It is not surprising that the majority of the discussion about fertility in our community centres around the important female fertility issues such as age, PCOS, Endometriosis, tubal disease and lifestyle factors.
It does, however, take a sperm as well as an egg to form an embryo, and if the latest, and increasing quality of research is considered, as a species, we humans have big problems evolving, with declining sperm counts and quality.
Far from having all the time in the world to become a father, the biological clock is ticking for future dads as well as future mothers. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, whereas men produce sperm all their life. This should give blokes little to worry about, but a recent study has raised serious concerns.
In his article in Human reproduction in November 2017, Dr Hagai Levine reported results from a meta-analysis of 185 studies of sperm quality from wealthy countries from 1973 to 2011. He found that sperm counts and quality have dropped by 60 percent over the last 40 years! And sperm counts continue to drop 1.6% per year.
Importantly, the studies collated DID NOT include men with known fertility problems, so at a population levels, these findings are important. It means that increasing numbers of men in our community have sperm counts that adversely impact on fertility. The impact of these findings may be that 10-15 % of men may have counts so low that they require IVF to conceive, and a further 20-25% could expect a prolonged wait to achieve a natural pregnancy.
SO what is the cause of this rapid decline? Well, it’s likely to be lifestyle related, and environmental in origin, as genetic selection pressures take much longer to cause an effect. The first impact on sperm production is thought to occur during pregnancy, and this sets the maximum counts the man will achieve. Maternal smoking is the only proven cause for this, but clearly, there are other factors yet to be discovered.
Other suspected environmental culprits are endocrine disruptors, such as BEP in plastics, pesticides, and some painkillers. Once the boy develops into a man, there are a range of other factors which can further worsen their “best case scenario”. Smoking, Obesity, Anabolic steroid use, and a poor diet adversely impact sperm quality.
There is some evidence that prolonged use of laptops may impact on sperm counts, and reasonable evidence that using tight underwear, and Jacuzzis also have an adverse effect.
If you are a cyclist, you’re in the clear! There is no evidence that this sport has a negative effect.
How about remedying the problem of a low sperm count? Well, there are no miracle cures, but stopping smoking, reducing BMI, wearing loose fitting underwear, and a Mediterranean style diet, will likely help, and common sense suggests that careful handling of chemicals in the work place may also help.
If you are worried about your, or your partner’s sperm count, a high quality semen analysis through Ballarat IVF’s Andrology Laboratory will provide some initial information. Feel free to contact the fertility nurses or Specialist Gynaecologists at Southwest fertility or Ballarat IVF for more information.
All the best