Scientists warn of sperm count crisis

Biggest-ever study confirms drastic decline in male reproductive health

The reproductive health of the average male is in sharp decline, the world's largest study of the quality and concentration of sperm has found.

Between 1989 and 2005, average sperm counts fell by a third in the study of 26,000 men, increasing their risk of infertility. The amount of healthy sperm was also reduced, by a similar proportion.

The findings confirm research over the past 20 years that has shown sperm counts declining in many countries across the world. Reasons ranging from tight underwear to toxins in the environment have been advanced to explain the fall, but still no definitive cause has been found.

The decline occurred progressively hroughout the 17-year period, suggesting that it could be continuing.

The latest research was conducted in France but British experts say it has global implications. The scientists said the results constituted a "serious public health warning" and that the link with the environment "particularly needs to be determined".

The worldwide fall in sperm counts has been accompanied by a rise in testicular cancer – rates have doubled in the last 30 years – and in other male sexual disorders such as undescended testes, which are indicative of a "worrying pattern", scientists say.

There is an urgent need to establish the causes so measures can be taken to prevent further damage, they add.

Richard Sharpe, professor of reproductive health at the University of Edinburgh and an international expert on toxins in the environment, said the study was "hugely impressive" and answered sceptics who doubted whether the global decline was real.

"Now, there can be little doubt that it is real, so it is a time for action. Something in our modern lifestyle, diet or environment is causing this and it is getting progressively worse. We still do not know which are the most important factors but the most likely are … a high-fat diet and environmental chemical exposures."

Researchers from the Institut de Veille Sanitaire, St Maurice, used data from 126 fertility clinics in France which had collected semen samples from the male partners of women with blocked or missing fallopian tubes. The men, whose average age was 35, did not have fertility problems of their own and were therefore considered representative of the general male population.

The results, reported in the journal Human Reproduction, showed the concentration of sperm per millilitre of semen declined progressively by 1.9 per cent a year throughout the 17 years – from 73.6 million sperm per millilitre in 1989 to 49.9 million/ml in 2005. The proportion of normally formed sperm also decreased by 33.4 per cent over the same period.

Although the average sperm count of the men was well above the threshold definition of male infertility – which is 15 million/ml – it was below the World Health Organisation threshold of 55 million/ml which is thought to lengthen the time to conceive. Other European studies have shown that one in five young men has a sperm count low enough to cause problems conceiving.

Combined with other social trends, such as delayed childbearing which reduces female fertility, the decline in sperm counts could signal a crisis for couples hoping for a family.

Sperm count: How to boost it

1. Wear loose underwear – to make healthy sperm the testicles need to be below body temperature.

2. Eat food low in saturated fat.

3. Avoid smoking, drinking, using drugs and becoming obese.

4. Reduce exposure to industrial chemicals such as those used in making plastics – they can mimic the female hormone oestrogen countering male hormones.

5. Protect women in pregnancy – there is growing evidence that falling sperm counts may stem from effects in the womb.

6. Avoid anti-depressants – in rare cases they can cut sperm counts.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Sport
football
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?