A new study suggests that the average sperm concentration and count are declining rapidly — here’s what that could mean about infertility.
When it comes to reproductive health, the conversation tends to focus on women. Now, a new study confirms that men absolutely need to be a larger part of the infertility conversation, as sperm counts have drastically dropped globally over the past fifty years.
The new study, published in the journal Human Reproduction Update, suggests that the average sperm concentration dropped 51.6% between 1973 and 2018. During the same time period, sperm count dropped a whopping 62.3%.
It also seems like the decline is accelerating. From 1972 to 2000, sperm concentration dropped by roughly 1.2% a year; from 2000 on, the decline has been 2.64% annually.
“I think this is another signal that something is wrong with the globe and that we need to do something about it,” Prof Hagai Levine, first author of the research from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Guardian. “So yes, I think it’s a crisis, that we [had] better tackle now, before it may reach a tipping point which may not be reversible.”
The data come from around the world and hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, but thanks to the “availability of good data” from the U.S., Professor Levine notes that “we have the highest certainty that there is a strong and sustainable decline.”
Sperm count in adult men can drop for a variety of common reasons, exposure to pesticides and other toxins to high levels of stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. Age is also a factor, and as people of all genders put off having children until later than life, this data could suggest hardships for couples trying to conceive down the line.
While there is still a lot to understand about how sperm count affects fertility, the data is worth examining for factors other than fertility. “We don't understand why we're seeing this pattern, so I think it's hard to be alarmist for an individual," Dr. Michael Eisenberg, a urologist focused on male fertility and sexual function at Stanford University and Stanford Health Care in California, told USA Today. "But at a policy level, this should be a wake-up call to try and understand," Eisenberg said.
“These issues are not just a problem for couples trying to have kids,” Professor Richard Sharpe, an expert in male reproductive health at the University of Edinburgh said. “They are also a huge problem for society in the next 50-odd years as less and less young people will be around to work and support the increasing bulge of elderly folk.”
In the meantime, the best thing for folks trying to conceive to do is take proactive steps towards overall health. For anyone looking to improve overall sperm health, here are tips from fertility experts.