You have likely seen the news: A new study in the journal Human Reproduction Update provides further evidence that men’s sperm counts are in a deep, global decline. The researchers found that from 1973 to 2011, sperm counts dropped 53% (1.4% per year) and show no sign of “leveling off” anytime soon.
What do the study authors think about their findings?
“Hard to believe.”
“A major public health issue.”
In other words, it’s a big deal.
How did they study this?
This new study is actually an analysis of 183 global studies conducted between 1973 and 2011 with a sample group of nearly 43,000 men. The researchers’ objective was to evaluate trends over time.
Did they only evaluate sperm count?
Yes. Measuring other sperm parameters – motility, morphology, etc. – is more subject to error than measuring sperm count. Sperm count is also more subject to change than other parameters, and is specifically tied to chances of conception and fertility outcomes. So the authors focused on sperm count only.
Why are sperm counts going down?
Leading explanations include rising obesity rates, exposure to chemicals, climate change, sedentary lifestyle, higher stress, and poorer diets – all of which have been clinically shown to reduce sperm quality. It’s likely some combination of these and other factors.
What does this mean?
A few things:
- Low sperm count is a leading cause of infertility. A widespread decline in sperm count means you may experience more difficulties trying to conceive.
- Men should get themselves tested early and often. There are really no other symptoms for low sperm count, so getting an accurate measurement early in the fertility process is important for identifying potential fertility roadblocks and to take steps to optimize your chances of conception.
- Your sperm count is not set in stone. If you want to be a dad, the sooner you can adopt healthier, more sperm-friendly lifestyle habits the better your chances of conception. Small changes to your health and behaviors can lead to major changes in sperm count and help tilt the odds of conception into your favor.
Reference: Levine et al 2017. Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update 1-14.