Sperm Count on Slippery Decline, Experts React to New Study

Proudly supported by

  Last updated September 8, 2017 at 11:33 am

Topics:  

Declining sperm count and sperm concentration has been observed in Western countries over the last 40 years. This research counts as a bit of a wake up call, say Australian experts.


A study has revealed that sperm concentration and total sperm count of men in Western countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America, is declining.


Interestingly, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa. Although it’s true we have less data from these areas, it does suggest that lifestyle or environmental factors are at play. The researchers found a 52.4% decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3% decline in total sperm count. The worrying part was that this decline in Western countries is not slowing down.


Just as Homer Simpson graphically displays the conception of his youngest daughter Maggie, the concentration and total sperm count is vital to fertility. We know that obesity has negative effects on sperm count. We also know that frequent exercise can improve the quality of sperm.


The study looked at data from 185 studies from between 1973 and 2011. The research was published in Human Reproduction Update.



Experts suggest that future research should focus on identifying lifestyle factors behind falling sperm counts.


Dr Orly Lacham-Kaplan is Senior Scientist in the Centre for Exercise & Nutrition at Australian Catholic University


“The data presented is indeed a true representation of the situation with sperm count and concentration. There is a decline in sperm count and concentration up to 60 per cent over four decades. Although it will be interesting to identify the causes associated with this directly (which will be based on large scale epidemiological studies), as a reproductive biologist it will be more interesting to see data associated with semen quality. Although there are many studies that show correlation between sperm count concentration and quality, the information would have been helpful.


Also, a follow up study including the same individuals over a span of several years would be interesting. There is information to associate all cause morbidity with sperm count and concentration and this is something to think about; i.e. is sperm count and concentration is indicative of poor health?


As for Australia, I would not worry our ‘guys’ too much, just to maybe be a bit conscious. I will refer to the study as informative rather than scientific and maybe, just maybe the simple(r) life in non-western countries is actually the best, even for sperm.  Maybe a study can be done in Australia regarding city men versus rural men?”


Dr Shaun Roman, Assistant Dean International & Marketing and Program Convenor for the Bachelor of Biotechnology in the Faculty of Science and Information Technology and Head of Biology in the School of Environmental and Life Sciences at the University of Newcastle.


“On face value this study suggests a decline in sperm numbers continues. These numbers follow the numbers of the other studies cited.


The dates used in the study were the date of sampling and are not related to the age of the donor. So there is not an age effect but an environmental effect that is limited to ‘western countries’. This requires some vigorous investigation.


However it should be noted that it only takes one sperm to fertilise an egg and, on average, western men are still producing 50 million per ejaculate. We are not in crisis yet but this study serves as a warning that we should investigate the role our diet and environment pay on sperm production.”


Professor Kelton Tremellen is Professor of Reproductive Medicine at Flinders University


“This paper confirms previously observations of a significant fall in sperm counts over the last four decades. However, what is interesting about this latest analysis is that it the decline in sperm counts appears to primarily effect men from western countries like Australia and United States, not those from Africa or Asia. This suggests an environmental or lifestyle issue specific to western society is the underlying cause.


The most likely cause of this halving of sperm count is obesity. Poor diet and lack of exercise, both endemic in the western world, has resulted in two-thirds of men being overweight or obese, and obesity is known to be a significant risk factor for both low testosterone levels and sperm count.


Men should take these results as a wake-up call to adopt a healthy lifestyle. By maintaining a healthy weight, plus eating plenty of good foods like fish, nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, while avoiding high fat and sugar foods, will help maintain both a healthy sperm count and good overall health.”


Conflict of interest statement: Professor Tremellen is inventor of the male fertility nutraceutical Menevit designed to optimise sperm heath and marketed in Australia by Bayer Consumer Care.


Professor Rob McLachlan is Director of Clinical Research at the Hudson Institute of Medical Research and Director of Andrology Australia


“The paper by Levine et al is at first glance alarming in reporting a 50 per cent decline in sperm output across the world over the past forty years.  While not providing new primary data, it provides a meta-analysis of the hundreds of papers that have examined the semen quality over many years.


Examining for trends in semen quality is extremely challenging as one needs to find a way of assessing whole populations (not just selected men) using consistent analytical procedures over decades. If it were an easy issue to pin down, it would have been done years ago. This issue has been controversial, as issues of patient selection and inconsistent methodologies have resulted in varying conclusions.  For example, a paper describing 4867 young Danish men showed a modest increase in sperm counts between 1996 and 2010.  Other studies have shown no change, while others have also suggested decline.


The current paper represents a concerted effort to collate and evaluate 185 studies involving 43,000 men over 38 years in the hope that the statistical power derived from so many studies will compensate for potential flaws in the component studies.  The authors excluded many studies because they had overtly biased patient samples. Those that were evaluated were classed as involving either ‘unscreened men’ who were considered to have no reason to be concerned about their fertility and therefore might be potentially representative of general population. Others were classed as ‘fertile’ due to their proven fertility.  A decline was reported in both groups. There were differences in geographical regions; only the western centres showing a decline.


It is unlikely that anything more can be done in the foreseeable future to definitively answer this major public health question. But taking a cautionary path, this latest analysis presents the challenge to identify and address potential negative impactors on male fertility such as lifestyle, obesity and comorbidities that are rising in developed countries particularly, and generally the role of environmental toxicants for which there is certainly evidence in more select populations.


Ultimately the concern is that a fall in sperm output will be reflected in delays in natural conception rates. To date this has not been established. There is much more awareness and discussion of fertility, and major changes in the management of male infertility over the past 25 years in particular. Between 4-7 per cent of western populations are now conceived using assisted reproductive technology (ART).  Male factor infertility accounts solely or in part for half of ART treatment. An apparent increase in male infertility may reflect the success of sperm microinjection technology with more male factor couples coming to recognition.


This meta-analysis will no doubt increase the debate about health and environmental impacts on male reproductive health.”


Expert comments gathered by the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC).


Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to get all the latest science.




About the Author

Kelly Wong
Contributing editor for News + Events and the online producer at Australia's Science Channel. I have a background in immunology, food blogging, volunteering, and social media. I'm passionate about creating communities on social media and getting them excited about science. I enjoy good food and I am on an eternal mission to find the best ice cream. Find me on Twitter @kellyyyllek

Published By

Science and technology is as much a part of our cultural fabric as art, music, theatre and literature. They play a significant role in our daily lives, yet, in a world dependent on science, we often take them for granted. Australia’s Science Channel believes every citizen has a right, and a responsibility, to be informed, and our mission is to create programs to bring that about.


Featured Videos

Placeholder
Etienne Rastoin-Laplane - What's fishy about the Galapagos?
Placeholder
Kit Prendergast - Flowers to keep native bees buzzing
Placeholder
Rebecca Wellard - Eavesdropping on killer whales
Placeholder
Hossein Tavassoli - Mending broken hearts
Placeholder
Dilan Seckiner - Forensic gait analysis
Placeholder
Samuel Bladwell - A new spin on electronics
Placeholder
Sathana Dushyanthen - The double-edged cancer sword
Placeholder
Dwan Price - Nuts and Guts
Placeholder
Catriona Nguyen-Robertson - Exercise takes your immune system for a ride
Placeholder
Thimo Ruethers - The deadly danger of crocs on a plate
Placeholder
Amanda Tauber - Slamming the brakes on metastatic cancer
Placeholder
Hayley Teasdale – The ball that prevents falls (FameLab Australia 2019 Runner-up)
Placeholder
In the Shadow of a Black Hole
Placeholder
In Class With... Monica Gagliano
Placeholder
In Class With... Brian Cox
Placeholder
Start your FameLab 2019 journey now
Placeholder
Nural Cokcetin - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Erinn Fagan-Jeffries - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Ronald Yu - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Noushin Nasiri - It all starts with FameLab
Placeholder
Grassroots
Placeholder
What is machine learning?
Placeholder
Mythbusting artificial intelligence with expert Anton van den Hengel
Placeholder
Using machine learning to predict medical outcomes
Placeholder
KCLOC
Placeholder
Nature Calls
Placeholder
Mexican Fishing Bats
Placeholder
Bittersweet
Placeholder
Timelapse
Placeholder
Invisible Blanket
Placeholder
Look
Placeholder
The Anomalies: Venom Race
Placeholder
Science Meets Making
Placeholder
Spiral
Placeholder
Looking Out There
Placeholder
Protectors of the Penguins
Placeholder
Astroturf
Placeholder
Virtual Humans
Placeholder
Rancheros del Jaguar
Placeholder
Searching For Dark Matter
Placeholder
Finding prehistoric mega-shark fossils on Victoria's coast
Placeholder
The Grandfather of computers
Placeholder
James Cameron talks science
Placeholder
In Class With.....David Suzuki - The Environment
Placeholder
In Class With.....David Suzuki - Career
Placeholder
Sustainable water use with Doug Green
Placeholder
Why is Indigenous science important?
Placeholder
Vanessa Pirotta - Using drones to collect whale snot (FameLab Australia 2018 Winner)
Placeholder
Toby Hendy - Poking Plants (FameLab Australia 2018 Runner-Up)
Placeholder
Muthu Vignesh Vellayappan - Groovy Patches (FameLab Australia 2018 Audience Choice)
Placeholder
Taryn Laubenstein - The Tail of Two Fishes
Placeholder
Richard Charlesworth - Coeliac disease diagnosis can be a pain in the posterior
Placeholder
Pegah Maasoumi - Solar Windows
Placeholder
James Wong - Breathing while you hop: How do kangaroos do it?
Placeholder
Ben McAllister - The ORGAN Experiment: Shining a light on dark matter
Placeholder
Mortaza Rezae - Empowering beautiful minds
Placeholder
Zane Stromberga - Can allergy drugs beat bladder disease?
Placeholder
Working In.....Art - Astrophotography
Placeholder
What's the best way to move - springs or muscles?
Placeholder
FameLab Australia Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Saving lives with platypus milk
Placeholder
Australian astronomers witness death throes of a cocooned star
Placeholder
How Australia's politicians see our future in space
Placeholder
Keeping satellites in the loop
Placeholder
Tim Flannery talks about COP
Placeholder
Tim Jarvis & Tim Flannery talk Climate Change
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - robo baby, university rankings, and cancer on circadian rhythms
Placeholder
From chocolate factory to surgery - the milliDelta robot
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science: video games, low tech transition windows and a new CRISPR technique
Placeholder
Science lessons useful in Art Restoration career
Placeholder
Are drones the future of racing?
Placeholder
The future of esports according to the experts
Placeholder
Seeing is believing with artist Eugenie Lee
Placeholder
The human impace of Art Science collaboration
Placeholder
Follow your Interests in Robotics
Placeholder
Zoz on 3D Printing
Placeholder
Flavia Tata Nardini on women in engineering
Placeholder
Flavia Tata Nardini on the future of the internet
Placeholder
Explore the ocean floor and Antarctic biodiversity
Placeholder
Follow your interests in Medical Research
Placeholder
Artists on Science
Placeholder
What is Space Archaeology?
Placeholder
Follow your Interests
Placeholder
Scientists on Art
Placeholder
3D Printing in Medical Research
Placeholder
Ethical Issues
Placeholder
Problem Solving - Robotics at Dermatec
Placeholder
Problem Solving with CSI
Placeholder
Tamarah King - Earthquake Geologist
Placeholder
True or False with Bajo and Rad BONUS ROUND
Placeholder
True or False with Bajo & Rad
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - Cats vs Dogs
Placeholder
FameLab 2018 - Get Involved!
Placeholder
Nural Cokcetin - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Erinn Fagan-Jeffries - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Noushin Nasiri - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Ronald Yu - How FameLab changed my life
Placeholder
Alan Duffy's Top 5 Science Communication Tips
Placeholder
A Judge's Top Tips for FameLab Australia
Placeholder
Brain Candy - Why, Why, Why Michael Stevens?
Placeholder
The Past, Present, and Future of Malaria
Placeholder
This is a video of poo pills being made!
Placeholder
Mind Games - Sports Psychology
Placeholder
Fuel to Win - Sports Nutrition
Placeholder
Fifty years since Australia beat the world to space
Placeholder
ECR Network: Talk Your Science with Alan Duffy
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - chimps, klompen, and clouds
Placeholder
Our robot medicine future - heart huggers and micro biohybrids
Placeholder
Six Awkward Cancer Questions
Placeholder
How do you tell if a whale is left-handed?
Placeholder
She Flies - Turning Girls into Drone Pilots
Placeholder
Andy's Week in Science - Magnetic Fabric, Cancer Treatments, and Echolocation
Placeholder
The Science of Sexuality
Placeholder
Sailing Through Space with Bill Nye
Placeholder
Using Sports Science to Help Olympic Athletes
Placeholder
Three and a Half Minutes of Top Shelf Career Advice
Placeholder
New Space Tech with Andrea Boyd
Placeholder
Kelly Meets the Mars Curiosity Rover
Placeholder
Hearts, Opera, and Tough Conversations - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Bill Nye on Science, Girls, and Saving the World!
Placeholder
2017 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Part 2
Placeholder
2017 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Part 1
Placeholder
Who Decides the Law in Space?
Placeholder
Scientists Watch Collision That Created Gravitational Waves
Placeholder
Getting Cold Feet Leads to a Whole New Career
Placeholder
ECR Network - Why Every Scientist Should Be on Twitter - The Benefits
Placeholder
ECR Network - Why Every Scientist Should Be On Twitter - The Fears
Placeholder
Live Podcast - Life Vs Science
Placeholder
Origami Robots, Babies, and Kidneys - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Namira Salim and the Zero-G Peace Summit
Placeholder
Elon Musk's Mars Plan: Expert Analysis
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Thursday
Placeholder
My Time in Space
Placeholder
IAC TV Daily Broadcast - Wednesday
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Wednesday
Placeholder
IAC TV Daily broadcast - Tuesday
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Tuesday
Placeholder
IAC TV daily broadcast - Monday
01:00:41
Placeholder
SPACE AF - Monday
Placeholder
Live from IAC 2017
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Technology Rewrites History
Placeholder
Methamphetamine - Gateway Drug to Parkinson's Disease
Placeholder
Concussion, 3D BioPrinting, and The Universe - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Pulsars, Clearwigs, and Pacemakers - Andy's Week in Science
Placeholder
Revolutions - The Quest to Transform HPV Racing
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Hurricane Irma Blows Away Tesla's Rip Off
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Limit of Your Lifespan
Placeholder
The Recipient
Placeholder
Think Like a Scientist: Natural Selection in an Outbreak
Placeholder
The End of Snow
Placeholder
The Next Rembrandt
Placeholder
The Discarded
Placeholder
The Spectators
Placeholder
Test Tube Babes
Placeholder
Pangolins in Peril- A Story of Rare Scales
Placeholder
Rock Art Project
Placeholder
Pork.0
Placeholder
OWSIA (Darkened Water)
Placeholder
Nex
Placeholder
Northern Quolls
Placeholder
Dish Life
Placeholder
At Street Level
Placeholder
Custom Love
Placeholder
Adrift
Placeholder
A Story from Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Most Dangerous Thing in Boxing May Be the Gloves
Placeholder
ECR Network 2017 – Get Interdisciplinary!
01:27:00
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: The Future of Space Exploration
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: Life After Space
Placeholder
Chris Hadfield: Life in Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Let's Make Algae Australian of the Year
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Australia's Energy Showdown
Placeholder
Nine Awkward Astrophysicist Questions
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - There's No Such Thing as an Exercise Pill
Placeholder
National Science Week Awards Show
Placeholder
ECR Network 2017 - Grant Writing Workshop
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Your 5 Step Asteroid Success Plan
Placeholder
National Science Week Forecast
Placeholder
Open Doors. Open Future. Open Day.
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Lose a Little to Gain Millions
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Crowd Sourcing Origami Astronaut Protection
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - T-Rex's Prehistoric Power Walk
Placeholder
True or False with Kale Brock
Placeholder
The Grandfather Paradox
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Hidden Heroes Tackling Mozzies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Emergency AI Assistance
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Frogs Forever, Dinosaurs Never!
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Australia, Let's Go To Space
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Welcome to the Microbiome, Archaea!
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Roos Blindside Driverless Cars
Placeholder
Biodiversity of Antarctica Under Threat From Increase In Ice-Free Areas
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Future of the Census
Placeholder
Tell Me! Brian Cox
Placeholder
Crash, Burn, Tweak, Repeat
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Humans Just Got Older and Wiser
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Cheers to Brain Health?
Placeholder
Gene Therapy Could Cure Allergies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - iHeart Hacking
Placeholder
Ridiculology - New Hubble
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Trees Alone Can't Save Us
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Earth's Accidental Force Field
Placeholder
Dinosaurs on the Big Screen
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Farewell MP3
Placeholder
Kids Beat Grown-ups on Pneumonia Vaccines
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - The Booger Conspiracy
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 National Final - Part 2
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 National Final - Part 1
Placeholder
2017 Budget Response
Placeholder
What Are Animal Weapons?
Placeholder
If You Love Both Art and Science, Be a Scientific Illustrator
Placeholder
Getting Personal With Skinks
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - CSIRO Email Leaks
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 Western Australia Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - New Hope for Premmies
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Britain Goes Coal-Free
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Naked Mole-Rats (SFW)
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Easter Reminders
Placeholder
Meet Andrea Boyd - Space Flight Controller
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Sperm Drug Smugglers
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 New South Wales Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
The Science of Fiction
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Liquorice Poisoning
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Crowdsourcing Science
Placeholder
FameLab 2017 Queensland Semi-Final Highlights
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - SpaceX Preps for Relaunch
Placeholder
Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome Breakthrough
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Surviving a Media Storm
Placeholder
Will This Aussie Team Win the Race to Create the Ultimate Malaria Vaccine?
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - New Dino Family Tree
Placeholder
How to fix things with Kyle Wiens
Placeholder
Repair or replace? iFixit co-founder Kyle Wiens
Placeholder
Special Investigation - No Alternative to Cancer
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Raspberry Pi is Number 3 Best-Selling Computer
Placeholder
If reefs can't adapt, are they doomed?
Placeholder
Art, Music, Science, Society - Sir Tim Smit Has Thoughts On It All
Placeholder
Assembling the Best Team (according to Sir Tim Smit)
Placeholder
What's up with the Rogue Ginger?
Placeholder
Make Me A Martian
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Recognising the Ethical Dilemma in Facial Tracking Software
Placeholder
Science Communication Around the Globe
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Elon to the Rescue
Placeholder
Sing Us a Song, Spaceman!
Placeholder
Feather Map Of Australia Citizen Science Project
Placeholder
Tim Jarvis vs Mountain: Neuroscience
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Don't Pee in the Pool!
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - A New Organ That's as Old as You Are
Placeholder
Brew Ha Ha - Australia's Bill of Sexual Health
Placeholder
Budget 2016 - The Science Forecast
Placeholder
Ideas Boom - What the Innovation Statement Means for You
Placeholder
Celebrating the 2016 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science
Placeholder
Behind the Scenes at Science Meets Parliament 2016