Scientists Warn We Could Be Facing A Reproductive Crisis As Sperm Count Declines - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Scientists Warn We Could Be Facing A Reproductive Crisis As Sperm Count Declines

Despite the fact the world’s population has reached a new record, global figures suggest sperm concentration has halved in 40 years, with the rate of the decline now accelerating.

When it comes to reproduction, women have long had to shoulder much of the burden. From societal pressures surrounding their biological clock, to IVF, and infertility struggles, it’s a journey that can prove exhausting and draining – both physically, mentally and financially. But now, the attention has landed on males as researchers warn humans could face a reproductive crisis if action is not taking to address an alarming decline in sperm count – one that is accelerating rapidly. 

According to a recent study published in the journal Human Reproduction Update, 153 estimates from men who were likely unaware of their fertility showed that average sperm concentration has fallen form an estimated 101.2m per ml, to 49.0m per ml between 1973 and 2018, illustrating a drop of 51.6 per cent. During the same period, total sperm counts fell by 62.3 per cent. 

While the decline is alarming, perhaps more frightening is the fact that research by the same team reported that in 2017, sperm concentration had more than halved in the last 40 years. While there is a lack of data for other parts of the world, findings focused on a region including the likes of Europe, North America and Australia, with more recent studies including data from 53 countries. Here, sperm concentration was also seen to have declined in Central and South America, Africa and Asia, making it a global issue. 

According to researchers, sperm count is declining – and rapidly, too. According to the data collected in all continents since 1972, sperm concentrations declined by 1.16 per cent, per year. But when looking at the data collected since 2000, the decline was at a high of 2.64 per cent. While the study did not look at other markers of sperm quality, researchers did factor for age and how long men had gone without ejaculation, and excluded those known to suffer from infertility. 

Speaking about the findings, author of the research from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Professor Hagai Levine, explained: “I think this is another signal that something is wrong with the globe and that we need to do something about it. 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.”

Current findings show sperm concentration sits at 49.0m per ml, with previous studies suggesting that fertility becomes compromised when it falls bellow 40m per ml. As Levine notes, the finding from the study is a mean figure, suggesting that the percentage of men below this threshold has now increased. “Such a decline clearly represents a decline in the capacity of the population to reproduce,” he said. 

While it’s unclear what is behind such a decline, many point to environmental factors that not only affect the foetus in the womb, but also men’s sperm. Other factors that could see a decline in sperm count include smoking, drinking, obesity and poor diet. For Professor Richard Sharpe, an expert in male reproductive health at the University of Edinburgh, the findings are significant as they illustrate a global decline and thus, something that is becoming a worldwide phenomenon with significant implications for the future. 

Such a decline means couples could take longer to conceive, which presents another issue as women see their fertility decline with age. “The key point that needs to be made is that this is desperately bad news for couple fertility,” said Sharpe. “These issues are not just a problem for couples trying to have kids. 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.”

By Jessica Campbell

Jess is a storyteller committed to sharing the human stories that lie at the heart of sport.

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