It showed that the human race is apparently on a trend line toward becoming unable to reproduce itself. Sperm counts went from 99 million sperm per milliliter of semen in 1973 to 47 million per milliliter in 2011, and the decline has been accelerating. Would 40 more years—or fewer—bring us all the way to zero? 

I called Shanna H. Swan, a reproductive epidemiologist at Mount Sinai and one of the lead authors of the study, to ask if there was any good news hiding behind those brutal numbers. Were we really at risk of extinction? She failed to comfort me. “The What Does It Mean question means extrapolating beyond your data,” Swan said, “which is always a tricky thing. But you can ask, ‘What does it take? When is a species in danger? When is a species threatened?’ And we are definitely on that path.” That path, in its darkest reaches, leads to no more naturally conceived babies and potentially to no babies at all—and the final generation of Homo sapiens will roam the earth knowing they will be the last of their kind.

...continue reading "Will All Men Eventually Be Infertile?"

Some recent research on sperm quality and implications for fertility. All from Science Daily:

Exposure to aluminum may impact on male fertility, research suggests

Research from scientists in the UK and France suggests that human exposure to aluminum may be a significant factor in falling sperm counts and reduced male fertility.Fluorescence microscopy using an aluminum-specific stain confirmed the presence of aluminum in semen and showed aluminum inside individual sperm.And the team of scientists, at the universities of Lyon and Saint-Etienne in France and Keele in the UK, found that the higher the aluminum, the lower sperm count.

Professor Exley said: "There has been a significant decline in male fertility, including sperm count, throughout the developed world over the past several decades and previous research has linked this to environmental factors such as endocrine disruptors"..."Human exposure to aluminum has increased significantly over the same time period and our observation of significant contamination of male semen by aluminum must implicate aluminum as a potential contributor to these changes in reproductive fertility."

Stress degrades sperm quality, study shows

Psychological stress is harmful to sperm and semen quality, affecting its concentration, appearance, and ability to fertilize an egg, according to a study. It is not fully understood how stress affects semen quality. It may trigger the release of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, which in turn could blunt levels of testosterone and sperm production. Another possibility is oxidative stress, which has been shown to affect semen quality and fertility.

Twenty hours of TV a week linked to almost half sperm count of those who watch little TV

Healthy young men who watch TV for more than 20 hours a week have almost half the sperm count of men who watch very little TV, indicates a new study.

Cell phones negatively affect male fertility, new study suggests

Men who keep a cell phone in their pant pocket could be inadvertently damaging their chances of becoming a father, according to a new study. Previous research has suggested that radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) emitted by the devices can have a detrimental effect on male fertility. Most of the global adult population own mobile phones, and around 14% of couples in high and middle income countries have difficulty conceiving.

In control groups, 50-85% of sperm have normal movement. The researchers found this proportion fell by an average of 8 percentage points when there was exposure to mobile phones. Similar effects were seen for sperm viability. The effects on sperm concentration were less clear. 

Moderate weekly alcohol intake linked to poorer sperm quality in healthy young men

Moderate alcohol intake of at least 5 units every week is linked to poorer sperm quality in otherwise healthy young men, suggests research. And the higher the weekly tally of units, the worse the sperm quality seems to be, the findings indicate, prompting the researchers to suggest that young men should be advised to steer clear of habitual drinking.

Sperm size, shape in young men affected by cannabis use

Young men who use cannabis may be putting their fertility at risk by inadvertently affecting the size and shape of their sperm, according to new research. In the world's largest study to investigate how common lifestyle factors influence the size and shape of sperm, a research team found that sperm size and shape was worse in samples ejaculated in the summer months, but was better in men who had abstained from sexual activity for more than six days.