According to an assessment by researchers of nearly 200 different studies, sperm counts among men from North America, Europe and Australia are falling. In fact, according to their findings, sperm counts among men from those areas appear to have halved in less than 40 years. What this seems to indicate is that, in general, sperm counts among men are dropping — and here's what that means for parents in the United States, one of the areas where men seem to be affected by the drop in sperm count.
According to the BBC, the assessment in question brought together the results of 185 studies between the years 1973 and 2011, and it's one of the largest ever attempted. It reportedly found a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in overall sperm count in men from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand in particular. Dr. Hagai Levine, the lead researcher on the assessment, told BBC News:
Eventually we may have a problem, and with reproduction in general, and it may be the extinction of the human species.
Which is a pretty scary conclusion to come to, and maybe something parents or those looking to become parents in places like the United States should pay attention to.
The Telegraph's report on the findings said that chemicals, pesticides, stress, and obesity are among the major factors linked to the drop in sperm count numbers. The study tracked more than 40,000 men, and was conducted by the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, according to The Telegraph.
And although it didn't establish which factors were most to blame for the decrease in sperm counts in the Western world, the study found the decline in the noted regions greatly outpaced that of the rest of the world, leading researchers to “strongly suggest” industrial chemicals as being among the main causes for the decline.
And as Professor Daniel Brison, Honorary Professor of Clinical Embryology and Stem Cell Biology; Scientific Director of the Department of Reproductive Medicine, University of Manchester, told The Telegraph:
As the authors point out this has major implications not just for fertility but for male health and wider public health.
So what does this all mean for parents or people who want to and plan to become parents in the U.S.? According to Reuters, researchers said falling sperm counts have, in the past, been linked to factors like exposure to certain chemicals and pesticides, stress, smoking, and obesity. So individuals looking to become fathers and their partners should maybe limit that sort of exposure.
In fact, Dr. Shanna H Swan told The Mirror:
The fact that the decline is seen in Western countries strongly suggests that chemicals in commerce are playing a causal role in this trend.
Because both researchers involved in this assessment and researchers who have previously found that exposure to certain chemicals could have an impact on sperm count, it seems like limiting exposure is almost necessary.
But, scientists who were not involved in the study say it's not time to panic about the findings just yet. Professor Allan Pacey of Sheffield University told the BBC that these latest results should definitely be treated with caution.
Pacey told the BBC that past studies reviewed for the assessment could have made errors, such as only looking at small sample sizes of men, or limited populations like those who would attend fertility clinics in the first place. He told the BBC:
The debate has not yet been resolved and there is clearly much work still to be done.
However, the paper does represent a step forward in the clarity of the data which might ultimately allow us to define better studies to examine this issue.
While there is no clear evidence for the absolute reason for the drop in sperm count that researchers observed, and because scientists and researchers disagree as to whether the findings are truly valid, parents in the U.S. shouldn't worry about a Handmaid's Tale-type scenario just yet.
But it never hurts to pay attention to the factors that can impact men's health overall, because sperm count is certainly connected to that. And if you have any concerns, talk to your doctor — they'd know best.