New research has revealed an alarming trend around the world. An international team of researchers says that sperm counts have halved over the last five decades, and the pace of decline has more than doubled since the turn of the century. This drastic decline could threaten the future of mankind, they say.
According to Euronews, the researchers examined 223 studies based on sperm samples from more than 57,000 men across 53 countries. The results showed for the first time that men in Latin America, Asia, and Africa mirror a similar decline as previously observed in Europe, North America, and Australia.
The authors warn that sperm counts have dropped so dangerously low that couples may have trouble conceiving without medical intervention.
“We have a serious problem on our hands that, if not mitigated, could threaten mankind’s survival,” said Dr. Hagai Levine, an Israel public health physician and epidemiologist, the study’s lead author from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Braun School of Public Health. The findings were published Tuesday in the journal Human Reproduction Update.
Previously, Levine joined a team of researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine in New York, along with scientists from Denmark, Spain, Brazil and Israel, and reported in 2017 a troubling decline in sperm counts in the Western world.
Data from 1973 to 2018 showed sperm counts dropped an average of 1.2% annually. Data after the year 2000 revealed a decline of more than 2.6% per year.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said Levine. “I couldn’t believe it myself.” The professor said the results point to a global crisis that could be compared to climate change.
“As in climate change, the impact could be different in different places, but generally the phenomenon is global and should be treated as such,” he said, according to Euronews. “It looks like a pandemic. It’s everywhere. And some of the causes may stay with us for a very long time.”
"On a population level, the drop in mean sperm count from 104 to 49 million/ml that we report here implies a substantial increase in the proportion of men with delayed time to conception,” the study’s authors wrote.
The researchers said that sperm counts above the threshold of 40-50 million/ml does not mean an increased chance of conception. However, below that threshold, the probability of conception drops rapidly as the sperm count declines. Low sperm counts are also associated with increased risk for chronic disease, testicular cancer, and a decreased lifespan.
While the scientists did not investigate the causes for the decline in sperm counts, they pointed to the role of chemicals in our environment that disrupt hormones and reproductive systems. Surprisingly, their findings were published on the day the global population passed the 8 billion mark, putting more pressure on the world’s natural resources.
“Philosophically, maybe the decline in sperm count and infertility is somehow the way of the world to balance what’s going on,” said Levine. But he added that the findings should be of concern to everyone because sperm count is a very good measure of global health.
“Regardless of the number of people you think we need on earth, you don’t want it to be determined by hazardous events rather than our own choices,” he said. “I think we have to monitor it very carefully at the global level, and also the personal level.” Levine said authorities should examine ways to improve our lifestyles and limit human exposure to manmade chemicals through better regulation.
“Sometimes there is a tipping point and the system collapses at once. It means something is happening with our ecological systems, our reproductive systems and at some point, it’s too much,” he concluded.
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