Falling sperm count a global phenomenon: Study

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Sperm counts are declining globally.

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An Israeli-led study has found sperm counts have plummeted by 62% in under 50 years, and the findings have implications for the future of the human race.

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Prof. Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem led the study with Prof. Shanna Swan at New York’s Icahn School of Medicine.

The Times of Israel reports that the results are particularly worrying as a low sperm count is considered an indication of male health in general and may point to increased risk for testicular cancer and chronic disease.

Professor Levine’s last study was done in 2017. The new study adds several years of statistics and is much broader, covering 53 countries.

Sperm concentration per millilitre of semen is currently at about 50 million — which is down by by 52%. The figure considered to indicate a low sperm concentration is 15 million per millilitre, so levels are still above that number.

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But Professor Levine noted that an average of 50 million means there are many men who have under 40 million, “fertility that is actually suboptimal.”

The study was published in the Human Reproduction Update.

As rates of decline are actually accelerating, according to The Guardian, a reproductive crisis is possible.

Professor Richard Sharpe, an expert in male reproductive health at the University of Edinburgh, noted this is a worldwide issue and said the key takeaway in the research is that this could be,desperately bad news for couple fertility.”

Environmental factors are suspected to be the culprit here. Lifestyle factors that contribute to poor health, such as poor diet, obesity, smoking and drinking, may also play a role. 

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Among the chemicals believed to affect sperm quality are bisphenols and dioxins, which are thought to interfere with hormones. Paracetamol and phthalates also pose a risk.

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Other male disorders, such as penis malformation and undescended testes are also on the increase, and hormone-disrupting chemicals are suspected. The damage happens in utero, as the baby develops.

Paracetamol is also known as acetaminophen — Tylenol. Scientists have warned pregnant women against using acetaminophen in the past and paracetamol has been shown to cause a decline in sperm quality in laboratory animals.

Processed food and fatty foods can be sources of dioxins, phthalates and bisphenols.

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