Two studies presented at the Scientific Congress of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine on Oct. 9th showed a general decrease in sperm count in a population of both sperm donors and men seeking treatment at infertility clinics. The results of the two studies renewed an international media frenzy that began when a study producing similar results was published in the “Human Reproduction Update” in July of last year. Many media outlets implied that the human race could be in danger of extinction, some went as far as to dub the results of these studies as a “spermageddon.”
However, a reproductive urologist with University of Utah Health, Dr. Hotaling, says that this is a “gross overstatement.” Hotaling, who is affiliated with the New Jersey clinic, IVIRMA, where one of the published studies was conducted, stated that “It is unclear what the exact significance of these findings are.” While the results of the study showed a significant decrease in sperm count in the population studied, Holating stated that “this may be due to a number of factors, but I would hardly call it ‘spermageddon.’”
Some of the factors some associate with the decline in sperm count are diet and exercise. Hotaling stated that while the study he was affiliated with did not look at these correlations, a large amount of data does link chemicals such as phthalates and BPA with decreased sperm counts. Obesity has also been shown to negatively impact sperm count.
The study that Dr. Hotaling was affiliated with looked at a population of 119,972 male infertility patients at two clinics, one in North America and the other in Europe from 2002 to 2017. The study measured the total motile sperm count (TMSC) — the most reliable indicator of male fertility — of the population over time and found that the population’s TMSC presented a significant decrease over the course of the study even when factoring in elements like the patient’s age.
Dr. Hotaling stated that at the start of the research the assumption had been that sperm counts were not declining but that the research team “could not make the findings go away, hence the conclusions that sperm counts, at least in our infertile population, could be declining.”
The other study presented at the scientific congress tracked sperm count in a population of sperm donors over the course of 11 years in six cities, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Houston, Boston, Indianapolis and New York City. While the first five cities showed a notable reduction in sperm count over the course of the study, New York City’s studied population did not. A news release published by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine quoted a statement from Dr. Schlegel, a doctor at Weill Cornell Medical Center in NYC, in which he claimed the water quality and high levels of activity amongst men in NYC could be linked to the city’s positive results.
In regards to the implications of these studies, Hotaling stated that they “should be followed up in other studies using large databases” but that such an enterprise is “quite difficult and expensive to do.”