Is the human race doomed? Fresh fears that the human species face imminent extinction have emerged following findings from a new study showing that the quality of men’s sperm all around the world is rapidly declining due to pollution, sedentary lifestyle and junk food.
The experts say sedentary lifestyles lower sperm production, while cheap and saturated fats found in junk food are known to harm sperm counts. They are warning that more men will become infertile over time, threatening the future.
A man’s sperms carry half the genetic material necessary to make a complete human being. A woman’s egg holds the other half.
But this alarm in reproductive health circles is not new. All over the world, reports of declining sperm quality and increasing male infertility attributable to low sperm count and poor sperm motility and morphology have been making the rounds. The typical African, Asian, American or European male has been battling declining sperm quality for decades.
In 2017, health experts warned that the human species could face extinction, after facts emerged that the average sperm count in Western countries had more than halved in a generation.
The latest findings reveal that men’s sperm quality is falling every year due mainly to unhealthy health habits and sedentary lifestyle and health experts are worried that modern life is destroying male fertility.
One study by fertility clinics established that the number of active sperm in men’s semen sample drops 1.8 per cent each year. Another study found that male fertility is declining in five out of six American cities. The new findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Denver, Colorado. The findings compelled the issuance of a public health warning that junk food, lack of exercise and pollution may be fueling the spermaggeddon (sperm death) crisis.
Researchers led by the Sidney Kimmel Medical College in Philadelphia and fertility clinic IVIRMA monitored almost 120,000 men seeking treatment for fertility problems in Spain and the US from 2002 to 2017. The men were put into three groups based on the millions of swimming sperm in their semen samples.
“Fertility clinics found that the number of moving sperm—or ‘swimmers’—in men’s samples has dropped by 1.8 per cent each year. Measuring ‘swimmers’ is seen as a better way of judging fertility than sperm count alone. Among American men in the most fertile group, who had more than 15 million moving sperm, this went down by 1.8 per cent for each year of the study.
Between 2002 and 2005, 84.7 per cent of men were in the most fertile group, but this fell to 79.1 per cent between 2014 and 2017. At the same time, the proportion of the least fertile men rose. Those with poor fertility, from five million swimming sperm to none, increased from less than 9 per cent of the total to 11.6 per cent.
Co-author of the study, Dr James Hotaling, stated: “We did not expect to see the same fall in sperm quality in Spain and the US. If this trend continues, there is potential for more men to become infertile.”
A UK expert, Professor Charles Kingsland, of CARE fertility, also said: “Our change to a more sedentary lifestyle has no doubt had an effect, as has our diet because men tend to eat far more rubbish than they did a generation ago.”
The second study, led by Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, involved more than 2,500 sperm donors. It found that fertility declined over 11 years in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Boston, Houston and Indianapolis. New York was the only one of the six cities studied to buck the trend.
Sedentary lifestyles are believed to lower sperm production, while cheap and saturated fats found in junk food are known to harm sperm counts. Bisphenol A (BPA), widely used in plastic wrappers and containers, is known to be toxic to sperm.
Sperm counts have been on the decline for more than 50 years and many factors are responsible. The trend is essentially a reflection of the inherently detrimental effect to sperm production of environmental and lifestyle changes over the past half century or more.
Increasingly, experts have been reporting incidences of men with genetically fragile sperms. Such sperm have fragmented DNA chains, which make them to be of low quality and less capable of fertilisation.
While it was thought that the problem was only genetic in nature, it is now known that lifestyle issues are involved.
“We are seeing more men who are having bad sperms, weak sperms and abnormal sperms, and there is a real need to explore a suitable intervention to meet the growing proportion of men that need help in this direction,” noted Dr. Abayomi Ajayi, a fertility treatment specialist, and Medical Director, Nordica, Fertility Clinic, Lagos, Asaba and Abuja.
“There are many things in the environment causing what is described as oestrogenisation of men. Things such as paint, exposure to petrol and even insecticides can affect sperm count. Men working in fuel stations, for instance, are known to suffer from low sperm counts.”
According to Dr. Richardson Ajayi, Medical Director, The Bridge Clinic, Lagos, “Our grandfathers had higher sperm count than our fathers who had higher sperm counts than our generation. A common theory is that the male of our species is getting exposed to a lot more female hormones than ever, basically due to a lot of xerophenes in the atmosphere. These xerophenes have female hormone oestrogen-like effects and exposure of males to them could be deleterious.”
Clinical records show that in Nigeria, 25 percent of couples are infertile, and that half of the causes are due to male factor issues.
To illustrate the continuing decline of male fertility in the modern world, French researchers once conducted a study on French men aged 18-70, tracking their average sperm counts across the country between 1989 and 2005. Their findings showed a drop in sperm counts among all French men in this age range, of about 1.9 percent per year on average, and by 32.3 percent on average over the course of the 16-year period studied, while the number of normally-shaped sperm dropped by 33.4 percent during the study period.
“This constitutes a serious public health warning,” said Dr. Joelle Le Moal, an environmental health epidemiologist and one of the researchers. Le Moal said the downward trend observed in the study clearly illustrates a perpetual decline in male fertility, which more than likely extended far outside the borders of France and around the world.
Based on the figures, average sperm concentrations dropped from 73.6 million per milliliter (mi/mL) among 35-year-old men in 1989 to 49.9 mi/mL among the same age group in 2005, highlighting a disastrous situation.