Despite the fact that sperm quality appears to be declining internationally, it remains a little-discussed cause of male infertility. However, scientists are now homing in on the source of the problem.
Male infertility affects 7% of the male population and accounts for around half of all male infertility cases. Nonetheless, due to societal and cultural taboos surrounding it, it receives significantly less attention than female infertility. As a result, the cause of most men’s fertility problems is unclear, and many suffer in silence due to embarrassment.
According to the study, the problem may be getting worse. Pollution, for example, has been shown to affect men’s fertility, specifically sperm quality, with potentially disastrous consequences for individuals and entire civilizations.
Is there an unnoticed male infertility crisis?
The world’s population has increased dramatically over the previous century. Within a human lifetime, there were only 2.5 billion people on Earth 70 years ago. By 2022, the world’s population will have risen to eight billion. Yet, population growth has halted, mostly due to social and economic concerns.
Birth rates are at an all-time low worldwide. Without migration, approximately half of the world’s population resides in nations with fertility rates below two children per woman, resulting in populations that would steadily shrink. Positive changes, such as women’s increased financial independence and control over their reproductive health, are among the factors contributing to the drop in birth rates. According to studies, many couples in low-fertility countries would prefer to have more children than they do, but they may delay for social and economic reasons, such as a lack of family support.
At the same time, another form of fertility known as fecundity, which relates to a person’s physical ability to make babies, may be declining. In addition, according to research, the full spectrum of male reproductive diseases, including declining sperm counts, falling testosterone levels, and an increase in the prevalence of erectile dysfunction and testicular cancer, is on the rise.
Cells that float
“Sperm are amazing cells,” says Sarah Martins Da Silva, a clinical reader in reproductive health at the University of Dundee and a practicing gynecologist.
Small changes can greatly influence these highly specialized cells, especially their ability to fertilize an egg. Yet, the ability to move efficiently (motility), the shape and size (morphology), and the number of eggs in a given quantity of sperm are all crucial reproductive parameters (known as sperm count). As a result, when a man has a fertility test, such features are evaluated.
Sperm count, according to Hagai Levine, is closely associated with reproductive prospects. While a higher sperm count does not always signify a higher chance of conception, the chance of conception drops drastically below the 40 million/ml level.
In 2022, Levine and his colleagues published an investigation of global fluctuations in sperm count. Sperm counts fell by 1.2% each year between 1973 and 2018, from 104 to 49 million/ml. After 2000, the annual rate of decline has grown to more than 2.6%.
This acceleration, according to Levine, could be related to epigenetic alterations, which are changes in how genes work caused by environmental or lifestyle factors. A separate study, for example, suggests that epigenetics may play a role in sperm changes and male infertility.
The idea that epigenetic changes can be transmitted across generations is still contested, while evidence suggests that it is possible.
Male infertility, according to studies, may predict future health problems. However, the specific link is unknown. According to one view, certain lifestyle factors may contribute to infertility and other health problems.
Individual lifestyle changes may not be sufficient to reverse sperm quality decline. Furthermore, hazardous pollutants are becoming a bigger environmental threat, according to new studies.
A dangerous environment can cause male infertility
Rebecca Blanchard, a veterinary teaching associate and researcher at Nottingham University in the United Kingdom, investigates the impact of household contaminants on male reproductive health. She is using canines as sentinels, much like an early-warning alarm system for human health.
Her research focused on substances found in polymers, fire retardants, and everyday household items. Some of these compounds have been banned, but they are still present in older items in the environment. According to her studies, these toxins can disrupt our hormonal systems and harm dog and human fertility.
The findings are consistent with prior research showing that chemicals in plastics, household medications, the food chain, and the air affect fertility. It affects men and women alike, as well as babies. For example, black carbon, eternal chemicals, and phthalates have all been discovered to reach babies while they are developing.
Climate change may cause male fertility, with several animal studies indicating that sperm is especially vulnerable to the effects of rising temperatures. Heatwaves have been shown to impair insect sperm, and a comparable effect in humans has been seen. A study published in 2022 revealed that high ambient temperature, whether generated by global warming or working in a hot workplace, had a negative impact on sperm quality.
Bad eating habits, stress, and alcohol consumption
Individual issues such as poor diet, sedentary lifestyles, stress, and alcohol and drug use, as well as environmental factors, can cause male infertility.
Individuals have children later in life in recent decades, and while women are regularly reminded of their biological clock, age was assumed to be unimportant in male fertility. That perception is shifting. Advanced paternal age has been linked to lower sperm quality and fertility.
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There is a growing desire for more information about male infertility, creative approaches to its prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, and a greater understanding of the vital need to address pollution.
Can anyone, however, do anything to protect or improve sperm quality?
Exercise and a healthier diet are two things that have been linked to improved sperm quality. Blanchard advises choosing organic foods and plastics free of BPA (Bisphenol A), a toxin linked to male and female fertility disorders.
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