Declining sperm counts in men worldwide could threaten future of humanity, study warns

JERUSALEM, Israel — The continued decline of sperm counts in men all over the world is a looming crisis that threatens the very existence of humanity, a new report out of Israel warns.

The first major analysis of its kind reveals declining sperm counts among men globally, but specifically in South and Central America, Asia, and Africa. Alarmingly, the study also shows that the decline in sperm counts in North America, Europe, and Australia – reported by the same research team in 2017 – has continued and even accelerated in the 21st Century.

The team explains that sperm count is not only a measure of human fertility, but it’s also a marker of men’s health. Low levels have a connection to increased risk of chronic disease, testicular cancer, and shorter lifespans.

The study notes that the decline reflects a “global crisis” related to our modern environment and lifestyle, which has broader implications for the survival of the human race. An international team led by Professor Hagai Levine from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Braun School of Public Health conducted the research. Prof. Shanna Swan at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, along with other researchers from Denmark, Brazil, Spain, Israel, and the United States were also part of the team.

Sperm counts have dropped by 50 percent

Study authors analyzed data from 53 countries, including seven years of data collection from 2011 to 2018, focusing on sperm count trends among men in regions not reviewed previously — specifically South America, Asia, and Africa. The data shows, for the first time, that men in these regions share the same “significant decline” in total sperm counts (TSC) and sperm concentration (SC). It’s the same trend seen in previous studies of men in North America, Europe, and Australia.

The study also shows an accelerated post-2000 decline in TSC and SC globally.

“Overall, we’re seeing a significant worldwide decline in sperm counts of over 50% in the past 46 years, a decline that has accelerated in recent years,” Prof. Levine says in a media release.

Although this study did not examine the causes of dropping sperm counts, Prof. Levine notes that recent research pointing to disturbances in the development of the reproductive tract during fetal development display a link to lifetime impairment of fertility and other markers of reproductive dysfunction.

Sperm count problems ‘could threaten mankind’s survival’

The study author explains that “lifestyle choices and chemicals in the environment are adversely affecting this fetal development.”

“Our findings serve as a canary in a coal mine. We have a serious problem on our hands that, if not mitigated, could threaten mankind’s survival. We urgently call for global action to promoted healthier environments for all species and reduce exposures and behaviors that threaten our reproductive health,” Levine adds.

Prof. Swan stresses that low sperm counts do not only affect male fertility. They can also have severe consequences for men’s health in general — a connected condition called testicular dysgenesis syndrome.

“The troubling declines in men’s sperm concentration and total sperm counts at over 1% each year as reported in our paper are consistent with adverse trends in other men’s health outcomes, such as testicular cancer, hormonal disruption, and genital birth defects, as well as declines in female reproductive health. This clearly cannot continue unchecked,” Prof. Swan concludes.

The findings are published in the journal Human Reproduction Update.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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