Declining sperm quality: Male infertility on the rampage!

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By Sola Ogundipe

There is alarm in reproductive health circles. Male infertility is on the rampage. All over the world, reports of declining sperm quality and increasing male infertility attributable to low sperm count and poor sperm motility and morphology are making the rounds.

Indeed it is becoming more challenging for the typical African, Asian, American or European male to preserve his manliness and perpetuate his masculinity, particularly with regards to fertility and vitality. A man’s sperms carry half the genetic material necessary to make a complete human being. A woman’s egg holds the other half.

Increasingly, experts are reporting incidences of men with genetically fragile sperms. Such sperm have fragmented DNA chains, which make them to be of low quality and less capable of fertilisation.

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Male infertility can be caused by various factors such as hormone disorders, illness, injury to reproductive anatomy, obstruction or sexual dysfunction. These factors can temporarily or permanently affect sperm and prevent conception. Some disorders become more difficult to treat the longer they persist without infertility treatment. But there is hope. The first step of any successful treatment is the proper diagnosis of the male infertility cause.

But the same experts, who used to think the problem was only genetic in nature, are beginning to have a rethink as studies have shown that lifestyle issues are involved.

They now know that the drastic reduction in men’s sperm counts is being driven by a deadly combination of estrogenic (feminising) toxins in the food supply; harmful chemicals in the environment, and poor lifestyle.

In Europe, records show that an average of 1 in 18 men has low sperm count, and the numbers of men who are affected are rapidly increasing.

The situation is no better in America, probably worse, and although there are no specific data, the numbers are not expected to be far off for Nigerian men. “We are seeing more men who are having bad sperms, weak sperms and abnormal sperms, and there is a real need to explore a suitable intervention to meet the growing proportion of men that need help in this direction,” noted Dr. Abayomi Ajayi, a fertility treatment specialist, and Medical Director, Nordica, Fertiliy Clinic, Lagos, Asaba and Abuja.

Lamenting the spate of declining male fertility, Ajayi, observed: “There are many things in the environment causing what is described as oestrogenisation of men. Things such as paint, exposure to petrol and even insecticides can affect sperm count. Men working in fuel stations, for instance, are known to suffer from low sperm counts.”

In the view of Dr. Richardson Ajayi, Medical Director, The Bridge Clinic, Lagos , “Our grandfathers had higher sperm count than our fathers who had higher sperm counts than our generation. There are many theories, but a common theory is that the male of our species is getting exposed to a lot more female hormones than ever, basically due to a lot of xerophenes in the atmosphere. This comes from plastics used for packaging; plastics used for computers etc. These xerophenes have female hormone oestrogen-like effects and exposure of males to them could be deleterious.”

Clinical records show that in Nigeria, 25 percent of couples are infertile, and that half of the causes are due to male factor issues. An assessment of hospital data from the four leading tertiary health institutions revealed that over 90 percent of male infertility cases are either due to low sperm counts or poor sperm quality, or a combination of both.

To illustrate the continuing decline of male fertility in the modern world, French researchers in a brand new study published in the Human Reproduction journal, conducted a study on French men aged 18 to 70, tracking their average sperm counts across the country between 1989 and 2005.

Their findings showed a drop in sperm counts among all French men in this age range, of about 1.9 percent per year on average, and by 32.3 percent on average over the course of the 16-year period studied, while the number of normally-shaped sperm dropped by 33.4 percent during the study period.

“This constitutes a serious public health warning,” said Dr. Joelle Le Moal, an environmental health epidemiologist and one of the researchers. “To our knowledge, this is the first study concluding a severe and general decrease in sperm concentration and morphology at the scale of a whole country over a substantial period.”

Le Moal said the downward trend observed in the study clearly illustrates a perpetual decline in male fertility, which more than likely extends far outside the borders of France and around the world. Based on the figures, average sperm concentrations dropped from 73.6 million per milliliter (mi/mL) among 35-year-old men in 1989 to 49.9 mi/mL among the same age group in 2005, highlighting a disastrous situation.  Similar findings have been observed in the United States of America, where sperm counts have been on the decline for more than 50 years.

Among reasons attributed to the trend is the presence of Bisphenol-A, BPA and other plastics chemicals, pesticide and herbicide residues in conventional food, fluoride in the water supply, radiation-emitting mobile phones and laptop computers, pharmaceutical drugs, and many other factors are all responsible for the massive decline in male fertility both in the U.S. and abroad. ”

It’s most likely a reflection of the fact that many environmental and lifestyle changes over the past 50 years are inherently detrimental to sperm production,” says Professor Richard Sharpe, a fertility research expert at the United Kingdom-based Medical Research Council, MRC.

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