Infertility can come as a surprise to many couples when they decide to start a family. The journey can be stressful, expensive and exhausting when trying to conceive a child.
There are often many reasons why a couple may struggle to fall pregnant, and often, the woman’s body is the focus as she is the one that has to carry the child. But scientists have made a startling discovery about sperm. About 90% of the swimmers in a typical young man are misshapen. Sometimes the sperm will have two heads or two tails.
Not only have sperm been found to be misshapen, they aren’t too crash hot at swimming or getting to their destination either. In the last 75 years, sperm counts have dropped sharply and this affects our ability to reproduce.
Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, explains to the New York Times, “There’s been a decrease not only in sperm numbers, but also in their quality and swimming capacity, their ability to deliver the goods.”
Swan also notes that researchers have also linked semen problems to shorter life expectancy.
Without quality sperm, swimming to fertilise eggs, this can greatly reduce our ability to reproduce, which can affect the future of our society.
Andrea Gore, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin and the editor of the journal Endocrinology, explained it this way, “Semen quality and fertility in men have decreased. Not everyone who wants to reproduce will be able to. And the costs of male disorders to quality of life, and the economic burden to society, are inestimable.”
Researchers believe the reason for the lack of quality sperm has to do with a chemical called endocrine disruptors which is commonly found in plastics, cosmetics, couches, pesticides and many other products.
While the quality of sperm is determined in utero, the endocrine disrupting chemicals mimic hormones and confuse the biological process of becoming a male and this affects the sperm quality in males.
There have been many studies conducted on the quality of sperm, out of concern for future fertility.
While there are some scientists that don’t believe it’s as big a problem as first believed, there are questions on whether humans will face a crisis in reproduction. And if we don’t do the studies now to prevent further decline, the crisis could unfold quite quickly.
If we go by the results of recent studies, worldwide, we may need to consider what can be done now to ensure the human race can sustain themselves.
In the Huan Province, China, a study that involved 30,000 men, found that 56 percent of the sperm applicants qualified for the study in 2001, but in 2015, only 18 percent qualified. That is a big decrease in 15 years. The study concluded the semen quality in Chinese men had declined over a period of 15 years.
Niels Erik Skakkebaek, a Danish fertility scholar says, “I think we are at a turning point. It is a matter of whether we can sustain ourselves.”
Canadian scientists found even more alarming results from their seven-year experiment on lake Ontario. The scientists added endocrine disrupting chemicals to the lake and observed the impact on fathead minnows. The study found the males had characteristics of both sexes and were incapable of reproducing.
These studies have shown that something must be done to protect future fertility. Swan advises to avoid consuming drinks and food that are contained in plastics. Don’t eat food that has been heated in plastic and eat organic produce to avoid pesticide residues. Swan encourages pregnant women to avoid Tylenol and painkillers.
Of course, most importantly, while individuals can do their part, there should be a regulation of endocrine disruptors in products.
BPA is one of the most commonly known endocrine disruptor chemicals, but lessor known ones need to be educated on too. The Danish Government have put together a PDF detailing how to avoid exposure to known and suspected endocrine disruptors. It gives information to be considered for pregnant women, breastfeeding mums and for babies after birth. It’s a valuable resource for anyone who wishes to avoid these types of products.
It’s a matter of survival if we don’t consider how greatly these chemicals can affect our bodies, and fertility is something we should never take for granted. It takes two to tango, and one egg and one sperm to create a baby. Even fertility treatments will be deemed useless if no healthy sperm can be retrieved.