Docs find ‘very steep’ decline in sperm count in North American men. Here’s why

Click to play video: 'Docs find ‘very steep’ decline in sperm count in North American men. Here’s why' Docs find ‘very steep’ decline in sperm count in North American men. Here’s why
WATCH: A new study has found sperm counts among men in the western world have dropped dramatically in the last 40 years. Heather Yourex-West looks at why – Jul 25, 2017

Men, scientists have noticed a drastic change in your swimmers and fertility. A new study is warning that there’s been a “significant ongoing decline” in the sperm counts of Western men.

Men’s sperm concentration and sperm counts have decreased by more than 50 per cent between 1973 and 2011, according to a new study out of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“This is huge. Imagine a 50 per cent decline in height or increase in weight. It means that the proportion [of men] with subfertility or infertility must have increased substantially….we also feel it in the clinics. It takes longer on average for couples to conceive,” Dr. Hagai Levine, the study’s lead researcher, told Global News.

“Declining sperm counts signal a serious men’s health problem related to modern environment and lifestyle – we must change the way we are living on the personal and social levels,” Levine said.

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Levine’s findings stem from a meta-analysis of 185 studies published between 1973 and 2011. Turns out, in that timeframe, they found a 52.4 per cent decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3 per cent decline in total sperm count among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

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He calls the decrease “very steep.”

What does it look like? It’s about 99 million sperm per millilitre in a fertile man in 1973 to 47 million sperm per millilitre in a man by 2011.

It’s worth noting that the “steep slope” is showing no signs of letting up either.

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Levine and his team are chalking it up to a handful of factors: exposure to certain chemicals, such as pesticides, smoking, obesity, and stress, for example. What happens in-utero, from maternal smoking or maternal stress, may even have a hand.

“We don’t know why this is happening but our findings should drive massive scientific efforts to identify the causes, and modes of prevention…male reproductive function is very sensitive to environmental impact throughout the lifespan,” he warned.

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How to check your sperm health with your smartphone – Jul 21, 2016

There’s been “no significant decline” in men from South America, Asia and Africa, though. (But there are fewer studies conducted in these areas, too.)

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“One possible explanation is that men residing in Western countries over the last decades were exposed to new, man-made chemicals during their life course, and there is more and more evidence that these chemicals hurt their reproductive function,” Levine explained.

He’s calling the findings a “wakeup call” for researchers and health officials around the world because they come with major public health implications.

For starters, a growing proportion of men are grappling with sperm counts that hit the threshold for subfertility or infertility. In Canada, 40 to 45 per cent of the time, it’s a male factor that’s contributing to troubles with getting pregnant.

They could have a low sperm count, a blockage when they ejaculate, or a history of injuries or surgical procedures that affect their testicles.

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The scientific community has even zeroed in on how sperm count is tied to increased morbidity and mortality. An ongoing decline could be a red flag for men’s health on a whole.

So what can men do about it? Levine has a few suggestions, from reducing stress to cutting out smoking, excessive drinking, and keeping an active lifestyle, healthy diet and weight.

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Try to limit exposure to chemicals, such as pesticides, and avoid direct heat to the testicles.

These are tips for better fertility and improved general health.

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Levine’s next steps are to study the root causes of the decline in sperm counts, where he’ll be starting with chemical exposure first.

Levine’s full findings were published Tuesday in the journal Human Reproduction Update.

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