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Something weird is happening with Western men's sperm - and pollution could be responsible


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Let's talk about sperm, and more precisely Western male's sperm, because it seems male fertility is facing a sharp decline in Western nations - and environmental pollution could be responsible.

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A meta-analysis of existing literature suggests sperm counts in Western countries have declined by as much as 50 percent.

According to a study published this past summer, there may be something weird going on with men's sperm. The study found a sharp decline in sperm count between 1973 to 2011 in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand where sperm counts seems to have dropped by more than 50 percent.

The study cannot show why sperm counts are declining. But the author of the study believes that various environmental factors, such as harmful chemicals, could be responsible for the steep decline in sperm counts, and worse yet, the drop doesn't seem to show any signs of slowing down.

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Studies have already shown that common hormone-disrupting chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates can affect sperm count and performance. [...] “We thought that maybe there would be some leveling off,” Levine says. “I mean, say we are exposed to certain chemicals or poor lifestyle. At some point it should be leveling off. And we actually see that not only is it not leveling off, but it's become steeper."

 

Because data from non-Western nations are either missing, not reliable or inadequate, the study couldn't show an equivalent decline in sperm counts from males in South America, Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

One could be tempted to think that this study shows how Western culture, lifestyle and industrialization exposes men to more harmful chemicals than typical lifestyles in the non-Western world, but again, this study is not capable of drawing such conclusions.

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“We have much less data from non-Western studies, especially in the early period,” says Levine. “And since our model requires enough data, it's difficult to assess the trends over time in the non-Western countries.”

Research out of China suggests a more recent sperm count decline. If those results hold up, they suggest that Levine's theory about pollution might be correct: Over the past 20 years, China has become more Western in terms of environmental pollutants and dietary habits.

“We can't say if there's a decline or not for non-Western countries,” he adds. “But if there is a decline it's to less extent than the steep decline that we see for Western countries.”

What do you think is causing the steep decline in sperm counts? And is it just happening in the West or is it a global problem?

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