• By Dana Sparks

Declining sperm count in Western men

August 2, 2017

a middle-aged man in a exam room with a medical staff person taking information

Western men are reportedly facing declining sperm count.

According to research published in Human Reproduction Update, "A rigorous and comprehensive meta-analysis of data collected between 1973 and 2011 finds that among men from Western countries, sperm concentration declined by more than 50 percent, with no evidence of a 'leveling off' in recent years."

"The primary implications of these findings are regarding fertility," says Dr. Landon Trost, a Mayo Clinic urologist. "If these findings are indeed accurate, and more importantly, if the declining slope is accurate, couple infertility may become an increasingly common problem in the decades to come."

Dr. Trost says the next natural question is 'why' this is occurring. "If there are society, behavioral, or environmental exposures that are contributing, are those factors also contributing to other long-term disease states?" says Dr. Trost.

He adds that these results should not be considered conclusive, however they are intriguing and suggest a need for further monitoring and study. "This concept of declining sperm counts over time remains controversial, and although this study is arguably the best one to date on the topic, larger, prospective databases from national registries are needed to confirm findings," says Dr. Trost. "If confirmed, these results have several notable ramifications for men's health as well as society in general."


"If these findings are indeed accurate, and more importantly, if the declining slope is accurate, couple infertility may become an increasingly common problem in the decades to come."
Dr. Landon Trost


Over time, declining sperm counts would be expected to reduce paternity rates and increase the need and money spent on assisted reproductive techniques. Also, as low sperm counts are associated with several conditions, including decreased overall survival and certain cancers, the question remains as to whether rates of these conditions are also increasing over time.

Dr. Trost says if these findings are confirmed the next question becomes, 'What is contributing to this decline?' He says it's too early to say.

"There are certainly many hypotheses out there including environmental factors such as pesticides or other endocrine disrupting chemicals or lifestyle factors such as diet, obesity, and recreational substance use," says Dr. Trost. "The study findings are certainly intriguing, and the study methodology was very well done. However, the next step is for a society to decide that this is a potential serious health issue and allocate the funding necessary to study the issue in a more rigorous manner."

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