A recent study has shown that sperm count has declined by more than half among men in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The results show a 52 per cent decline in sperm concentration and a 59 per cent decline in total sperm count over a period of about 40 years ending in 2011. Researchers, led by Dr Hagai Levine of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, combined a meta-analysis of 185 studies, covering 42,935 male participants who provided semen samples between 1973 and 2011.
Overall, the team found decline in sperm concentration of 1.4 per cent per year. Consequently, sperm count plunged 1.6 per cent each year. By comparison the team found no significant declines in the sperm counts and sperm concentrations of men living in South America, Asia and Africa.
This, warns Dr John Ong’ech, a gynaecologist at Nairobi Reproductive Health services, shouldn’t be a cause for celebration among African men. Dr Levine himself speculates that the recorded decline in sperm count and concentrations among western men could be blamed on exposure to many toxic chemicals in the environment.
Previous studies – Levine’s included – indicate that chemicals that affect hormonal functions harm male reproductive system development and fertility potential. These chemicals include pesticides, DDT (used two decades ago to eradicate mosquitoes), mercury and other such chemicals.
According to Dr Ong’ech, occupational hazards, like boda-boda riding, are contributing to male infertility. “The male reproductive organs are supposed to experience temperatures lower than the body’s,” he says. “That is why they hang out of the body.” Jobs that place testicles in heated environments are therefore damaging men’s sperm counts.
Ong’ech also agrees with Levine that the environment today is dirtier. Somehow toxins are getting into our bodies through the water we drink and the food we eat.