A new meta-analysis of male fertility published in the Oxford Academic suggests sperm count in men has decreased by more than 50% over the last 45 years. The researchers took data from 223 papers published between 1973 and 2018, which compiled sperm samples from a combined 57,000 men worldwide, and found average human sperm concentrations dropped by 51.6%, and total sperm counts dropped by 62.3%.
The sperm count concentration among men in the meta-analysis had dropped 104 million to 49 million sperm per milliliter of semen in men not known to be infertile.
“Patients that are suffering from infertility; they’re not suffering in silence, so they’re actually seeking out an evaluation from a fertility doctor such as myself,” said Dr. Laxmi Kondapalli, a leading fertility specialist at Rose Medical Center in Denver, who cites an increased number of men coming forward with infertility concerns as a possible reason for the drop. “We may be actually picking up more fertility than what existed because people weren’t having access to the tools.”
According to the World Health Organization, “low sperm count” is a designation given to men who produce 15 million sperm or less per collection, and even then, Dr. Kondapalli points out those men can still have children.
“Even if a man has a sperm count of one million, he can still be fertile,” she said. “All you need is one.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, 1 in 8 couples deal with infertility, and nearly a third of the time, those issues arise from the male side of the equation and not the female side.
Dr. Kondapalli says possible causes for lower sperm count include obesity, tobacco use, alcohol use, and, for lack of a better term, ventilation.
Experts are split on whether the decrease in sperm count cited by the meta-analysis could be considered a crisis. The World Health Organization says having a sperm count over 40 million does not increase your chances of having a child, but Dr. Kondapalli says discussing it is beneficial as it erodes the stigma surrounding infertility and allows more men and couples to come forward with their struggles.