Male Infertility: A Threat to the Human Race?

Vincent Bargoin

December 01, 2022

A large-scale meta-analysis has confirmed that there has been a drop in average sperm counts in men — a situation affecting countries around the world and that shows no sign of slowing down. Jean-Marc Ayoubi, MD, head of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics and Reproductive Medicine at Foch Hospital in Suresnes, France, gives us the inside story.

In 1973, the average sperm count in men was 101 million per mL. In 2018, this figure had dropped by half (49 million/mL) — and this trend is speeding up, since the average drop in gametes in the sperm of the male population has more than doubled over the past 50 years, going from 1.16% between 1973 and 2000 to 2.64% per year between 2000 and 2018.

What's more, the decline is global, reports the meta-analysis of 223 studies, which was published in Human Reproduction Update. This analysis studied data from all continents, from economically developed countries and ones that are less so, in South America, Central America, Africa, and Asia. "We hope that the new evidence provided here will receive attention not only from clinicians and scientists, but also from decision-makers and the general public," the authors conclude.

How can this drop in sperm count be explained? What factors other than lifestyle and environmental aspects can impact fertility problems? Medscape Medical News asked Ayoubi these very questions. Ayoubi was not a co-author of the meta-analysis published in Human Reproduction Update.

Medscape: Why are the results published in Human Reproduction Update important?

Ayoubi: For more than 20 years, the results have been stacking up to reveal a drop in the number of sperm found in semen analyses. In itself, the information is not new. Nevertheless, the Levine et al meta-analysis is extremely important because it is based on high-quality research, and the results are now unequivocal. Until now, the data mainly came from industrialized countries, but in this meta-analysis, the data come from all continents.

Just like climate skeptics, up to now we could hide behind a sort of "yes, but" response. Now though, the drop in the average sperm count has been confirmed, it's a worldwide phenomenon, it's significant, and it's getting worse: soon it will reach 3% per year. It's no longer possible to turn a blind eye: now is the time to act.

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