It seems like the plot line of a sci-fi movie: the human race faces extinction when male fertility rates plunge. We are not on the brink of extinction, but it is a warning that speaks of how pollution is influencing fertility. In 2017 a study revealed a shocking statistic that caught the media’s attention…“Spermageddon” read the headlines and some tabloids suggested this was the beginning of the end for human life. The study showed that sperm count has plunged by 50-60 percent for men living in developed nations in the last 40 years.
Researchers from Israel, Denmark, Brazil, Spain and the US examined reports dating as far back as 1973. They poured over the findings of 185 studies with some 43,000 men while raking through changing trends. Lifestyle variables were considered such as smoking, stress and body mass index. They concluded the decrease of sperm count has been observed mainly in men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and not as strong or non-existent in other developing parts of the world, such as Africa, Asia and South America.
The study doesn’t give exact reasons for the decline but there is strong evidence suggesting that pollutants and toxins are to blame for poor quality sperm and low sperm counts. Several studies found associations with environmental influences such as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and pesticides.
EDCs are found everywhere. From furniture sprayed with flame retardants to plastics (even BPA-free plastics) to hygiene products. Pesticides and herbicides like glyphosate are embedded in the food chain. EDCs can also be found in commonly used cleaning products and hygiene products. Daily exposure from pollutants in the home, coupled with pollutants outside the home could be strong causes affecting male fertility.
In 2016, a study was published in the journal Human Reproduction that linked traffic pollutants to poor semen quality. In cities where traffic pollution is heavy, like Beijing, sperm counts are so low that the market for assisted reproductive-health is growing into a $15 billion industry. China is one of the most polluted countries in the world and it’s rapid economic development was partly at the expense of policies that favored industry over environmental health. Beijing is an example of how one’s city determines one’s exposure to pollutants.
Another influencer is diet. If a man’s diet is based on the Western diet consisting of bad fats, high calorie and low nutrient foods he may also be making himself a candidate for low sperm count and low quality sperm. A diet like the Paleo diet that is based on whole, organic foods, is a much better choice.
Decline of sperm counts is expected to continue– but don’t panic. We could be facing a public health crisis if we don’t alter our way of living. There are many things we can do for our environmental health and protection of fertility. We need to put pressure on governments to be more responsible with environmental protection laws. We should also be more aware of toxins in general and make responsible choices inside our homes. And finally, we need to eat in a way that helps our bodies eliminate toxins. Being careful of what products you use, what furniture you buy, where you live, what you eat and how you maintain mental health all influence the quality and quantity of sperm.
If you are worried about you or your partner’s fertility consult a doctor. A Functional Medicine physician can usually determine if there’s a problem, discern whether toxins are one of the root causes, and guide you to make necessary changes.