Reduced sperm counts – canary in the coalmine?

Dr Paul Clayton 2013

Sometimes it is necessary for the old order to fail before a new order can be considered,
particularly when there are powerful groups (health insurance companies, the pharmaceutical
industry, the medical profession) with vested interests in the status quo. Most of us
ignore warnings that the old system is at the point of failure until they are couched in
language that touches us. Here is such a warning.

It comes from France, where a recent nationwide survey has shown that male sperm
counts are falling precipitously (Rolland et al ’12). Researchers found that during the 16 years
between 1989 and 2005, sperm counts in French men progressively dropped by an average of 32.3%. Numbers of normally formed sperm also fell by a third.

The French results confirm research over the past 20 years that has shown sperm counts
declining in many countries (ie Jorgensen et al ’11, Haimov-Kochman et al ’12), and indicate that masculinity itself is under threat. Further evidence for this comes from the rise in rates of testicular cancer which have doubled in the last 30 years, high rates of prostate cancer
(the second leading cause of cancer death in males in the West) and increasing rates of other
male sexual disorders such as undescended testes.

Dr Joelle Le Moal, an environmental health epidemiologist and one of the study’s authors,
described the French findings as “… a serious public health warning.” Richard Sharpe, the
internationally renowned professor of reproductive health at the University of Edinburgh,
agreed. “There can be little doubt that the decline in sperm counts is real,” he said.
“Something in our modern lifestyle, diet or environment is causing this and it is getting
progressively worse.”

Nature has engineered a good deal of redundancy into us, and healthy men produce far
more sperms than necessary for conception, but we are reaching the point where fertility is
being substantially compromised. In the 1940s, semen samples from young men averaged
over 100 million sperms per ml. Now sperm counts in the majority of 20-year-old
European men are so low that we are close to the crucial tipping point of 40 million/ml,
which is where sub-fertility kicks in. In Denmark, 40% of young men are below that figure
(Andersson et al ’08), and the French are in the same bateau. Significant and increasing
numbers of men are presenting with counts below 15 million/ml—well into the infertile range.

The causes of falling sperm counts are not understood, but the evidence indicates that
environmental toxins and a lousy diet both play a role. It is important to note that fertility
rates have not yet shown any untoward variations (ie Mascarenhas et al ’12). However, if sperm
counts continue to fall at the current rate, our children and grandchildren will experience
ever-increasing rates of infertility and human populations will start an exponentially
accelerating collapse by around 2030.

If this is not, finally, a call to action to the scientifically illiterate and predominantly
male graduates who currently lord it over us, I don’t know what is.


Andersson AM, Jørgensen N, Main KM, Toppari J, Rajpert-De Meyts E, Leffers H,
Juul A, Jensen TK, Skakkebaek NE. Adverse trends in male reproductive health:
we may have reached a crucial ‘tipping point’. Int J Androl. 2008 Apr;31(2):74-80.

Haimov-Kochman R, Har-Nir R, Ein-Mor E, Ben-Shoshan V, Greenfield C, Eldar I, Bdolah Y,
Hurwitz A. Is the quality of donated semen deteriorating? Findings from a 15 year longitudinal analysis of weekly sperm samples. Isr Med Assoc J. 2012 Jun;14(6):372-7

Jørgensen N, Vierula M, Jacobsen R, Pukkala E, Perheentupa A, Virtanen HE, Skakkebaek NE, Toppari J. Recent adverse trends in semen quality and testis cancer incidence among Finnish men. Int J Androl. 2011 Aug;34(4 Pt 2):e37-48

Mascarenhas MN, Flaxman SR, Boerma T, Vanderpoel S, Stevens GA. National, regional, and global trends in infertility prevalence since 1990: a systematic analysis of 277 health surveys. PLoS Med. 2012 Dec;9(12):e1001356.

Rolland M, Le Moal J, Wagner V, Royère D, De Mouzon J. Decline in semen concentration and
morphology in a sample of 26 609 men close to general population between 1989 and 2005 in France.
Hum Reprod. 2012 Dec 4

Xie WC, Chan MH, Mak KC, Chan WT, He M. Trends in the incidence of 15 common cancers in Hong Kong, 1983-2008. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2012;13(8):3911-6.