By Sola Ogundipe

A paper published 20 years reviewed 61 studies of semen quality carried out between 1938 and 1990, and their conclusions published in 1992 were shocking.

They found that sperm quality was declining. Today, male sperm counts around the world are dropping fast at a rate of two per cent every year and have more than halved in the past 50 years.

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  reproduce his own kind. Normally, a man’s  fertility declines as  he ages, but Sunday Vanguard’s findings show that the current rate of decline as a result of poor sperm parameters is significant. So what could be responsible for this rapid decline?

With 40 percent of fertility issues being male related, male infertility is becoming more predominant as a result of men being diagnosed with low sperm count and poor motility, more  frequently, the man is being identified as the reason why couples are not getting pregnant.

Despite fact that many of the sperm conditions affecting male fertility are preventable or reversible, approximately two thirds of infertile men have sperm production problems, either because enough sperm is not being made, or the sperm is not functioning properly or a combination of both problems.

The reasons  are not far-fetched. They  range from our increasingly stressful lifestyles, poor diet and environmental factors.Sunday Vanguard  gathered that apart from the genetic nature of the problem  of male infertility, lifestyle issues are involved.

For instance it is now known that 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.

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.

Male infertility can be caused by various factors such as hormone disorders, illness, injury to reproductive anatomy, obstruction or sexual dysfunction, etc. 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.

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.  In Denmark, about 40 percent of the men have low sperm count, so it’s a big problem.

The situation is no better even in the United States of America, probably worse, and although there are no specific data, the numbers are not expected to be far off for Nigerian men.

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 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 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.

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.

Role of tight pants

For about one-half of couples with fertility problems, experts say low sperm count is the cause. So something as simple as changing the kind of underwear a man wears can make a difference. This is because the temperature of the testes is at issue: In order for testes to produce sufficient quality and quantity of sperm, the temperature of testes must be lower than the core body temperature.

Testes can overheat when a man wears brief underwear. If the testes are too hot — several degrees above where they should be — they are not able to produce sufficient sperm, resulting in low sperm    count.

To keep testes at optimal temperature, don’t wear tight pants — particularly during sports activities. Wear loose clothing, especially if you sit for long periods of time. Wear boxer shorts at all times and stay away from saunas and hot tubs.

Risk factors every man must know

Low sperm counts or poor sperm motility may be due to environmental toxins such as chemicals, radiation, drugs, heavy metal exposure, cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol use, street drug use and pollution.

Drugs such as cimetidine and ranitidine have both been reported to decrease sperm count and produce impotence.

A school of is convinced that exposure to pesticides may be contributing to falling sperm counts. Because of this link, fertility experts are advising all men trying to conceive to switch to organic food or thoroughly scrub fruits and vegetables to cut their exposure to harmful chemicals.

Painters, decorators, printers, welders, builders, taxi drivers and office workers could also be at risk from male infertility.

Heat can also reduce sperm production. Welders may be risking infertility because of the high temperatures associated with their work and the risk of exposure to metals such as lead. Heat can raise the temperature of the testicles which can cause a decline in sperm levels and scientists have recently discovered a link between high lead levels in semen and low fertility levels.  Hot baths, sitting for long periods of time and tight-fitting underwear that constricts the testes can all elevate temperatures long enough to suppress sperm production.

Taxi drivers and long-haul lorry drivers are thought to be at risk from sitting in the same position for long periods of time. This can raise the temperature of the testicles, causing sperm levels to drop.

Same thing goes for office workers who spend hours sitting in front of a computer. Scientists say you should take a break every 20 to 30 minutes to get away from your desk and help regulate the temperature of the testicles.

High stress levels can cause the body to release the hormone cortisol which is thought to interfere with sperm production.

What is normal sperm count?

The average sperm count is between 120 – 350 million per cubic centimetre. A low sperm count is below 40 million per cubic centimetre.

However, a “normal” sperm count will have    an overall volume of at least 1.5ml, a density of more than 15 million sperm per ml and motility of    at least 40 per cent and a proportion of normal forms of three to four per cent or greater.

That is not to say that couples with a lower sperm count won’t get pregnant – after all, it just takes one sperm – just that the chances of pregnancy are reduced by low sperm counts or sperm that do not swim well.

The complete absence of sperm in the ejaculate (azoospermia) can be either because of a blockage in the organ that stores and nourishes sperm as they mature (epididymis) or in the long tube that transports sperm cells from the epididymis to the testicles (vas deferens), or a problem with the actual production of sperm in the testicles.

Even if sperm are not being produced, it may be possible to surgically extract enough sperm cells from the testes to use for assisted conception.

Abnormal morphology (the shape of the sperm) and poor motility (how they move) can prevent the sperm from reaching the  egg. The sperm need good motility to be able to swim well and survive for a number of hours in the female reproductive tract. If they do meet an egg, abnormal-looking sperm might be incapable of fertilising it.

Antibodies are the body’s natural defence against foreign objects. They are part of the immune system. Sometimes a woman’s immune system can identify sperm as foreign and develop antibodies against them. A man can even develop antibodies against his own sperm – an issue most common in men who have had a vasectomy reversal.

The antibodies can attack the sperm by paralysing them, causing them to clump together or coating them so that they can’t fertilise the egg. Antibodies will be found in the semen, the cervical mucus, or either partner’s blood.

Tips to boost perm count

Get your rest.

Improve your diet

Keep your weight in check and drink plenty of water, too Reduce stress, as it can interfere with the hormones that assist in sperm production

If you smoke, quit today

Reduce alcohol consumption or stop drinking altogether.

Exercise regularly


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