I’m not talking about one of those swinging parties your mum and dad go to, for the last week a number of stories about a decline in sperm count have floated about the news sites, some have declared the human race could go extinct, (yes that was The Sun) and the story has sparked a certain amount of interest, people online are hypothesising as to why it has dropped at such a dramatic rate of 40% in 60 years, discussion have begun on what could be leading to such a change. Research conducted by “The Human Reproduction Update” was based on 200 studies of men across North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, was apparently one of the largest studies ever conducted of it’s kind and one that spans nearly four decades.
The lead researcher is a Dr Hagai Levine who quite bluntly says “if the trend continued humans would become extinct.”
There are some flaws shown in previous studies done elsewhere, while the 4 places in question apparently show a sharp decline, similar studies done in Africa, Asia and South America do not show the same results. It has been noted that there has only been a small number of studies on these continents; apparently some older studies exist that do show the same steep decline but critics have said they were flawed studies; some of them have only been conducted using a relatively small group of men while others involved only men who are attending fertility clinics, could it be possible the western study has similar flaws?
Well some argue no it isn’t, Prof Allan Pacey of Sheffield University, has said;
“I’ve never been particularly convinced by the many studies published so far claiming that human sperm counts have declined in the recent past, however, the study today by Dr Levine and his colleagues deals head-on with many of the deficiencies of previous studies.”
Other critics have questioned the study saying there may have been an over estimation of sperm count in early studies and others feel that such studies are more likely to be published in scientific journals and gain particular praise where a study showing no decline would not be given the same recognition, while that sounds pretty cynical there is some truth to that.
A final point i’d like to include is while it’s easy to show that this has happened in the last 60 years, i’d like to know if there are any trends that can be seen as the time scale is broken down, having a closer look may lead to closer understanding and help explain the reasoning behind certain speculations into what is causing such a drop, it may even help explain how to tackle it going forward, which leads me on to…
The fun part after the initial panic is the amount of speculation people have regarding the cause, while the study shows the numbers it doesn’t explain why it is happening, until further studies are done it won’t, which leaves it open to the media, commentators and think tanks to speculate on the subject.
The great thing about such a story is it leaves plenty of room to create follow on pieces such as the Telegraph’s The male fertility crisis: Five ways to boost your sperm count, the Daily Mail’s Why a simple salad garnish could be the key to boosting sperm count and reducing stress, claim experts the Guardian’s The infertility crisis is beyond doubt. Now scientists must find the cause and the Mirror’s Fertility expert reveals how to boost your sperm count as levels found to be at all-time low. Hopefully the initial piece created enough panic for you to start taking notice of your genitals and luckily the media if here to offer you much needed guidance but hopefully you weren’t too panicked as they sadly made you wait 24 hours for a follow up.
The possible causes are a list of things from obesity, diet, smoking, the use of laptops and electrical goods, not enough exercise, cycling (or not cycling), having a bath. There isn’t anything that has been found to be a sole reason as of yet, some are speculating whether it’s the change in ideals; the growth of a more liberal society and progressive ideals or the increasing difficulty in finding a partner as a result of those things but i can’t see how that would be the cause even in extreme circumstances, if you can prove that these ideals have caused depression and anxiety which therefore can be linked to lowering sperm count you then have to prove there’s been an increase in depression but at the same time if that can be achieved it doesn’t look very good for the western male that is supposed to be at the forefront of progressivism. With a varied set of studies spanning multiple continents you have the added benefit of there being different weather conditions and lifestyles and it’s generally believed that an increase in vitamin D can benefit people with depression.
There was also a recent piece in Vice which links depression and anxiety to high sugar diets but again it’s not like sugar isn’t available all over the world, if the studies done in Africa, Asia and South America are anything to go on it isn’t necessarily the cause but it’s probably worth noting the average health differences and lifestyle of people from these continents.
While it’s generally rule of thumb that you take such studies with a pinch of salt, it could generally be true that a pattern of sperm decreasing can be shown, that’s not to say it has decreased for everybody and different people will have different results, some may not be affected in any way. It’s also a wonder who has been supplying the white stuff for these tests as it’s not very common for men to provide sperm unless there’s a fertility problem and finally you also hope that men of different shapes and sizes, different diets and lifestyles were used in the studies and that there was no bias in the studies.
One hopes that further studies will be done to try and find patterns in the cause of such problems.