Hey, Guys — Here’s Why Your Sperm Count is Plummeting
July 31, 2017
By Jane Ridley and Doree Lewak, New York Post
Could we be facing the sperm apocalypse?
A frightening new study has revealed that sperm counts in men in Western countries have dropped by more than 50 percent in less than 40 years.
The research — which also found the rate of decline is not slowing — was carried out by experts at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Jerusalem and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Manhattan.
“Given the importance of sperm counts for male fertility and human health, this study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp ongoing drop in sperm count, with the goal of prevention,” says Dr. Hagai Levine, the study’s lead author.
“While the study did not examine causes of the decline, lower sperm counts have long been associated with conditions such as diabetes, cancer, varicose veins on the testicles and sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea or HIV.”
Environment and lifestyle are believed to play an important part in the equation. Here, experts share their thoughts on what else might be behind the plummeting levels — and what New York men can do about it.
You’re a party animal
Too much smoking, drinking or recreational drug use is going to put off a potential wife — and not just because it keeps you out late.
“Tobacco affects motility and shape of the sperm,” says Dr. Kenan Omurtag, a reproductive endocrinologist and reproductive specialist in St. Louis. His conclusions are in line with a 2016 study, published in BJU International, which showed that smokers’ DNA and sperm were damaged in ways that reduce the chances of fertilization.
Omurtag also says that marijuana and opioid use affect sperm production. “They effectively disrupt how the brain talks to the testicles,” he says.
Alcohol, the most accessible vice of the bunch, isn’t innocent. A study in the journal BMJ Open found that consuming five units of booze a week could affect sperm quality.
Your Netflix binges
Lying on your couch watching back-to-back episodes of “Game of Thrones” won’t do you any favors in the baby-making game.
“Lifestyle in 2017 is not the same as it was in 1967,” reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist Dr. Brian Levine, practice director at CCRM New York, says. “We’re a lot more sedentary.”
Urologist and fertility specialist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, of Orlando, Fla. — who has seen a sharp decline in overall sperm counts and quality of sperm in his patients over the four years he has been in practice — agrees.
“If you’re not getting 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week,” he says, “sperm counts will decline.”
According to a March 2012 study, obesity is one of the key culprits of low sperm production.
Researchers at Ambroise Paré University Hospital in Paris found that among obese men, 32.4 percent had a low sperm count and 6.9 percent had no viable sperm.
Your spin-class obsession
“Exercise is a good way to boost fertility but extreme exercise is not,” says Levine. “When you are starving the body or you’re in survival mode, sperm production is going to be hampered.”
Spinning can be especially ruinous. “You are on a bicycle seat and you are compressing the testicles,” Levine says.
The temperature generated during tough workouts (or workouts in a crowded, heated studio) could also “affect sperm production,” says Levine. “The optimum temperature for the testicles to produce sperm is two to three degrees below body heat, which explains why the male reproductive organs are found outside of the body.”
Your muscle mania
Extra testosterone production might sound like a positive thing for improving your sperm count, but that’s not always the case.
Dr. Cappy Rothman, co-founder of leading US sperm bank California Cryoban, says testosterone supplements and performance enhancers will diminish sperm counts. “Anabolic steroids interfere with the hormone signals that are needed to produce sperm,” says Rothman. “If a man takes [them] for an extended length of time, he’ll wind up with no sperm.”
Meanwhile, Upper East Side urologist Dr. David Shusterman says: “Any screw-up in your hormone levels … the semen value goes down.”
Your skinny jeans
Another heat-inducing process is wearing confining pants and undies, which hold the scrotum close to the body.
According to professor Allan Pacey, who specializes in fertility at the University of Sheffield in the UK, a recent study of 2,500 British men found that wearing tight underwear was the “single biggest risk” factor for fertility, even more than smoking or alcohol consumption.
UK gynecologist Dr. Gillian Lockwood was quoted in the Telegraph saying that the modern penchant for close-fitting undergarments went against thousands of years of human practice.
“If you imagine during the evolutionary time, our chaps would have been strolling across the savannah with a bit of bearskin tied around their middles, otherwise going commando,” she said.
Your stressful job
“Men who feel stressed are more likely to have lower concentrations of sperm in their ejaculate, and the sperm they have are more likely to be misshapen or have impaired motility,” writes Pam Factor-Litvak, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, in a 2014 study. “These deficits could be associated with fertility problems.”
A hellish commute may also be related to declining sperm counts. “In a big city, traffic can cause stress,” says Brahmbhatt. “New Yorkers are stressed out — that’s why I live in Orlando!”
“The hot topic in the male reproductive community right now is the role of phthalates, which are mainly used as plasticizers [substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility] in stuff like hair gel,” says Levine. “We know with near-certainty that these phthalates interfere with the endocrine system in rats, monkeys and, of course, humans. We are using many more phthalates now than we used to.”
Some phthalates that are still used in the US are currently banned in Europe.
Your takeout addiction
“Sperm is losing its quality based on what we’re eating,” says Shusterman, noting that genetically modified and hormone-laden meats — including farmed fish — are problematic.
“The optimum thing to do would be to go vegetarian, but that’s not feasible for everyone,” he says, suggesting that anyone sticking with meat should look for grass-fed beef and organic chicken.
“Most Americans are still eating processed, fast food. Diets high in fat and cholesterol lead to men being fatter — and that leads to decreased sperm counts,” says Brahmbhatt.