In a shocking new article from Haaretz, Netta Ahituv writes that "in the past 40 years, Western men’s sperm count has declined by half."
In 2015, Dr. Hagai Levine from the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Professor Shanna Swan from Mount Sinai’s Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, and other researchers carried out an examination of 7,500 sperm count studies.
Controlling for a number of possible variances, they came to the conclusion that sperm counts in Western men have fallen precipitously "between 1973 and 2011."
The results stunned even the researchers. Over the course of those 40 years, among Western males, sperm concentration (the number of sperm per milliliter) fell by 52.4 percent, while total sperm count (sperm concentration multiplied by the volume of the sample) by 59.3 percent.
Their findings, which were published in Human Reproductive Update in July, are obviously quite comprehensive. Here are the nine most interesting and important pieces of information you need to know from the study, as well as related information from the article by Ahituv:
1. In a different study conducted by Levine and Swan, it was found that pesticides appeared to affect sperm count in men. The men in the study that consumed fruits and vegetables exposed to more pesticides had lower sperm counts than the men who ingested fruits and vegetables that came in contact with fewer pesticides.
2. Phthalates, chemicals in some plastics, are "endocrine disrupters." Ahituv writes that a recently published document from "the chief scientist of Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry and the Public Health Services unit of the Health Ministry" stated that "in laboratory animals it was found that exposure to phthalates affects the reproductive system and has effects on health," including "a low sperm count in adults." These affects are allegedly beginning to be seen in human testing as well.
3. Phthalates are in many products including detergent, carpets, food, soap, electronics, and others.
4. A 2014 study by the "Health Ministry" found "10 of the 11 types of phthalates were found in the urine of 98% of those tested, and that all 11 were found in 92% of the urine samples."
5. As men age, so too does their sperm. "Beginning in their mid-30s, the quality of sperm" declines, and "it’s also understood today that phenomena that in the past were thought to be associated solely with the age of the pregnant woman, such as autism or schizophrenia in newborns, are also related to the age of her male partner," writes Ahituv.
6. "A 2015 study ... found that infertile men were more likely to suffer from heart disease and diabetes, or, according to another study, cancer."
7. Although the meta-study doesn’t offer a concrete explanation as to why sperm counts are falling, it does offer some suggestions regarding how to increase one’s fertility. Exercise, eat healthy foods, don’t watch too much TV, and don’t wear tight underwear:
A 2013 study showed that men who engaged in sports and spent less time sitting had a sperm count that was 73% higher than less active men.
An American study demonstrated that men who watched 20 hours or more [of television] a week had a lower sperm count than those who didn't watch television.
Don't heat food in plastic containers, bags, or takeaway food packages. Studies of mice have demonstrated a connection between phthalates, which are found in plastics and released in the course of heating, and adverse effects on fertility.
Choose plastic products with a recycling code that is not 3 or 7, as they tend to contain more phthalates.
8. Professor Ronit Haimov-Kochman from Hebrew University of Jerusalem conducted a study using the data from the university hospital. She believes one reason for lowering sperm counts could be temperature and the environment:
The testicles are located external to the body and are therefore strongly affected by the outside temperature. It's possible that even minor temperature changes, such as those occurring because of global warming, cause a fall off in sperm quality.
9. Oh yeah, and don’t keep phones and computers near your genitals. As well as the heat possibly doing damage to one’s sperm count, "there are also theories associating non-ionizing radiation, such as emanates from cellphones and computers, with a lower count."