Are There Health Consequences of Declining Sperm Counts?

Gerald Chodak, MD


February 11, 2019

This transcript was edited for clarity.

Hello. I'm Dr Gerald Chodak for Medscape. Today's topic is men's sperm counts.

Levine and colleagues[1] published a report in which they conducted a meta-analysis of studies that reported sperm counts and sperm concentration between 1971 and 2013. Their analysis excluded infertile or subfertile men, resulting in a total of about 43,000 men in their analysis.

The investigators divided the individuals into two groups. The Western group included men from North America, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia, and the other group included men from South America, Asia, and Africa.

Over the course of the study, there was no significant change in sperm volume. For the men from Asia, South America, and Africa, there was also no significant change in sperm concentration or total sperm counts. However, for the Western men, there were significant changes both in sperm concentration and in total sperm count. On average, there was a 1.4% decline per year in the men's sperm concentration, resulting in a total decline of 52%. The total sperm counts dropped by 60%.

So, why discuss this paper? There is clearly a problem going on with men's sperm counts. The questions include, "What are the causes?" and "What should be done about it?" Is it environmental—could we be exposed to chemicals in our diet or are other pollution factors affecting our environment? Something may be happening to women during pregnancy, causing an adverse effect on men's sperm counts over time.

Regardless of the explanation, there is an important health consequence: As men's sperm counts go down, the risk of dying from other causes increases, and there is a diffuse number of diseases that seem to increase. There seems to be a health-related consequence to a drop in men's sperm counts and sperm concentration, aside from the obvious effect on fertility.

Clearly, research is needed to both validate these findings and guide investigation as to why it's occurring and what can be done. The bottom line here is that there is a potential long-term health consequence of changes in men's sperm counts and sperm concentration.

I look forward to your comments. Thank you.

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