#NewsBytesExplainer: Does declining male reproductive health hint at a crisis?
A new study has confirmed what has already been a concern for the world population: men are becoming increasingly less fertile. The study found that the average sperm count globally has deteriorated alarmingly and that the rate of decline is accelerating. Researchers have also warned of an impending reproductive crisis that could threaten the survival of the human species in the long run.
Significant drop in sperm count
The study published in the journal Human Reproduction Update looked at 223 studies based on sperm samples from over 57,000 men across 53 countries, including India. Their research observed that the average sperm concentration fell from an estimated 101.2M per ml to 49M per ml between 1973 and 2018—a drop of 51.6%. Moreover, total sperm counts fell by 62.3% during the same period.
Rate of decline is accelerating
Looking at the data collected since 1972, the rate of decline in sperm concentrations appears to be increasing. The data prior to the year 2000 showed that sperm concentrations declined by 1.16% per year. However, post-2000, this rate of decline has increased to 2.64% per year. As per previous studies, fertility becomes an issue when sperm concentration falls below 40M per ml.
Poor lifestyle causes decline in one's sperm count
As of now, it is unclear what could be the reason behind this global trend; even the latest study has not mentioned the causes. However, past research has suggested that exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, heavy metals, toxic gases, air pollution, poor lifestyle choices, and poor diet can cause a severe decline in one's sperm count.
Tight-fitted clothing could be another cause: Dr. Amit Goel, Urologist
"Besides being stressed, smoking cigarettes, consuming alcohol, and being obese, the trend of wearing tight-fitted trousers could be a cause. When the testicles remain closer to the body, experiencing high body temperatures for long periods of time, it could reduce their ability to produce sperm."
Should you be concerned?
The global average sperm count has dropped but is still in the normal range. Currently, it is 49M per ml, which is above the threshold of 40M per ml, beyond which major concerns could arise. Nonetheless, the average has dropped drastically and is going down faster with each passing year. We might be in a fix if action is not taken, researchers have warned.
Are we heading toward a reproductive crisis?
"Only time will tell if humans are going to face a reproductive crisis; more research is required to conclude this. While it is true that there is a declining trend, there is no need to panic," expressed Dr. Rutvij Dalal, Director, Janini IVF, New Delhi.
How to avert the crisis?
Urologist Dr. Amit Goel suggests men exercise and consume a healthy diet. According to Dr. Dalal, "Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, staying away from environmental pollution, and avoiding smoking and drinking can help improve fertility. Consuming lots of seeds and nuts improves testosterone levels." Dr. Dalal advises men to be aware of their sperm count by getting it tested from time to time.
Growth rate of human population declining: Population projections
Population projections suggest that the growth rate of the human population will continue to decline throughout the 21st century. Japan's population is declining at the rate of 0.2% per year, while China's total fertility rate dropped to 1.15 in 2021. To add to the collapse of the total fertility rate, globally, many individuals of reproductive age are also reluctant to become parents.