Fertility at risk as western men’s sperm count plummets by half

Smoking, obesity, exposure to pollution and unhealthy diets blamed, global research reveal.

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Obesity, smoking and exposure to pollution and pesticides are among the possible causes of a dramatic drop in sperm count that greatly threatens the ability to conceive children.
Research into global studies between 1973 and 2011 has been published in the medical journal Human Reproduction Update and is said to be the most comprehensive of its kind.
Analysis of complex data was conducted by Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Jerusalem.
Dr Levine found a 52.4 per cent decline in sperm concentration and 59.3 per cent decline in total sperm count in western men from Europe, North America, New Zealand and Australia.
There have not been enough accurate studies on men in Asia, Africa and South America to trace any trend.
Dr Pankaj Shrivastav, director of Conceive Fertility Hospital in Dubai, who set up the UAE's first in-vitro fertilisation clinic in 1991, said the results should be warning to all men.
"I'm not at all surprised by the findings of this research as we have seen a steady decline in the quality of sperm count," Dr Shrivastav said. "I don't believe the problem is just confined to western men either.
"We see far more men with poorer sperm counts now and there are many contributing factors. All of these chemicals, pesticides and preservatives that are coming into our food chain are having an impact, as are animals being fed hormones and the plastic bottles used in our water supply.
"They are all contributing to the quality of eggs and sperm."
Obesity and smoking are major factors in reduced fertility for men and women, with pollutants from industry and vehicle fumes also having an effect.
Dr Shrivastav said the latest figures on male fertility were alarming.
The Dubai Health Authority's latest findings show about 50 per cent of women in the UAE have fertility problems, partly caused by a shifting demographic trend coupled with late marriages and a delayed family.
A UN study estimates the global IVF market will be worth up to US$21.6 billion, or Dh79.33bn, by 2020.
"These combined factors of modern life act as hormone disruptors and are having the same impact as chemical castration," Dr Shrivastav said.
"People have to be sensible and to be aware of what is coming in to their food supply. There is also an argument against men eating tofu products, which contain levels of oestrogen.
"There are no real supplements that effectively improve sperm production, but men should worry more about living a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a good diet, and not smoking."
 Dr Zakwan Khrait, reproductive endocrinology and fertility specialist at Medcare Hospital, agreed that a similar drop in numbers would probably apply in the region.
"The fertility rate in general here would be 50 per cent less than their grandfathers, so yes it's common here as well," Dr Khrait said.
"Also in the UAE you find all nationalities, so a man comes here from his own country where he has already been exposed to other factors such as environment and lifestyle, and he will continue with the same lifestyle here."
Men also held back on being examined, Dr Khrait said. He urged couples requiring fertility treatment to first check the male partner instead of spending time on long gynaecological examinations.
"The men will always think they are fine, but we should start an examination from him and then go to her," he said. "Even the first easy step when we request a sperm test, they say, 'I'm fine, I'm normal', and ask to start with their wife.
"So usually after the gynaecological clinic and examinations of the woman, then they discover that the man is not doing well. There is low motility or an abnormality."