Several factors contribute to the rising number of infertility cases worldwide. One possible reason may be the falling sperm count among men. Calling it a "looming crisis", a study published recently in the journal Human Reproduction Update has cautioned that the decline in men's reproductive function could "threaten mankind's survival."
The study was based on the analysis of hundreds of scientific articles on sperm concentration. The results suggested the average sperm concentration had dropped more than 50 per cent in the last 40-50 years. Concerningly, the researchers said that the rate of sperm count decline is accelerating.
Low sperm concentration and its impacts on male fertility
Dr. Arindam Rath, Senior Fertility Consultant, Apollo Fertility (Kolkata), also points out that over the past half-century, the world has witnessed a steep decline in fertility rates in virtually every country on earth.
He continues, "Environmental and lifestyle factors are having a profound impact on our reproductive competence particularly in the male where increasing prosperity is associated with a significant rise in the incidence of testicular cancer and a secular decline in semen quality and testosterone levels."
"On a population level, a study suggests that median sperm counts have dropped from 104 to 49 million per millilitre over five decades. The sperm concentration per millilitre of semen is down 52 per cent and stands at about 50 million. This is still well above the World Health Organization's cut-off below which men are considered to have a low sperm concentration, namely 15 million per millilitre. Fertility starts to dip when sperm concentration goes under 40 million per millilitre and at the rate of current decline, that number is set to be the global average within a decade," he adds.
Talking about the Indian scenario, Dr. Rath cited a study on Indian men that recorded sperm count decline at 30.31 per cent, as well as reduction in motility and morphology by 22.92 per cent and 51.25 per cent, respectively, between the time span of 13 years.
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Probable causes of sperm count decline
On this, Dr. Rath says, "Poor fetal outcomes may also be correlated with the father's preconception environmental exposures. In adulthood, a man's exposure to pesticides, lack of exercise, bad diet, smoking and obesity can decrease his sperm count. Excessive weight alters hormone levels and increases the amount of oestrogen in a male body. Additionally, excess fat around the male reproductive organs may increase the temperature there, reducing sperm production."
To reduce decline in sperm production and protect reproductive function, Dr. Rath advises men to:
Limit alcohol use to moderate level: Studies suggest that semen quality drops after about 20 drinks a week.
Avoid extreme heat: It is advisable to avoid hot tubs and saunas while trying to conceive.
Discourage taking testosterone: Testosterone has been tested as a contraceptive, because it reduces sperm production.
Male infertility is estimated to account for 20-30 per cent all infertility cases.