Global Decline in Sperm Counts: Do I Need To Be Concerned?

18 November 2022

New research findings have just been published in Human Reproduction Update by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Icahn School of Medicine in New York which show that global sperm counts have halved over the last fifty years. In addition, the researchers found that declining sperm counts are accelerating across the world creating a fertility crisis akin to a ticking time bomb. As such, this decrease in male fertility represents a serious public health problem that requires focused responses by governments to recognise and safeguard male reproductive health for the future.

Global decline in sperm counts

Researchers in the U.S., Denmark, Brazil, Spain, and Israel compiled 223 studies containing data on sperm samples comprising 57,000 men across 53 countries and all continents (including some regions not previously considered) to chronologically map sperm counts. They found that from 1963 to 2018, global sperm counts dropped by 1.2% per year on average. However, this decline accelerated from 2000 to 2018 to 2.6% per year, with no obvious solution or plan to tackle this global problem.

The researchers also reported a decline in mean sperm count from 104 to 49 million per millilitre of semen, which is understood to be critically close to a tipping point in global fertility. Professor Hagai Levine, the study’s lead author from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Braun School of Public Health described their research findings as like a “canary in a coal mine” and, if not mitigated, “could threaten mankind’s survival”.

As men typically release nearly 200 million sperm per sample, you could be forgiven for wondering why global declines in sperm counts are causing such concern. However, whilst only one sperm is needed to fertilize an egg, most sperm do not survive making an abundant supply of health sperm important for successful conception. Furthermore, a low sperm count can serve as an indicator of male health overall.

What are the causes of declining sperm counts?

Whilst the reasons for declining global sperm counts are not yet fully understood, there are a number of risk factors believed to be at play including: diet, smoking, obesity, stress, drug and alcohol abuse and exposure to certain environmental chemicals. However, more work is needed to gain a better grasp of the causes of declining male fertility and what can be done to counter this.

What can I do to overcome problems conceiving a child?

If you find yourself struggling with infertility or you require fertility treatment and assisted conception to start a family it is important to be proactive and seek expert help to build your family. There are a range of options to consider including: IUI, IVF, ICSI, Genomic Treatment (e.g. PGT, PGT-A, Genetic Carrier Screening), egg and sperm donation, known and inter-family donation, a co-parenting arrangement, a domestic or overseas surrogacy arrangement and adoption. These options can make a big difference, help overcome infertility and successfully re-gear individual journeys to parenthood.

Should I get fertility and family law advice?

Yes, it is advisable to obtain specialist family building and legal advice because individual fertility is precious and family creation and assisted conception raises complex legal and wider issues (compounded by the fact there is no international harmonisation of law governing assisted conception). Bespoke expert fertility and family law advice helps effectively project manage your family building journey. It enables you to identify, understand and proactively navigate a range of legal and practical issues and risks, place your family building and life on a firm foundation and get the best outcome. In doing so, it can address:

  • Family building options and issues where women and men face impaired fertility or lost fertility due to low sperm or egg counts, cancer diagnosis or other illness, unsuccessful conception attempts, change in gender, change in personal circumstances, delayed parenthood.
  • Legal issues and options associated with assisted conception involving a known donor, co-parent or surrogate (e.g. legal parentage, parental rights, financial responsibility and dispute mitigation).
  • Difficulties with storage and use of frozen eggs, sperm and embryos in fertility treatment in the UK (e.g. problems with consent).
  • Issues associated with import of frozen gametes and embryos into the UK for use in fertility treatment and surrogacy (e.g. due to anonymous and commercially obtained gametes and embryos which engage UK public policy restrictions).
  • Issues concerning the export of frozen gametes and embryos abroad for use in fertility treatment and surrogacy (e.g. consent and storage term difficulties).
  • Unexpected death of a loved-one and related issues associated with posthumous storage and use of eggs, sperm and embryos in fertility treatment (e.g. due to an accident or illness).
  • Legal parentage issues and disputes (e.g. concerning DNA testing, direct-to-consumer genetic testing, rectification of birth certificate, declaration of parentage, step-parent adoption, recognition of overseas adoption, parental order).
  • Care and upbringing of children following a dispute with an ex-partner, parent, donor or surrogate (e.g. contact, residence, financial arrangements, parental responsibility, specific issue or prohibited steps).

Need a fertility lawyer or a family lawyer? If you would like to discuss your situation or you require specialist fertility and family law advice and assistance please contact Louisa by email  or by telephone +44 (0)20 7965 8399.

Read the full study in Human Reproduction Update.

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